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Are You Planophobic? – 3 Things You Need To Know To Stop Your Brain Blocking Your Potential

ritten by: Deirdre Morrison, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


It’s the time of year for it, but I’ve had a lot of client conversations around the topic of planning recently. Not just planning, but a genuine aversion to planning. There is a word for it, btw. We’ll come to that in a minute.

Now, I’m not going to go into the whole thing about why you made resolutions and they dropped by the wayside after the first week. That’s a whole different kettle of ball games.

What we’re talking about today is that feeling that planning is something other people do –that planning’s boring and confining, and all about spreadsheets and number-crunching.

Plans are defined as:

  • a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.

  • an intention or decision about what one is going to do

  • decide on and make arrangements for in advance

Teleophobia, on the other hand, according to the Urban Dictionary is:

  • the fear of making definite plans

  • a fear of things ending

  • it can even extend to – wait for it – the fear of religious ceremonies!

Now, it seems to me that there is an element of the rebel in those who are averse to planning. We don’t want to be told what to do (even by ourselves). We don’t want to limit our options. We certainly don’t want to feel like we’re living by a set of rules.

So, although it may seem a fairly innocuous word, ‘plan’ is a fairly uncomfortable or even intimidating word for some. I should know, I’ve been one of them.

I’ve had to work out strategies to get past this. ‘No filters’, here are some of the challenges I’ve faced when it comes to my relationship with planning…

  • I make lists and forget where I put them… or even that I’ve made them!

  • I enjoy pulling at any interesting thread I see (and that’s a LOT in my line of work)

  • I don’t want to be bored

  • I don’t want to do numbers

  • I don’t want to waste time planning, especially if I’m not going to do it, cos I have a better idea five minutes later!

  • I have too many ideas. I can’t even keep up.

Fortunately, after many years experimenting with alternately sticking my head in the sand and beating myself up for being so disorganised, I’ve now got some great neuroscience-based tools and techniques at my disposal, which make unpeeling this particular onion a piece of cake. (Hands up if you’ve just had a vision of an onion cake… Excellent… your right hemisphere likes unusual metaphors, you know! ) These tools are designed to help us understand how and why our brains work the way they do, and how we can use these insights to become more effective, by drawing on superpowers we didn’t even know we had. Like planning… Seriously! And if the thought of that makes you feel ill, think of it as an untapped power to make your dreams into reality.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about your brain. It’s got two hemispheres – which I’m sure you already knew. But what you might not know is that those two hemispheres see the world very differently.

No-one is ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’, btw. That’s a myth. You are always using both hemispheres – even if you’re the most creative, free-form human on the planet. And the way the hemispheres work together is incredibly complex and endlessly fascinating.

So, for someone who poo-poos the idea of planning (and with it words like goals, strategy and spreadsheets), then there’s a good chance that their right hemisphere, with its love of big picture approaches, and freedom and novelty, is getting more airspace. Think of it like a muscle. Those strengths have been developed and encouraged. So, right now, it’s a bit like a bodybuilder who only trains one side of their body. Picture that, right?! Or imagine a swan with only one foot. They’re still incredibly beautiful, but they’re going to swim in circles, and not get very far.

Right hemisphere strengths are of course, great in many ways. It’s the realm of big dreams and visions. And the world needs those now, more than ever. But we don’t need those dreams to remain dreams. We need them to be realised.

Here’s the second thing you need to know. We have two hemispheres for a reason. They’re a complementary set. When we have the dreams and visions for how things can be better, how we can serve the world, create a world that we want to be part of, then it’s important not just to HAVE the dreams, but to realise them. Especially if they’re going to help make something better.

And this is where we can run into trouble if we don’t draw on the strengths of both hemispheres.

Using the strengths of both is how our dreams go from the vision board to the real world. It’s how we can have empathy and see individuals, without becoming overwhelmed by the emotion of their situations. We draw on our brain’s innate ability to create plans. Sometimes those are just steps that will get us a little closer to where we want to be. Sometimes, they’re big, bold moves. But whatever way you cut it, they’re plans.

