Always have a back-up plan

Just in Case by Sheila Sund -

Things fail, it’s just one of the realities of life.

Software, brakes, people, plans, fire alarms, auto-pilot systems, batteries and parachutes can all be working one minute, but useless the next.

It’s an important lesson to learn, we just need to make sure the lesson doesn’t turn us into cynical, paranoid, lunatics. Life is full of risk, and risk of failure is one that we just have to accept.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare for failure; there aren’t too many scenarios when it doesn’t help to have a back-up plan.

This is especially true if we reflect inwards and consider our own motivation, drive and commitment. There are lots of forces which can motivate us to act, both intrinsically (from within us) and extrinsically (from outside ourselves). And while many of them will seem, in any given moment, like constant forces which will always be there, it’s important for us to remember that they’re not.

It’s important for us to remember that our motivating forces are as capricious and fickle as a summer breeze, and so it’s useful to have a couple operating simultaneously. It pays to have a back-up plan.

One way we can do this by mixing up the sources of motivation so that a failure in one area doesn’t mean a failure of the entire system. An example might be that we make sure that all of our long term goals are fuelled by a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. You might be driven to create something artistic by intrinsic creative forces, but you might also tell someone about this project or commit publicly to a deadline which imposes an extrinsic motivation as well.

Both of these motivators have the capacity to fail, but they’re not inextricably linked. What causes one to fail doesn’t necessarily bring down the other. So on a day in which you’re not feeling inspired or creative, you might be motivated by the deadline. Other days, when the internal fire is burning bright, you might happily chip away without giving the deadline a second thought.

This diversity of motivation can be a great, multilayered defence against failure. By ensuring that there are few, decoupled systems in place, we can decrease the odds that we’re ever jumping without a chute.

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