Presence vs. Planning: What to do when your plans fail and the sh*t hits the fan

by on March 28, 2013

I happen to like planning, organizing, and systemizing things. It’s actually fun for me. So, when I have a project, I take great pride and enjoyment in breaking down and reverse engineering all the sub-projects, tasks, and milestones to complete to make sure the project gets done “on time, in spec, and at or under budget”. “Order” is one of my values, and I like it when things run smoothly. I actually love project management, and that skill was cultivated, developed and rewarded during my time in the military and corporate America.

Some people think that project management is a very “left brain” or analytical and detail oriented activity. I disagree. I content that proper project management is actually a very “whole brained” activity that utilizes both the left and right brain fairly equally. Cultivating this “whole brain” state has been shown in research to be when peak performance can occur – for any activity.

And, I also know that Pareto’s principle has a strong part to play. How the 80-20 rule applies to planning is that we can probably anticipate, plan and manage for about 80% of things, which leaves about 20% unknown. Of course, when you don’t plan – the reverse 80-20 rule applies! You’re “winging it” 80% of the time and only 20% seems under control.

By the way, the opposite of project management is crisis management – when you’re constantly “putting out fires” and reacting vs. responding to things. So if you haven’t cultivated the skill and discipline of project management, you probably find yourself expending a lot of energy “fighting fires” and dealing with urgency a lot more than you might prefer.

But sometimes, despite the best planning and organizing, that 20% unknown can sweep in and practically wipe out your entire 80%. In that sense, it becomes the reverse – 80% chaos and unknown and only 20% under control. In this state, research shows that when emotions are high, intelligence is low. That’s because we’re no longer in a “whole brain” state and our decision making ability is impaired.

So when that happens, what the heck do you do? Because in those moments, you no longer have the benefit of lead time and you need to respond immediately to what’s right in front of you. Effectively, you’re in full crisis management vs. project management.

At those times, what I find is critically important is to “practice presence” in a state of “expanded awareness”. As the name suggests, this is something to practice in non-crisis times so that you can successfully use it during high stress, crisis, in times of overwhelm and/or when the stakes are high to perform at your best.

5 Steps to Practice Presence

1. Breathe – slow down and take deep breathes from the diaphragm. When you’re in stress, your breathing can get shallow.

2. Connect -from your own spiritual tradition or practice, connect with your higher self, Source, God. Ask for guidance, wisdom, clarity, patience, etc. or whatever you need in the moment.

3. Expand -with soft focus of your eyes and breath, expand your awareness of your environment, the situation, the people around you, etc to take in information with all of your senses, beyond what you can see or feel, and to a level of knowing and being.

4. Tune in-be open to receive any messages, guidance, intuition and knowing about what is in the highest and best good for all concerned in response to the immediate situation and beyond. Be receptive and listen to your knowing.

5. Respond-take action (or no action) based on the above. Trust your knowing and respond vs. react in accordance with the guidance you receive.

Practicing presence and cultivating the ability to respond vs. react to situations from a place of centered knowing, expanded awareness, and a “whole brained” state will allow you make better faster, and grounded decisions in all situations, not just challenging ones.

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