Act, But First Plan

2012 by Garza

A few days ago I wrote that lots of things must happen for positive change to occur, and perhaps the most important is actionI said perhaps, because action can be of little or no value, or even counterproductive, if the actor hasn’t thought through the positive change that he or she wants to occur.

In fact, planning is so important it has assumed adage status: “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” it is often said. (It must be true; the adage has been attributed to not just one, or two, but at least three sages, Ben Franklin, Winston Churchill and John Wooden!) Action is critical for change to occur, but it’s useless unless paired with direction.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, adds his own wrinkle:

Often we tell ourselves, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” But when we practice awareness, we discover something unusual. We discover the opposite may be more helpful: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” We must learn to stop from time to time in order to see clearly. . . . [Peace is Every Step (1991)]

I think Thich Nhat Hanh is suggesting something a bit different from the sort of ad hoc planning the above-quoted sages probably had in mind. He is a proponent of mindfulness, of reflection, of being in touch with what is happening within us and around us. Not just as part of a planning process, but as a practice, a way of life. He’s not referring to simply sitting in a lotus position, contemplating your breathing, though that can be useful. He’s suggesting an engaged mindfulness that marries seeing (the awareness that comes from slowing down and reflecting on what is important to you) with action.

It’s possible that random action can produce positive results, but usually the only silver lining is the opportunity afforded the actor to learn from his or her mistakes. So, when figuring out the sort of positive change you want to occur, make sure you first reflect, consider, and plan, so that the change you make happen by your action is the positive change you intended. And increase the odds that your planning will be effective, now, by making mindfulness a way of life.

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