“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” These wise and often true words were spoken by boxer Mike Tyson. And seeing as Tyson has a lot of experience planning for something, only to get punched in the face, literally, I think it’s important we heed his wisdom.

If you aren’t convinced, there are a slew of other sayings and euphemisms that support Tyson’s words. How about, “a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow”? Or maybe even, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Wait, that doesn’t make sense. What I meant to say was: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Ah, there we go, much better.

Let’s start there. Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. Sounds like a contradiction, but I swear to you it’s true. You see, not only does everyone have a plan until they get punched in the face, but people feel like they’re getting punched in the face until they have a plan. It goes both ways. Nothing ever goes according to plan, but the lack of a plan doesn’t mean things are any better. In fact, it means that things are worse, if only because you’re as directionless as you are plan-less.

A plan is a roadmap that ends in the achievement of your higher goals. If you have goals, you need a plan. If you want to float through life like a ship listing lazily in space, then feel free to stop planning. Now. But that’s not you, and it’s definitely not me. So, if we’re going to get punched in the face, yet we still have dreams we want to fulfill, how can we effectively plan, and then implement that plan, so we roll with the punches and end up at our intended destination?

Stop Getting Punched in the Face

Have you ever felt out of control? Does it sometimes seem like your life is  spiraling out of your grasp and you can’t do anything about it? Me too. It’s a fairly common occurrence. Money problems, relationship woes, daddy issues (wait, what?), and everything in between does well to knock us off our life trajectory and make us believe that we’re heading toward a tailspin. It sucks to feel out of control of your own life, and unfortunately, it’s more of a common feeling than a fleeting exception.

When we lose control of our life, we’re effectively getting jabbed in the face, constantly. We wake up, and a gnawing stress in the back of our mind is the first thing we notice. We forget about it momentarily, and then we get a text or an email that reminds us again. Then, we go to work, and we’re confronted with the issue in full force, causing it to move from our simmering subconscious to the forefront of our thoughts. Jab, jab, jab.

By the end of the day, we’ve thought about our lingering issue so much that it feels like we’ve been hit with a haymaker. We lose our energy, go to bed tired and worried about confronting the problem, and then wake up the next morning to do it all over again. Sigh.

Fine – Here’s an Example

Let’s use money problems as an example. You want to buy a house. Unfortunately, on your salary, home ownership seems to be as far away as Jupiter. And then you miss the quarterly bonus you were banking on. And then your car breaks down and you have to spend money fixing it. Jab, jab, jab. You get knocked straight on your ass and you lament to yourself, I’ll never be able to own a home, this is hopeless! Your feeling of forlorn turns into one of apathy, and you slide farther and farther away from your goal, with no energy or desire to stop the skid.

But if you’re an astute reader, which I know you are, you’ve probably already seen it: There was no initial plan. There was a hope and a dream of home ownership, but no roadmap to getting there. You see, each day we spend not following a plan, and each day we sadly watch our dreams slip away, makes us feel like we’re getting jabbed in the face. What a shitty way to live.

Now, let’s rewind, and try that scenario again. You want to buy a house but you can’t afford a down payment. So what? Do you have mental fortitude or don’t you? You do, of course, and you break your situation down piece by piece. You figure you need to save an additional $2k a month over the next 12 months in order to purchase a home. Ok, great. Reflecting on your toolbox of skills, you realize that you’re pretty good at web design, and you pick up a couple odd jobs on Craigslist and Upwork. At $50 an hour, you calculate that you’ll need to work 40 hours a month – 10 hours a week – to reach your annual goal of an additional $24k in savings. Seems pretty doable to me!

And then all that other shit happens. You miss your quarterly bonus, well, ok, that’s an additional $2k you’ll have to make up for somehow. Your car needs work. Ok, great, that’s only an additional $500. Looking at your plan, you can do one of two things: extend your time horizon to roughly 13 months instead of 12, or, increase your monthly freelance hours from 40 to 44 per month to stay on your 12-month track. Pretty simple really.

A Lack of Planning is Stressful

You see, planning = control. A lack of planning = getting punched in the face. And even when there are bumps in our roadmap – jabs that hit us in the mouth – a plan lets us absorb the blow without feeling depressed or out of control. All we have to do is adjust our plan and keep moving forward.

Try this on for size: Cortisol is our stress hormone. It’s an evolutionary part of our fight or flight mechanism. It’s kept us alive for 200,000 years. But in today’s world, where there is rarely mortal harm, instead of it being a survival necessity, it becomes a modern terror. We now increase our cortisol levels whenever we lose sleep or face a scary boss. So life threatening!

There were studies done that found that soldiers in war had increased levels of cortisol when they were stationed at a place that “might” get attacked. I say might in that there was a 50% chance or less that they’d see any combat at all. Makes sense that they’d be stressed, always wondering what was out there in the night.

The same studies found something else, too. Soldiers who knew, with 100% certainty, that they were going to be attacked, actually had lower levels of cortisol. The study surmised that the fact the soldiers knew they’d see action, forced them to plan and then implement that plan. They didn’t have time to stress or worry, they were too busy preparing.

You see, when you feel like you’re life’s out of control, it’s probably because you don’t have a plan.

Now, Start Getting Punched in the Face

We’ve established that a lack of a plan makes you feel like you’re being constantly punched in the face by life. We’ve also established that the implementation of a plan often results in you getting punched in the mouth. Well, ok, that sucks.

But does it? …Yeah, it does. But it’s going to happen anyway, so we might as well learn to love it. Learn to use it to our advantage. I assume that the only way Floyd Mayweather learned how to artfully dodge boxing punches was by getting punched in the face until he understood how to avoid the blows.

The same analogy works for life. The only way you’re going to implement a successful plan, one that results in the achievement of your deepest desires, is if you’ve learned how to roll with life’s punches and come out on the other side (somewhat) unbloodied. Your first plan may fail. Hell, your second and third plans might fail. But over time, you’ll have enough reference experiences to understand how to navigate the choppy waters and stay on course.

So in that way, it’s imperative that we take control of our life, define our goals, and outline a plan to achieve them. Then, actually implement that plan in the real world. It’s only through implementation and iteration that we’ll be able to eventually achieve our goals and ultimate desires.

So here we are. If you feel like your life is somewhat out of control, and if you feel like you’re getting punched in the face take a look at your plan. It might be too lofty. It might be too meek. It might not be there at all. But I’ll tell you one thing: every time I reassess my goals and my plan of getting there, and adjust it in light of my current situation, I’m rewarded with a sense of calm and purpose.

But also be honest with yourself. Make sure your plan is attainable. Doesn’t mean it can’t challenge you, but wishful planning is synonymous with wishful thinking. It’s as bad as not having a plan at all. Remember what J.R.R. Tolkien said, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”