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Why 'Later' Looks Better: Unpacking the Psychology of Future Planning

Updated: Mar 26

In January, planning a spring break trip that coincided with speaking at a conference my wife and I wanted to attend (and bringing the whole family) seemed like a fun time. But by the end of the week in March, we asked each other, “Why did we think this was a good idea?”

This scenario is far from unique. It's a common experience, rooted in our psychological makeup, to overestimate our future capabilities or to view future events with unwarranted optimism. Such optimism, while seemingly beneficial, can often lead us into situations that, in hindsight, we might have approached differently.

An unattended laptop computer

The Psychology of Future Planning

Why do we find ourselves in these predicaments? Are we destined to experience false hope for our futures? Two psychological concepts play significant roles: optimism bias and the planning fallacy. Optimism bias is our tendency to believe that we are less likely to experience negative outcomes than others, leading us to view future events in an overly positive light. The planning fallacy, on the other hand, is our propensity to underestimate the time, costs, and risks of future actions while overestimating the benefits. Together, these biases explain why we might commit to a future meeting during a busy week or believe that future personal changes, like losing weight or becoming more forgiving, will be easier to achieve than they truly are.

A Commitment to Reality

At Craftd we developed a life coaching app inspired by M. Scott Peck’s recognition that mental health comes from a commitment to reality at all costs. This means acknowledging our psychological limitations and actively working to address them. How can we do this? Here are some concrete methods:

  1. Track Your Time: Begin by tracking how long it takes you to complete various tasks, being honest with yourself. This practice helps combat the planning fallacy by grounding your expectations in reality. Recognize the core 20% of your work that drives 80% of your output and plan accordingly.

  2. Weekly Time Blocking: With a realistic understanding of your time, plan your ideal week, incorporating time blocks for essential tasks and activities. However, ensure you leave room for unexpected events like business lunches or unplanned meetings. This flexibility is key to managing your time effectively without overcommitting.

  3. Evaluate Your Hurriedness: If you find yourself consistently hurried, take a moment to reflect on why. While it's beneficial to stretch your limits occasionally, akin to a weightlifter testing their max, you can’t function that way. Once a lifter knows their max, they plan their workouts as a percentage of that weight with the goal of increasing their capacity over time. You can’t live every week to the max.

  4. Let Your ‘Why’ Define Your ‘When’: How does your weekly planning fit into the overall mission for your life, your quarterly plan, or your deeply held values? Run a quick values audit on the last four weeks on your calendar. Ask yourself, “Does my schedule over the last four weeks describe who I want to be and give me confidence in who I am becoming?”

  5. Love Your Future Self: Consider the wisdom of looking out for your future self. If you're too busy to tackle a task properly now, how can you be sure you will in three weeks? If past you would have put two extra tasks on this week’s agenda, how would you feel about that? This perspective encourages planning and acting in ways that meet immediate needs while supporting your long-term well-being and goals.

Craft the Future You Want

Understanding and adjusting for optimism bias and the planning fallacy is not just about avoiding overcommitment or unrealistic planning. It's about fostering a healthier, more realistic relationship with our future selves. By implementing strategies like time tracking, weekly planning, and honest self-reflection, we can make decisions that align with our true capacities and values.

This approach doesn't just benefit us individually; it enhances our ability to contribute positively to our families, workplaces, and communities. Embrace these strategies, and let's navigate the future with a balanced mix of optimism and realism, ensuring that when we commit to future plans, they are not just wishful thinking but grounded in a commitment to reality.

Crafting a future based on reality rather than a false hope is not easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Maybe you need a life coach to help. Why not try the most cost-effective life coach available? Craftd is designed specifically for conversations like this. Set aside 30 minutes today with your AI life coach to help you optimize the next 30 days on your calendar.


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