The Danger of Backup Plans. And Choice. [en]

[fr] Avoir un plan B nous rassure, mais nous empêche aussi souvent de mettre autant d'énergie qu'il le faudrait dans notre plan A. Parfois, ne pas avoir le choix est une bonne chose.

Being rather pessimistic by nature and risk-averse, I love my backup plans. I really like knowing what I’ll do “if something goes wrong”.

The only way to go is forward.
No plan B here!
Photo by Anita Bora, taken on one of our hikes a couple of years ago.

These last ten years as a self-employed professional are no exception. In the back of my mind I’ve always “known” that, if things go awry:

  • I have savings I can dip into
  • I can borrow money
  • I can always “find a job”
  • maybe I’ll shack up with somebody who has a stable situation and there won’t be so much pressure on my income anymore.

I have always had the nagging feeling that these backup plans kept me from giving my fullest to the current one, the one I was actually living. Why struggle and work like crazy when it might not be necessary?

Like our modern western world, I like the idea that we are responsible, that the way we lead our life is through choices. We always have a choice. I’ve been brought up to believe that we always choose, even when we think we don’t. I don’t think it was drilled into me on purpose — it just reflects the ambient beliefs of our time. If you say you don’t have a choice, you’re in some ways painting yourself as a hapless victim with less agency than you actually have.

But reality is more complex than that, as all we women of the 60s and 70s who ended up not having children due to the circumstances of life rather than our desire not to have any very well know. (I hope.) Not everything that happens to you is a choice.

Looking at the future (and present) rather than the past, absence of choice can actually be a good thing. Absence of a plan B. A series of recent discussions brought that to light for me: professionally, there isn’t really a plan B for me. In the long run, I need to stay self-employed (more about this in another post at some point). And so I have to make my business more successful than in the past (not just by wishful thinking, there is a lot of work to be done, actually — more about that in another post).

Saying “I have to do this” is, again, something I’ve been taught to avoid. Because it makes one powerless to have to do something, rather than want, choose, decide. But an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain presents research that points to another phenomenon: if we have a fallback plan, our motivation or drive to make our main plan succeed diminishes.

Not having a choice can actually be an advantage!

This might be one reason I like action/thriller movies, in which characters very often have no choice but to do what they are doing. Trying to stay alive or save the world definitely gives one a sense of purpose, something I sometimes feel I am lacking in my life.

There could also be a link to my love of physical activities like skiing, sailing, judo, kitesurfing, and even cycling and driving: when you’re moving or in action, you have to do what you have to do, or you can hurt or even kill yourself. In that moment, there is no backup plan. Come to think of it, that is true of public speaking too, though there is of course no physical danger there.

Pourquoi fait-on du sport? [fr]

“Pourquoi fait-on du sport?”

C’est cette question que posait, lundi soir en début de cours, mon prof de judo. Une question multi-couches et pleine de wagons (d’autant plus que pour lui, si le judo aussi un sport, il est également bien plus que “juste un sport” — j’abonde d’ailleurs dans ce sens) — à laquelle je me permets de donner deux réponses à raz les pâquerettes.

Tout d’abord, je crois qu’on fait du sport (et qu’on en refait) parce qu’on se sent mieux après qu’avant. C’est une réponse un peu axée “plaisir immédiat”, mais soyons honnêtes, beaucoup de nos activités sont motivées par le plaisir qu’on a à les exercer.

Deuxièmement, motivée par ma lecture récente de L’animal moral de Robert Wright (en VO bien entendu) — et cette réponse à mon avis est liée à la première et l’explique — je dirais que l’histoire de l’animal humain, à l’échelle de l’évolution, nous rappelle que nous sommes une espèce de prédateurs. Nous avons passé des dizaines de milliers d’années à chasser le mammouth (je caricature), et ce n’est pas les quelques derniers siècles (ou millénaires) de sédentarisation qui auront changé notre nature profonde. Il est fondamentalement humain d’avoir besoin de bouger.

Les réponses ne s’arrêtent pas là, bien entendu. Suivant la portée que l’on donne au mot “sport”, on pourra donner aussi des réponses d’ordre économique, psychologique, philosophique, existentiel, ou même spirituel.

Mais le raz des pâquerettes reste valable.