“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”—Dwight D. Eisenhower
It is that time of the year, again—time to consider our New Year’s resolutions and our hopes and dreams for the coming year. But whether related to fitness, finances, or something else, most of these “plans” fail to have actual planning behind them.
I have written previously about the critical steps in successful planning and using patience as a key to accomplishing our goals, but did I leave something out?
It’s Time to Perform an AAR
“Zola’s algorithm evaluates people’s past to predict their future.”—Jasper Sitwell in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. This may be a fault we find in our planning—failing to evaluate our past plans and results to effectively create a new plan or program for the future.
If you work with former military personnel, you may have run into something called an AAR, or after action report. The AAR is a debrief that examines a plan that has already been executed. It provides an opportunity to look at what was successful as well as what did not work in that plan. As human beings, we tend to see our experiences at the extremes—reveling in our successes or getting lost in our failures. We attach judgment to our failures and we accept our success without question. This does not create the best learning environment.
To effectively plan for the future, we would be best served by separating what worked from what did not work whether or not the outcome was a “success” or “failure.”
We can do this by performing an AAR on our last plan—as if it were executed by someone else. No judgment. No blind acceptance of the positives. Just a true examination of the plan, the implementation, and the results. Did the plan actually include the proper planning? Did the implementation account for a change in work? Did the results match the goal? No judgment and no elation, just an examination.
What Might You Discover in an AAR?
So, you have performed your AAR by reviewing the plan and results from your last training cycle, with no judgment or celebration. Now you have the information in front of you. What do you do with it? You adapt your future planning to key in on the successful parts of your past plan and adjust the strategy in the areas where you were not successful.
- Discovery: Your plan called for a specific diet and food prep. Your AAR reveals that your food prep was inconsistent at best and your diet fell to whatever could be grabbed at the moment.
- Solution: Schedule a weekly trip to the supermarket on a morning where food prep and cooking can happen that same day. This way your food for the week is taken care of without anything getting in the way.
- Discovery: Your plan called for daily training sessions. Your AAR reveals that three to four sessions maximum were accomplished in any given week. Why? You forgot that two days a week you are in night class or coaching Little League so your eight- to ten-hour work day turns into twelve to fourteen hours and leaves no time for the training session. (Note: if it is TV time getting in the way of our training, then you don’t get an out!)
- Solution: Schedule three training sessions and one bonus session. The three sessions will hit the requirements of the training program and the bonus session will be rewarded with a “payoff.” The “payoff” might be a cheat meal or a night out with your friends, but this is included in your plan with the knowledge that it might not happen
Note: I have successfully programmed for people working four ten-hour shifts with three days off. Their training occurred on the three days off, while their “bonus” session was something that may or may not have happened during the four ten-hour days. Make your plan work, but be real about it.
- Discovery: Your plan called for a 10% gain in strength. Your AAR reveals a 5% gain. Why? After reading a great article on the interwebs, you decided to add a “little bit” to the routine. And while a 5% gain is better than no gain, it may have been more if the additional work had not slipped into the routine.
- Solution: Stick to the plan next time! Modifying because “life happens” and moving a training day is different than adding an additional routine to the existing routine. Save the article and consider it for a future round of planning.
Create Real Power Instead of Relying on Will Power
Too often we operate with the hope that this time our “will power” will be stronger and the plan that we failed to execute the last three times will somehow work this go-around. Instead of relying on the mystical attribute of “will power,” you can learn from your previous attempts and create a plan that address the weak links. There are two resources I recommend to assist you:
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
The Power of Habit will help you understand the cycle of action/cue and reward, since as Duhigg notes, “You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” And Extreme Ownership will help you understand that “discipline equals freedom” and in the end there is only one person responsible for you and your results—and that would be you.
The AAR can be a critical tool in providing the information and analysis you need to then go about changing a habit and taking ownership of your plans and results. Start with your AAR and continue your education with these two books. You will only know what the AAR reveals if you do it!
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana
Ever wind up not finishing a planned routine only to say: “Oh yeah, now I remember why this didn’t work the last time. I forgot about ____.” Stop the cycle of repeating mistakes. Evaluate your past to collect the best information possible so you can reach your future goals. 2017 can be a year of growth and progress if your planning supports your plan.