Switch to mobile version

Is It Time for Plan A?

Post image for Is It Time for Plan A?

In all my years of school I never studied. Chapters from the textbook were assigned regularly, but I didn’t feel like I could read them. I didn’t know how to stay interested enough to absorb any knowledge from them.

Studying, for me, amounted to looking up bolded words in the glossary and trying to remember what the teacher had been talking about when she said, “This will be on the test.”

I was well aware that studying is a normal thing people do, an obvious and straightforward solution to school’s challenges, just as washing the dishes in soapy water is an obvious solution to having an unsightly pile of dishes in the sink. Whenever I sought instruction on how to study, however, it was assumed that one could simply read a textbook when necessary, and I could not explain why I couldn’t do that.

Somehow I got by, although my no-studying method was definitely inferior to the usual “some studying” method. My marks were good through primary school, “satisfactory” in high school, and probationary in college. I did graduate, but I was anxious and afraid all the time, and lived my life avoiding any endeavors involving the reading of dense material, whether at school, work, or play.

The Long Way Around

I suspect my studying problem is one form of a common scenario: there’s a normal and straightforward way to do a thing, yet you’ve come to do it in some eccentric roundabout way that doesn’t work so well, just because you can’t get on board with the usual way for some reason.

Maybe you get too nervous trying to parallel park on the street, despite ample spots, so you always pay for an underground lot and have to walk a half-mile each way. Or you don’t go to the cinema anymore solely because you’re embarrassed to shuffle past people mid-movie go to the bathroom, and you may have to do that. Or you always must maintain a large supply of change because you don’t know how those MetroPass things work, eight years after they introduced them.

For some, a root canal

I’m sure all of us make private compromises around certain specific corners of life, tasks that others seem to navigate as a matter of course by doing the simple and obvious thing. Just quit avoiding it and learn to park. Just get up and go to the bathroom. Just crack the books and study.

We may have our reasons, at least at first: acute anxiety around certain situations, a genuine inability to understand a common concept or perform a common action, or just a sense that you’re not ready to tackle this particular question mark quite yet. Whatever it is, you balk and go around where others just go ahead.

Me, going around

Maybe you can relate to the above examples, or something like them. Or perhaps you know someone who does a certain thing in a seemingly self-defeating and inefficient way:

  • A man insists he cannot cook and cannot learn to cook. “I burn everything,” he says. Privately, he has always found it stressful to try follow a recipe, mostly because he turns on the burner before he even starts prepping the ingredients. So he lives on takeout, to the detriment of his health and finances.
  • Another man has worn a simple buzzcut his entire adult life because he has never known how to do his hair in a way he likes. He’d love to have something more interesting, but the possibility of making it look good feels beyond him.
  • A woman doesn’t invest her savings because money stuff has always felt too complicated, so she keeps it all in a low-interest savings account. She rarely thinks about investing now. Her unusual retirement strategy has already cost her tens of thousands of dollars.
  • A man can never remember what the washing symbols on clothing tags mean, so he washes everything together on the default setting, every time. His clothes get clean enough, although he has to replace them often, and he doesn’t wear white garments anymore because they just won’t stay white.
  • A woman has a little garden, where she only grows chives and thyme, because she thinks they’re the only plants she can keep alive. She’d love to grow some big colorful flowers but it feels like it would be tricky — annuals, perennials, climate zones, and all that.
  • An office worker doesn’t go out with her colleagues because she’s afraid people will make fun of her for not drinking alcohol. Instead of going anyway and ordering whatever she wants, she simply declines every invitation. She likes these people, and is respected in the office, but she always feels like an outsider because everybody else knows each other.

A casual observer in all of these cases would be scratching their head. Why don’t you just read Investing for Dummies? Why not take half an hour and learn the laundry symbols? Why not just go out with the coworkers and see what it’s like?

What has happened with each of these people is that they’ve abandoned the usual, most straightforward way at some point — which is virtually everyone’s Plan A — because it seemed unworkable or painful when they tried it, or thought about trying it. To get by, they’ve settled on an idiosyncratic Plan B, which “works” but is more costly, less rewarding, and makes the person feel left out of something others seem to do freely.

Perhaps not impenetrable

Over time, Plan B methods get so familiar that they become part of your identity. You become blind to the possibility that the thing can be a lot simpler. Plan A is how things work for others, and Plan B is simply how your life must be.

In fact, Plan Bs become so ingrained that you might not even realize you’re making a fairly drastic compromise. The only clue might be that everybody else does a certain thing in a common, conventional way, with little visible trouble, and you do that thing some other way, and it remains troublesome to you.

