Ammar Mian

A Short Essay on Plans, Written on a Delayed Metro Train

What is effective is not the same as what seems effective.

We often do things that make us feel effective, whether or not that action actually is effective.

Thus there is effective and "effective".

We make plans, and it is up for debate whether we are making them to be "effective" or effective.

I argue that we are rarely aware of this distinction and are often acting in "effective" ways.

Many plans we make, inherit, and adhere to may be "effective" or effective, we're not really sure, because our only measure of the value of a plan or action is if it feels effective.

Put in other words, we fixate on clever or noble plans, ignoring entire classes of plans that might actually be effective but don't necessarily make us feel great.

The Insecurity of Not Knowing

So what is this feeling? It seems like before we can even try thinking of how to be effective (without quotations), we need to know why we are drawn to being "effective" (with quotations).

Desiring feelings of effectiveness may derive from a root insecurity about our own abilities to handle uncertainty.

We want to show that we have something figured out, and we want to listen to those who show they have things figured out. Otherwise we just say we're not cut out for one thing or another.

It's a very simple way to deal with uncertainty -- either show that you're fully certain, find someone who does claim that, or don't involve yourself at all.

Due to this insecurity over our ability to deal with uncertain terms, we fixate on making (and listening to) "effective" plans -- plans that feel like certitudes in some way or another.

This is why we get so excited by clever exercise regimens or diet plans or learning modules or stump speeches. If we fail, it's because we just weren't cut out for it. Not because the plan sucked (which it did). Because just look at how clever and fancy the presenter was!

An Attempt at a Better Plan

Over the past four years I've tried and failed and succeeded and failed and failed and failed and failed at coding, teaching, writing, marketing, reading, thinking, taking standardized tests, snowboarding, running, meditating, etc.

I've noticed the most effective plans take one general shape:

  1. Diagnose
  2. Explore
  3. Diagnose again
  4. Make a short term schedule
  5. Follow it studiously
  6. Repeat 1-5

Steps 1-3 take the most time and constitute the most emotional work because each time you enter, you're not quite sure if you'll make it out to step 4.

But then you repeatedly do.

This is the act of learning over and over again what it means to not be sure of how things are. This is a crucial element of solving problems, it appears, to somewhat masochistically cherish the unknown unknowns.

During this process, you may figure out you hadn't ever really precisely defined what you were trying to do.

And then it turns out you were your own limit.

And then it turns out that the concept of you is flexible.

And then the real fun work begins.

May 2017

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