When You Are Stuck in the “Planning” Phase


Planning is a wise step before pursuing any endeavor. Allocating time for intentional planning helps us be prepared for, and hence respond nimbly to, whatever eventualities arise. Unfortunately, we sometimes get stuck in this phase. We spend so much time pondering an initiative, and the possible challenges that might arise, that we can end up scaring ourselves out of taking action. Although we want to tackle a project or pursue a path, we can’t seem to get past the “thinking about it” stage.

Have you been considering starting something new? Maybe you have been toying with the idea of writing a book, seeking a new job, beginning a workout regime, or even getting organized. It is fun to think about charting a new course! However, in order to achieve your goal, it will eventually be necessary to stop dreaming and start doing.

How do we make progress when we feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the journey ahead? The answer lies in the way we talk to ourselves. Typically, when we are “stuck,” we are stalled in a mindset, listening to an inner voice that discourages us from taking action.

The good news is, when we change our thinking we can change our life. The truth is that we listen to no other voice as much as our own, so it is important to harness the power of self-talk and put it to work for our benefit.

If you are feeling stuck, here are a few mantras I encourage you to embrace. Put them up in a place you see often, and repeat them whenever you find yourself procrastinating or stalling out.

#1 There will always be unknowns.

Thinking through a strategy is wise, but no one can ever see the future. No matter how many variables and scenarios we plan for, unexpected developments will still emerge.

For example, in August of 2001, while living in our first home outside of NYC, my husband and I bought a larger house. My appointment with our realtor to discuss listing our existing home (an affordable home on a desirable street) was on September 11, 2001.We had done our research, and thought buying the new home when we did was a good decision. The market had been very hot and we felt we needed to act quickly when the house we wanted came up for sale. We had never considered the possibility of a major terror attack close to our home, or the prospect that the housing market in our town would drop to almost zero. The resulting uncertainty kept most buyers from house hunting in the NYC area for quite a while, and we ended up owning two homes for more than six months. In the end, we finally did sell the first home, and the worst we suffered was financial loss, which was minor compared to what so many in our area lost. It wasn’t that we had planned badly or insufficiently, it was just that something totally new happened.

There will always be things we can’t know in advance, but that doesn’t mean we should be paralyzed. We need to remind ourselves that if hurdles arise, we will find a way through them. And of course, if good things happen, we can celebrate!

#2 We can’t plan away the mistakes we will make.

Human beings make mistakes. Have you ever watched Olympic downhill ski races? Few people are as well prepared as these athletes. They literally practice for years, considering every option, approach and tactic. Nonetheless, there are always a few racers who make mistakes on the big day; they turn too quickly, swing out a bit too far, catch their pole on a flag, or make some other suboptimal snap decision. This isn’t because they didn’t plan well enough—it is because they are people, and people aren’t perfect.

Often we fail to initiate because we are afraid we might mess up. In all honestly, this is a realistic fear because we definitely will! However, that is not a reason to avoid trying something. The only mistake that truly haunts us is to fail to try.

When we begin fully expecting to stumble, odds are we will cope better when the inevitable happens. Having a support network to encourage us in these moments can be extremely helpful. We need to be reminded that no one is performing flawlessly at all things, every day (even if it looks that way). Instead, tell yourself that you know you will make mistakes, and that this will be ok. This is how we learn and improve. Remember, you wouldn’t be able to walk if you hadn’t at some point been willing to try and fall down.

#3 The path will be twisty.

It is natural to desire a path that unfolds in a straight line from start to desired finish. Although it rarely happens, we seem to believe that this is the way an endeavor should unfold. In reality, life looks less like a line and more like a twisty line. We own a game called Squiggle™, where everyone traces a squiggle onto a piece of paper and then has a minute to draw around it and quickly turn the little line into an object that a partner will be able to identify. In other words, it isn’t what squiggle we get that matters, but instead what we do with it.