For example, I always shy away from swimming-related activities because in my mind it seems like such a hassle — finding a place to change, putting my wallet and phone somewhere safe, doing something with my sopping trunks afterward — even though I like swimming itself, and those reservations are all small, easily solved problems that everyone else just deals with.

Stepping off the long detour

Being stuck in a Plan B can feel like a personal curse, but really, it’s just a method. Cooking and growing flowers works under the same laws for everyone. If the fish gets to the right temperature for the right amount of time, it cooks nicely. If the flower gets the light and nutrients it needs, it grows. There is no person for whom those conditions have some other result, but there are people who have stopped trying to create those conditions and are doing something else.

The preferred trajectory

And they probably stopped with Plan A after only a few early failures. It doesn’t take many painful or frustrating experiences before you’re looking elsewhere for a way past. And you’ll always find some way, some Plan B. But the problem with Plan A might have been a small or contingent thing that’s no trouble anymore, or at least isn’t the brick wall it once seemed to be. Maybe you just didn’t have someone to ask for help, or there was no internet back then, or you were just younger and less wise.

It occurred to me recently — after trying to explain to someone why I can’t simply study the topics I want to be well-studied in — just how many Plan A’s I’ve abandoned in my life, and how many might work fine now. Undiagnosed ADHD has instilled a lot of Plan B compromises in me, so many that I began to assume that no Plan A approach is going work for me, even before I’ve tried it.

Due for retirement

Anyway, I’m now going back to Plan A approaches I’d long abandoned — and they work! Ten or twenty years later, I find I have sufficient patience to sort out the details of most normal, straightforward methods without getting frustrated. Lo and behold, I can understand and use financial instruments. I can make pastry. I can study.

You’re probably not as hard a case as I am though. Whatever your challenge is, perhaps it’s finally time for Plan A.


In other news, something cool is happening: my friend Robert Wringham is resurrecting his small-print magazine New Escapologist, about escaping the worker-consumer treadmill into a life of creativity. I’m writing a regular column. Get a copy via their Kickstarter campaign, which is happening now.

Photos by Priscilla Du Preez, Tom Harpel, Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, Elkagye, Shane, and Josh Appel

Pipsterate July 20, 2023 at 1:09 am

That’s a great way of putting, “plan A.” I actually just started seriously learning to drive this year, about ten years too late, because I’d always assumed it would be really hard and I could figure out how to get by with public transit and walking. It turns out, it’s not nearly as hard as I expected, it’s just that I’d never truly tried plan A.

Pipsterate July 20, 2023 at 1:11 am

“way of putting *it,” I meant. Sorry.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 8:27 am

Sometimes we never really try, because the “mental rehearsal” goes so badly. Driving is so freeing, it would be a shame to never learn.

E July 20, 2023 at 2:24 am

Yes!! I can relate to this. As a high school and uni student I rarely studied well at home – I was much more productive if I went to a place like a library or cafe. So I did that more and more, and gradually ingrained in myself the notion that I was incapable of doing any self-motivated work at home.
Recently, I have been trying to fit in time for personal projects outside of my day job. For the last year and a half I tried to get into a routine of going to a cafe before work, but I could never quite prioritise the early mornings, and cafes/libraries are not open after work. Then in the last few weeks I realised I should just try what a normal person would do – spend some time on it at home in the evening. And it’s been working, doing 1-2 blocks per night, and I am disproportionately proud of myself!

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 8:30 am

The more I think about it, the more insidious this whole Plan-B-ing phenomenon seems. All it takes is one deferral to a different way, and we stop inquiring about Plan A and its strengths and challenges. We already assume it’s not for us.

There’s so much talk about “normal” being something arbitrary oppressive status that we shouldn’t aspire to, but the reality is things usually become normal because they work for the most people. It can be a very useful indicator of what we are probably better off doing.

Natalie July 20, 2023 at 4:17 am

Loved this and can completely relate. Not sure if I have ADHD but my plan-B tendencies are mainly related to impatience or fear of boredom. Another example to add to your excellent list: I tend to use a dustpan and brush because I hate vacuum cleaning (too noisy, you have to plug it in and carry it around – it feels like a commitment – but it works!).

Joel Hughes July 20, 2023 at 6:19 am

The school part is me exactly. The biggest drivers of “plan b” tend to be fear of failure (if you get bad grades then hey, you weren’t trying anyway) and ADHD for sure. Great piece.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 8:32 am

I have similar vaacuum aversions, mainly having to do with the annoying cord. It’s interesting how the aversion is often centered around one specific annoyance that we refuse to tolerate, and it can shape our lives.

