Want to reach a goal? Try flying without a net.
Always having a backup plan is good, right? Maybe not. Studies have been conducted at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s school of business to determine what effect a backup plan has on goal achievement. Researchers Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman performed an experiment by giving two groups of participants sentence unscrambling tasks. Some participants were told that if they did well they would be given free food and an early dismissal. Other participants were instructed to come up with other ways to get free food because they didn’t do well enough.
During the experiment, those who made backup plans did not do as well as the group where success was the only option. A second experiment revealed that the Plan B students did poorly because they didn’t want to accomplish the goal as badly. Researchers believe that this has something to do with reducing the amount of risk involved in failure. The researchers don’t claim that having backup plans is bad, but indicate it does have costs. They suggest that more studies need to be done regarding the effect Plan B has on motivation.
Researchers at the University of Zurich suggest that having a well-developed Plan B can change the way we pursue Plan A. In some cases, having a Plan B can increase a person’s confidence, helping reduce stress in goal achievement. However, the act of creating a detailed Plan B can actually distract from pursuing Plan A, so Plan B becomes the most likely path, according to the scientists.
While these theories go against everything our parents ever taught us, they do make sense. If you are all-in on a plan, you are 100% focused on that plan because you have no alternative. However, scientists may be being a bit harsh. You usually make a detailed Plan B when Plan A has a high likelihood of failure. Very few people get through the college application process without applying to a safety school. It would be too stressful otherwise. This doesn’t mean you aren’t trying hard to get into your favorite school. It just means, in the end, you recognize that your stretch school is just that, a stretch – a risk.
My grandfather used to say that there are ten ways to accomplish any goal. Only two are superior, only two are horrible, and the rest get the job done. I’m not ready to give up on Plan B. Sometimes you just need to get the job done.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Backup plans may keep you from achieving your goal, research shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 August 2016.
University of Zurich. “Making backup plans can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2015.