While most journeys do indeed take some pretty crazy turns, this isn’t something to fear. To the contrary, it is often what we see and experience on the detours that enriches our life most. Rather than seize up when facing a diversion, hop on board and see where it takes you. This could be the very thing that sets you apart and leads to your success.

4. The next step should be the focus.

It is very easy to feel intimidated by large projects. The mountains seem pretty tall when we are standing on the ground looking up. The enormity of what lies ahead can easily deter us from starting. The long list of possible pitfalls can be daunting.

Have you ever seen a horse-drawn carriage in a busy city? Perhaps you have noticed that the horses often wear blinders. These blinders keep the horses focused only on the part of the road that is directly ahead. They actually protect the horses from being startled by passing cars, flashing lights, and other objects swirling around them.

This is what we need to do when we are feeling “stuck” at the base of our mountain. Instead of looking at the giant hike ahead, focus on the next step… the small, approachable, bite-sized step. One step really does lead to another. Each morning we need only be concerned with what we can do today to keep the ball rolling toward our goal.

One final thought: it is inevitable that we will face unknowns, make mistakes, and walk a twisty path whether we step out toward a new goal or not. There is no completely safe space in which to dwell. Furthermore, by failing to step out and take initiative, we risk a future characterized by regret over the “path not taken.”

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Now is a great time of year to finally get moving on an initiative you have been longing to pursue. Which one of these thoughts do you think might help you the most?

9 thoughts on “When You Are Stuck in the “Planning” Phase”

  1. We were on the same wavelength this week, thinking about moving forward in the face of unknowns, fear, and being stuck. I love how you articulated approaching the scary, “squiggly” path of life. So often fear and the negative thoughts we fill our minds with prevents us from living our best lives. You’ve provided so many useful perspectives and tools for acknowledging the common challenges we universally face, and ways to move forward despite them.

    Flexibility and openness are two useful perspectives to focus on when navigating challenges. Sometimes the desired outcome is too hard to see, but if we trust that small action step, remain agile for adjusting while moving forward, and remain open to the learning and growth along the way, we can reach that mountaintop (or other desired goal.)
    Linda Samuels recently posted…5 Powerful Ways That Will Prep You for Organizing Success & MoreMy Profile

    1. Flexibility is a characteristic I am always working to grow! When I was young, I thought I could plan my way into not having to deal with any unexpected development. I believed that if I worked hard enough, I could “pre-game” any eventuality. Now I know that this just isn’t true. Crazy things happen, and I don’t always have the time to plan for every possibility. Instead, I can breath, reframe, and consider how best to react to the change that has taken place. Love that we are on the same page this week:)

  2. I absolutely love this as I am definitely debating a few new steps for my own path as I head into the fall. And I have been stuck due to the summer and my kids being home for what I want to do next in all honesty. So, this article couldn’t have come at a better time to push me through and have me focus, to be honest. So, thank you for that!! 🙂

  3. Strong project management is needed to complete complicated projects. I think people (including me) get stuck in the planning phase but they don’t have enough information to move forward. A little research or guidance by a professional will help you get out of the planning phase and move forward.

    1. I tend to have similar leanings, Janet. Sometimes I just go for it, and others times I seem to spin my wheels. Most of what I write is as much for me as it is for my readers:)

  4. This is so great. That’s is sometimes the story of our lives here. We have a plan for a family business and it is feeling STUCK right now, and has for awhile. We move it a bit, and sometimes a lot, but still in this plan.
    Unknowns, fears, sacrifices. It’s all so hard sometimes but you have a way of making it seem.. possible. Less heady.
    Tamara recently posted…Apple Pie Crescent Ring RecipeMy Profile

    1. I think you can do it, Tamara. Stay focused on that next step to keep from stalling out. Put the next step on your calendar like you would an appointment. Meet together once a week (even if only for 5 minutes) to see how you did on your tasks. I believe in you guys!!

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