Just stick to Plan A

By Kames Narayanan

Do you remember the last time you nosedived into a decision without a backup plan? Has every moment of your life been cushioned by an alternative?

GRAPHIC: BRENDAN TAN

In a society averse to the idea of failure, we have been conditioned to always prepare a Plan B — it certainly seems like the sensible way to live. Whether in our careers, finances or relationships, we have come to perceive missteps as the beginning of the end.

But even though having a Plan B may seem comforting, that alternative might prevent us from succeeding in the first place.

Research published by two professors, University of Wisconsin’s Jihae Shin and University of Pennsylvania’s Katherine Milkman, in the journal Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Process found that the mere thought of a Plan B can diminish the amount of effort an individual puts into Plan A, making them less likely to achieve their initial goals.

“When people thought about another way to achieve the same high-level outcome, they worked less hard and did less well,” Professor Milkman wrote.

The study suggests that backup plans may weaken our resolve. If we always have a way out, why try so hard in the first place? For instance, we might keep hitting the snooze button and sleep more if we could still be on time for an appointment by calling for an Uber instead of taking the bus.

People who are not used to proceeding without backup plans might wonder: “What if I had given my all, knowing that there is nothing to catch me if I fall?”

This could cause an unfamiliar wave of fear to surge in. Palms break out in a cold sweat. The nagging voice in our head, sounding very much like our parents’, might try to drown out that thought. But out of that sense of uncertainty emerges a new sense of determination and focus.

In an interview with Fast Company, CEO of The Beara Group LLC Corrie Shanahan attributes her achievements to ditching her backup plans.

She did not have a backup when she started her business as a solo consultant. Yet, that did not bother her. “My thinking was, ‘I know this is what I want to do. I know I have the expertise. I know there’s a market for it. Now I just have to get moving and make it work.”

I have tried adopting this mindset for my internship applications, only focusing on those that really mattered. My friends expressed surprise, raising questions like, “What if they don’t accept you?” The thought, however, never crossed my mind and in both instances, I was eventually accepted because I have always given my all.

“Burn the bridges, don’t look back, and march forward like there’s no tomorrow,” wrote Arman Assadi, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Project Evo, in the online editorial Under30CEO.

While some instances in life warrant having a plan B, these alternatives may also allow us to wriggle out of working towards our primary goals.

If the goal in sight is truly as important as we say it is, it is time we put our money where our mouth is and give it the best shot we’ve got.