Can Plan B Can Derail Your Plan A?

Whatever your project, it can fail. No matter how many details you consider and anticipate, there can always be unexpected events that can ruin your plan. It’s sad, but true. The project you’ve been working on for a long time may fall apart. The plan you have prepared with such enthusiasm may fail. Success and failure go hand in hand. To cover your back, the best idea is to have a plan B.

Having an alternate plan is like building a safety net. Knowing that you have a second chance if the first one fails is emotionally comforting and helps you deal with the fear of failure, the unknown, and uncertainty. However, while having a plan B is important, it also has a dangerous “side effect”: It increases the chances that your plan A will fail.

The curious relationship between plan A and plan B

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania ran a series of very interesting experiments on how people deal with plan A and plan B.

In one of the experiments, hundreds of participants were asked to decipher jumbled sentences over a period of time. Rewards for success varied, but included a free snack or lump sum payment.

Interestingly, the researchers asked some people to come up with a plan B. For example, if the reward for success in the activity was a free snack, they asked them to think of other ways to get free food on campus.

They found that participants who established alternative plans deciphered fewer sentences. In other words, they scored worse on the test. This indicates that the simple act of devising other strategies to obtain the reward affected their performance.

Later, questionnaires offered to participants showed that the decline in performance was not because those with plan Bs were distracted, but because they felt less motivated.

The researchers concluded that “although having a plan B has well-known benefits, such as reducing anxiety about the future, it also has costs that need to be carefully weighed.” They also warned that this “negative effect” can be magnified when plan A requires more effort.

Having an alternative plan undermines motivation

In 1519, when Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico, he decided to sink his 11 ships. He didn’t destroy them, as legend has it, but sent a clear message to his men: going back was such a remote possibility that they didn’t even have to consider it.

Basically, the fact is that having a plan B saps motivation. In fact, it cannot be forgotten that fear of failure or even discomfort experienced outside the comfort zone are powerful incentives to strive and often lead to success.

Having a plan B, especially if the goal you have set for yourself is very ambitious and requires great commitment and perseverance, can make you throw in the towel before returning to your comfort zone where you can keep fear and anxiety under control.

Sure, tackling a pun isn’t the same as tackling a life project, but these experiments warn us that reducing the fear and anxiety inherent in big plans too much by resorting to an alternative plan could also decrease our motivation.

Have a plan B or not, that’s the question

First, it is important to note that these findings apply primarily to goals whose success depends heavily on effort. Thus, alternate plans continue to be a perfectly good option for those goals where chance comes into play.

Secondly, it is not always necessary to make a plan B together with plan A. There is the possibility of drafting the alternative plan when we start to realize that the main plan is failing or we have already done everything possible and the end result is not it depends solely on us. If so, having a Plan B might make sense.

Third, plan B doesn’t always have to involve a change of goal, it doesn’t necessarily mean giving up, but it can be another way to achieve the goal. That is, your alternative plan may be to design another, perhaps longer, route to get to the desired point.

In any case, it is important that you analyze whether your problem in achieving a goal is the anxiety it generates in you due to the uncertainty it entails or due to a lack of motivation. If fear and anxiety are too great, they can become crippling, so having a plan B could help you reach your goal while maintaining peak performance. On the other hand, if motivation is the issue, it might be best not to design an alternate plan because you’re more likely to throw in the towel.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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