And here’s the third thing you need to know. Your brain is incredibly adaptable and is constantly learning. Somewhere along the line, it learned that planning had a consequence that it didn’t like. So it learned to avoid planning. Some examples of why this might be the case include:

  • Planning felt like limiting your options.

  • You may have had a very organised parent who felt like no fun, so you want to be as unlike that as you can

  • If you made plans, then you didn’t have the resources to accomplish them, so not making them meant not having to face that disappointment or ‘loss of face’

  • There were people who made fun of your plans

  • The education you received made you feel like working to a plan was the opposite of everything you wanted to do in life.

  • Maybe you had a hero who seemed very spontaneous, and you wanted to be like them.

Quite often, we don’t even know why we don’t want to plan. It just feels wrong. It’s not who we are, right? We’re the freedom loving, go with the flow creative types.

We’re great rationalisers. And the bad news is that often, smart people can rationalise things a lot more ‘logically’ for themselves. Which suits your brain, to be honest. Because then, it doesn’t have to exert the energy it would take to literally change your mind.

Your brain is plastic though. Not like environmental disaster plastic. Neuroplastic. That means you can change it. But changing it takes energy. And as your brain tries to manage your body resources, it pretty much says, “You’re still alive? Then changing that approach is a waste of energy.”

From an evolutionary point of view, that might have made sense. You’re being chased by a tiger, so you do more of the thing that stops getting you caught, right? Our society has evolved a lot quicker than our brains on many levels. And this is part of why it’s sometimes so damn hard to change our habits, or our ways of thinking about things. They often served a purpose in the shorter term. Which would be fine, if it didn’t keep us from fulfilling our potential and realising those dreams in the longer term. A classic example of something that ‘no longer serves us.’ That loosely translates as ‘levelling up’. And that works across all aspects of life, not just work-related things.

But of course that’s almost an ideal situation, when you identify something that’s no longer serving you, and you cut it loose. But it’s not always that simple. There’s a good chance that on some level it IS serving you. See above for some of those reasons that we might have learned to avoid planning in the first place. They’re pretty good reasons… They’re attractive! Dagnabbit, Brain…

Here’s a bonus item from the food for thought menu. This is the big noodle-baker, actually. Napoleon Hill once said “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.”

Most people take that to mean that you need sweat, blood and tears to achieve anything. However, I’d suggest that, as with much of Hill’s work, there’s a more subtle interpretation to be had. And so I put it to you that the thing that needs to be sacrificed in order for you to achieve the dreams you have for this year, next year and beyond, is not your time driving yourself into the ground in a workaholic frenzy. It’s actually a much more challenging sacrifice.

What if the sacrifice involves the habits? What if the sacrifice is the ideas we have about ourselves, and what role our aversion to planning plays in informing our identity, and our differentiation from others – like the notion that planning is something other people do.

What I do know is this: If you only have a hammer, you see every problem as a nail. But what would happen if you had other – less brutal – tools?

If this strikes a chord, I’d love to know. Have you found ways to integrate your tendencies, ignore them, or is it still a work in progress?

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Deirdre!


Deirdre Morrison, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Deirdre Morrison is the founder of The Learn for Life Hub, including the Ambition Incubator platform and podcast. Her mission is to deliver practical tools from the field of neuroscience to help entrepreneurs and leaders be happier, healthier, more effective and successful in all the areas of their lives that matter to them.

Deirdre is an advocate of life-long learning, an interest that ultimately led her to study applied neuroscience. She works with individual clients primarily through her N=1 programme, which creates a unique brain-science informed toolkit, based on the client’s unique circumstances and needs. She also hosts a number of small group events, including monthly TED Circles, and development groups based on dynamic co-readings of business classics. Registration for these is available via Her other interests include the Japanese sword art of Kendo, road cycling, and reading.



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