In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln became frustrated with his commander of the Army of the Potomac, when he kept putting off attacking the confederate forces in Virginia. The army had been idle in Washington for over eight months. General George McClellan had built it into one of the largest and best trained armies in U.S. history. Yet, he kept refusing to move out against the south, claiming his army was not yet ready.
On January 10, Lincoln met with top generals (McClellan did not attend) and directed them to formulate a plan of attack, expressing his exasperation with General McClellan with the following remark: “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”
There were undoubtedly many forces that shaped McClellan’s reluctance to move, but one of them may have been an addiction to planning.
Stop excessive planning and start taking action.
Planning is important and planning can be fun. Planning can be exciting. Planning is always safe, because it remains in the realm of theory. No one is proved right or wrong until action is taken. The bigger the endeavor, the greater the risk, and the more you will be tempted to remain too long in planning mode. At some point, you have to take action or your opportunity will be seized by others and your success in life will be limited.
How can you break out of the excessive planning mode?
- Recognize the payoffs that may be tempting you to hesitate.
- Check your self-esteem. If you are feeling insecure, it will tempt you to delay action.
- Set a deadline. Make the commitment that by a particular date you have to do something.
- Quit searching for the perfect plan. Accept that every action entails a risk of failure.
- Comfort yourself with the knowledge that every plan requires adjustments once it has begun and have confidence in your ability to adapt.
Historians continue to debate whether or not George McClellen’s hesitancy to move, lengthened the war. Some theorize, that had he taken action sooner, many thousands of lives could have been saved.
There is no debate however, about the fact that excessive planning will limit your success in life. No advancement in financial, career, or family success, is ever gained in the world of the imagination. You have to take action. You have to make the best plan you can and then boldly begin its execution. At some point you have to stop planning and take action.
“If he wasn’t going to use his life, I’d like to have borrowed it for a while,” would be a terrible epitaph to have etched on your gravestone.