Conscious Planning May Reduce Stress and Create Greater Fulfillment


Written By: Alana Karran

In a production driven society, goal setting is like breathing air. Task lists clutter the offices of nearly every professional and even children carry around to-do lists. While goal setting is an important step toward reaching a desired outcome, for many, it is laden with stress. In fact, according to psychological scientist Dr. David Rosenbaum, “…the desire to relieve the stress of maintaining that information in working memory can cause us to over-exert ourselves physically or take extra risks.”

It is not uncommon for people to take on bigger action steps so that they feel they are moving closer to completing a project, in an effort to alleviate stress. Doing so may also lead to spending time and energy on tasks that are actually more of a detour than directly linked to the intended end result. To conserve energy and relieve stress, try using these four questions to structure your action plan:

What’s the Optimal Outcome?

Having a concrete vision for what you want to achieve, begins with spending enough time in reflection to consider all the possible outcomes. There may even be competing goals. For example, say you want to pay down debt but you also want to increase savings. By asking yourself, “What’s the optimal outcome?” you align with the highest and greatest good of your vision. From there, the path you choose to take will consciously consider all the variables that make up that your optimal vision.

How Will I Know When I Get There?

When creating a vision for the future, understanding the desired mental and emotional state of reaching that outcome is critical to knowing when you’ve arrived. How do you want to feel, as a result of completing a project? What does success look like? Who will share in the celebration with you? What is the impact reaching your vision will have on yourself, others and the world around you?

By considering the mental and emotional impact, not just the concrete achievement, you are more likely to refine your plan into steps that consider self-care in the process. This will go a long way toward diminishing stress and pacing yourself.

What’s the Ground I’m Standing On?

Understanding your current conditions helps you tether your vision to concrete reality. It also helps assure you are choosing action steps that move you forward with the least amount of effort. By taking into consideration your existing situation, you may notice that some pre-tasks are necessary before setting off on the bigger journey. Attending to a cluttered desk, or outstanding commitments first, may actually give you a better foundation later on.

What’s the Next Indicated Step?

Plans are just that – plans! They don’t always consider if or how things will change in the future as you work towards your optimal outcome. Before taking on the next task on your project list, take a moment to ask yourself, “What is the next indicated step?” It’s possible that it’s not the one you originally outlined. Perhaps that step has become irrelevant, now that you have more information. Or, there may be an action that is more in alignment with your desired outcome, now that you have reached this point in the process.

Taking the time to ask yourself what is truly necessary and in right alignment, may slow you down momentarily, but speed up the process over time. Consciously considered steps save energy, reduce anxiety and help create more balance. By taking smaller, sensible action steps, the feeling of accomplishment is actually enhanced, because there is greater sense completion overall and the path is clear.

Smaller, consciously considered steps are also more likely to be integrated into your psyche. This means you will have a firmer foundation at this point in the process and also in the long run. It also allows you to grow with the process so that you are more likely to genuinely feel a sense of fulfillment as a result of reaching your optimal outcome.