The Best Laid Plans

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley, 
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

-Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

I’m a perfectionist, a trait that bends toward professional success but personal angst. When making plans that involve others, I’ve found a path toward equanimity and realism. I can adjust course when things go awry and don’t get too bent out of shape when I need to shift my expectations. But in my personal life, planning can quickly become a source of stress. If I don’t live up to the expectations of a budget or a plan I laid out for myself, my instinct is to dwell on everything that went wrong and how I let myself down. I lose sight of everything that went right, even when the win column far outnumbers the loss.

For a long time, I tried to break this cycle by over-correcting; I barely planned anything in my own life beyond just day-to-day maintenance of my calendar. Avoiding the problem delivered moderate success, I reduced my stress and experienced no major consequences, well, save for the obvious consequence that food decisions could still trigger a flash flood of stress. With this new effort, I’m striving for a more balanced approach.

Case in point, this week my Tuesday plan went pretty far afield. Dave and I spent his morning off just hanging out instead of cooking or going to the store, and then on my way home from working out that night, I was exhausted. Quite seriously–I was having a little trouble walking because my legs were so tired. I knew as I drove home that going to the store was a bridge too far. I started reformulating my plan. We had a leftover chicken breast from our (awesome) chicken salads on Monday night, we had kale, we had a lemon. I got home and found half a box of pasta. Done.

One of the big lessons reinforced by my midstream correction was that a well-stocked pantry can make your life a lot easier, particularly when it’s filled with things that cook very quickly, and that cooking enough for leftovers increases your flexibility. The other takeaway (and now I’m talking right to myself), is that when planning, it’s important to keep the goals in mind. My greatest goal in undertaking a meal plan is to reduce my anxiety about food, and thus my overall stress level. My goal is NOT to prove that I can stick to the letter of what I wrote in my notebook on Sunday. Seeing that written out, my internal reaction is, “Um, duh…” but it’s remarkable how the patterns in our brains can conspire against us. The perfectionist voice inside tells me that if you’re not going to be dead letter perfect at something, you probably should give up. It’s why my efforts at planning for my personal life have been stymied for so long. Luckily, I continue to assemble an arsenal of tools to tell that voice to cool it, and just let me enjoy my dinner.

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