When things go wrong, do you blame yourself or do you alter your plans?
Years ago, I was taking some sessions with an excellent writing coach. For one particular week, I had made some reasonable and clear plans but I came down with a cold and couldn’t work my plan.
When I met with her at the end of the week, I was apologizing for not following the plan we had set out when she interrupted me with an excellent question:
“Why didn’t you change the plan when you got sick?”
Frankly, it hadn’t occurred to me to change it. For me, at the time, the plan was the plan and if I couldn’t follow it, then I was behind and I needed to catch up.
Her question shifted my whole way of thinking about my plans.
Now, instead of seeing them as rigid, external things, I try to see them as fluid and responsive to the rest of the circumstances in my life.
As a result, I am much kinder to myself and I try to create plans that serve me instead of the other way around.
Plans Should Serve the Planner
I don’t write in order to follow a plan. I create plans so I can get my writing done.
If I can’t follow the plan, the problem isn’t ME, the problem is the design of the plan.
If the plan isn’t leading to more writing, it’s time to change it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I am perfect. Maybe I need to work more consistently. Or perhaps I need different supports in place. I probably need to approach things in a new way.
I need to incorporate all of that information into a new plan.
Change The Plan
If my current plan is not working, being hard on myself is not going to improve things. Treating myself harshly will just make me feel badly – it won’t help me move forward.
And all of this is doubly true if the reason I can’t follow my plans is because of illness or other life circumstances.
If you find that you aren’t following your plan and your writing isn’t getting done, don’t be mean to yourself.
Instead, figure out how your plans need to change.
My Week, For Example.
This week, I had what I thought was a good plan. Perfectly doable.
Then, I started to develop my usual pre-migraine symptoms.
When than sleepiness, foggy brain, and off-kilter feeling develops, I know that I have to dial things back. I have to be especially careful because if I try to push through, the resulting migraine feels far worse and it lasts longer.
So, I didn’t push myself.
Instead, I thought about what kinds of things I felt up to doing. I asked myself “Since you can’t write right now, what *can* you do?”
With that information in mind, I changed my plans accordingly. I did some more routine work and when I felt up to it, I wrote in short session. I rested whenever possible.
And I did it without a single harsh word for myself.
I’d like to see you do the same the next time your plans go awry.
It doesn’t matter if you are off-kilter because you are sick, because other areas of your life have loomed larger than expected, or because of any other reason.
If you can’t follow your plan, don’t get caught in self-recrimination.
Instead, take the current, up-to-date information and use it to change your plan so it matches your current reality and serves you well.
Or, to be jazzier about it:
If you can’t follow the plan, CHANGE IT.
PS: It took me a long time to get to this point – if you tend to be very self-critical then you, too, may need practice to learn how to be kinder to yourself.
PPS: I know that some of you have external deadlines or have clients waiting on you and changing the plan may not be easy. In that case, try giving yourself a break wherever you can, and find the best possible way to work given your current circumstances. If possible, ask for help or for a deadline extension. When you’re done, use the information from this situation to inform your plans for your next work period. Also, please be kind to yourself about the whole thing.
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her at christinehennebury.com