“Mark was in a stressful environment and only when he decluttered his schedule did he become free. …  He was finally free of the schedule. And that made him happy. His happiness poured through him and eventually brought him the success he always wanted.”

“Johnny was laid back and was always dabbling in stuff, not having a schedule or planning stuff out ahead. And because of this, he was in problems and wasn’t happy. So he finally created a schedule and stuck to it for the next 5 years. … That brought him happiness and in turn, brought him the success he always wanted.”

I found these kinds of paragraphs throughout almost every one of the 50 self-help books I read. They all talked about one of two principles:

  • Don’t plan. Go with the flow, and you will be happy and successful
  • Plan. If you follow it, you will be happy and successful.

This caused a paradox in my head: What to do? Whom to follow? Have a strict plan for my life, or keep things open? 

To Plan or Not to Plan? Picking Sides in the Duel of the Self-Help Clans

To Plan or Not to Plan? Picking Sides in the Duel of the Self-Help Clans

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

– Joseph Campbell

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

– Alan Lakein

Then, I realized something. But before I tell you what I realized, we need to go through both ideas to see in detail what they are.

Don’t plan

Leave all of it open. Every single day when you wake up, don’t plan and just go with the flow. Be still and mindful and stuff around will happen. It is about keeping your options open because otherwise, you will probably miss the one opportunity that can transform your life.

This openness can come only if you’re not stuck to a tight plan and schedule. Because if you’re focused on one fixed avenue, you will miss the possibility of an unexpected transformation.

So limiting your planning to a minimum will bring you to the transformation you seek. This group is all about the inner self, mindfulness and manifestations. If you believe in it, it will happen. 

“Focus on your feelings.” “Meditate for days.” “Be mindful about everything.” “Things you seek will manifest when you stop seeking them.”

These are the kinds of mantras invoked by the “Don’t plan” camp, which includes books like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life, and more.

They focus solely on being present, mindful and at ease, in the belief that everything else will then take care of itself. Eckhart Tolle even lived on a bench because of this conviction. For him, being present is all that mattered — no plan, just live in the moment. 

The “Don’t plan” camp is all about the “inner game.” But let’s see the other group now.

Go with the flow


Bro, it’s all about the hustle. You just need to hustle, hustle, hustle. If you hustle long enough, you will reach the stars. You need to schedule 15 of the 24 hours in your day down to the minute, because that’s what successful people are doing, so you should too.

In this camp we have people like Gary Vee, Grant Cardone and Eric Thomas. For them, the game that leads to the success and happiness you crave is based on taking action every single day in as big a way as possible. To do that, you need to plan out your days, weeks, months and years.

For this group, it’s about intensity and focus. You want to be in the position X in three years. So that means that for the next three years you should be doing only Y in your life to achieve X. And that means taking every single moment you have and focusing solely on that goal.

These people are playing for tomorrow. Who you are now is less important than who you can become. You struggle now to enjoy later, and if you want to build something truly great, you need to sacrifice now even more.

They call it “noodle profitability” in entrepreneurship.

The books (and guys) here focus solely on executing today to have a life “tomorrow.” Today only counts if I plan it out so that today’s plan brings value to tomorrow’s, and if I execute on it.

You do this until you reach your goal. Then maybe you can enjoy it.

This group focuses only on the “outer game.”

Sorting through the paradox

So the thing that I learned was that “Plan” and “Don’t plan” groups are two sides of the same coin. You need both in your life. And balance is the word that matters.

You need a plan for the future, along with daily actions and habits that support the execution of that plan.

But you also need time for yourself. You need that empty schedule to live your life — to feel, to enjoy, to be spontaneous.

And yes, you can have both. Split your time 50/50, and enjoy the current reality while also planning and executing for your future. You just need to plan, and then let go.

As Jason Silva said so perfectly,

You can’t meditate yourself to where you wanna be in this world. Meditation is a part of it but so is practice. After the ecstasy, the laundry. Fetch water, chop wood, exercise, right. Make a list. Plan, design, cultivate… and then let go… and then surrender.

How does your balance look like?

Tell me in the comment section below.