To get our mind right and ready for higher performance we need to have an objective, something to guide us, and once we have that beacon set, we need a plan to get there.

All high performers use plans to direct their focus during training and performance. To develop higher performance in our own lives we need to understand what a good plan is, and also why, how, and when to set them.

What is a plan?

An objective is what we intend to do, and a plan is what we attend to—it is what we will do today to bring ourselves closer to our objective. Many people confuse a plan with a to-do list, but a more accurate description of a plan is as a to-develop list—built of actionable items based in skill-sets.


If our objective is to run a 5k foot race in under 22 minutes a good plan must not only include distances to run but the physical and mental skills necessary to achieve our goal. A plan might include running specific skills: run tall, or run with a forefoot strike; and mental skills: power statement “I can do this”, and focus on the present.

The goal time of 22 minutes is what we intend, and the skills in our plan are what we attend to.

Why should set plans?

It may seem obvious that we need to set plans to reach our goals, but too many of us forget. Without a plan our mind becomes stuck in the future—on our objectives—or in the past on our failures. Plans bring our mind into the present. And the present is where we develop skills, and skills are the building blocks for higher performance.

How should we set plans?

To set appropriate plans we need to first have a meaningful objective (click here if you missed part 2 of this blog series). After we have an objective we have to breakdown the steps to get there, and the skills that will enable us. There are four attributes all good plans should have:

  • Be specific—ambiguity leaves room for excuses and lessened accountability
  • Make them tangible—plans must be concrete and not abstract to be able to complete
  • Action items—plans are things we WILL do, they are based in action, not avoidance
  • Skills and skill-sets—higher performance is built in the skills we develop, never neglect the skills you need to develop when making your plan.

Now we know what a plan is, why we set them, and how to set them. Next, lets talk about when to set a plan.

When should we set plans?

How often should we work for our dreams? Everyday. That is why we need to have a plan everyday and for every endeavor we have. Here are a few guidelines for when to set a plan:

  • Prior to training or performance—plans are not only for trainings or practice, but for performance and competition
  • Only 2-3 plans at a time—for every pursuit we should only have 2-3 plans at a time. Less than 2 plans leaves room for interference to seep into our mind, and more than 3 plans at a time bogs down our mind—making us less efficient
  • Using step 4 of the day before—we will talk more about step 4 of the journal in a couple weeks, but for now remember that a plan is an ongoing process that carries over from day to day

Setting good plans, like most things that are worth while, takes practice. Use the Cognitive Structured Journal everyday as a guide. Whatever your plans are and whenever you sit down to make them remember what the architect Daniel H. Burnham said:

“Make no little plans; they have no magic [there] to stir men’s blood

And probably themselves will not be realized.

Make big plans; aim high and hope and work,

Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die,

But long after we are gone,

Will be a living thing,

Asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”


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