My friend has the same problem I do, and she recently invested in a $700 battery-operated Dyson, and said it changed her life. She loves vacuuming now.

Justine July 20, 2023 at 9:14 am

Oh my goodness! I hated vacuuming too, for the same reasons. For years when I lived in a house with only hardwood floors I didn’t even own a vacuum because I only wanted to sweep. Turns out vacuuming is actually more efficient.

Joe July 20, 2023 at 6:21 am

I think I’ve been a “plan A” avoider for my whole life for one reason or another. I’ve come to see once I get on the right track with things then things smooth out and begin to flow. Maybe that’s what the Taoist have been trying to tell us all along.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 9:05 am

Do you know why you are a Plan A avoider or is it just a result of natural temperament?

Vilx- July 20, 2023 at 6:29 am

Nice article. :)

You mentioned investing though, and – maybe you can clear something up for me. I’ve heard a lot about it, I feel like I generally understand it, and it does seem like many people are trying to push for it as “Plan A”, but…

Why is it not considered as something horribly unethical and harmful to society?

OK, that’s an extreme way to put it, but here’s what I mean by it:

Money doesn’t come from nothing. Money comes from people doing work (well, putting aside government shenanigans). But investors don’t do any work. They merely own the companies, which have employees, who do all the work and make all the money. And then they give a cut to their overlords. No matter how I look at it, I can’t see investors as anything else but freeloaders. Parasites. A burden on society’s neck.

Investing is commonly touted as a way of “protecting your money from inflation”, but it doesn’t really protect it. Your money still loses value over time. It’s just that you get more money from other people to cover for your losses. You haven’t really circumvented inflation – you’ve just shifted its burden to someone else. Someone who now has to carry double – yours and their own.

And this, of course, applies not only to investing but to all kinds of passive income. Renting, lending, intellectual property, etc.

It seems to me like I’m the only one with such an opinion (I haven’t searched on the Internet though). Everyone else I’ve ever talked to sees no issue, so I’m assuming it’s me and not them. But for the love of life I can’t figure out how to look at this so that the owners/lenders/investors don’t come out as parasites.

(P.S. Yes, I know this sounds a lot like the basic ideas of communism. I come from Latvia where we spent 50 years under the Soviet occupation and we hate communism with a passion. I don’t think communism works and would never want it. So this is just me describing the problem I see while not having any alternatives to offer.)

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 8:48 am

Investing provides people and companies with access to money so that they can do things they otherwise couldn’t. That has value. That’s why people pay interest on loans. Few people could buy a house if they didn’t pay to use someone else’s money to purchase it.

It doesn’t just provide value to the lender and borrower, but it allows business operations to get off the ground, which can then provide social goods like jobs and new wealth-creating technologies and services. I don’t see how the “parasite” view is justified.

Certainly, *preventing* citizens from lending and borrowing from each other is wrong and detrimental to society. Imagine if you couldn’t make private arrangements with others to borrow money. Would that make your life better or worse? Would there be more wealth in society or less? More jobs or fewer? More successful businesses or fewer?

You can easily find many debates on the social value of investing if you are interested.

Vilx- July 20, 2023 at 1:22 pm

Lending and investing as such is fine, but it’s the “give back more than you took” part which is making me uncomfortable. Especially in the case of investing, where a one-time investment basically generates infinite (or at least unbounded) income. As long as the company continues to exist and as long as you have shares in it – the company is obligated to pay you. Investment funds then take this a step further and protect you even from failing companies.

It’s… I don’t know. Every piece and step of this system seems good and right and innocent and logical in and of its own – but taken together they create something sinister. An opportunity, a pathway for a single person to legally enslave multitudes. Few start down on this path, fewer still get very far, but those who do, all become infamous.

And as I said – I don’t have any ideas of how to do this better. Just that this seems… deeply, inherently wrong.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:11 pm


You lost me. How does the existence of investing enslave people? What path? Who’s infamous? I really don’t know what any of this means.

Emma Green July 20, 2023 at 9:08 am

You’re not alone, I agree with your take on “normal” investment and passive income approaches. But David’s blog doesn’t seem to me like it’s primarily focused on ethics and how to do the right thing … it’s just about how to be more comfortable and effective in whatever pursuits you choose (right or wrong). In general I don’t see him taking it upon himself to comment on what choices are helpful/harmful to society as a whole.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:13 pm

I feel like I moralize all the time in these posts :)

But I haven’t heard a good case that investing is intrinstically immoral — do you have one?

Nina July 20, 2023 at 3:40 pm

Philosophically, a lot of the moral criticisms of usury can also be applied to investing. Check out the usury Wikipedia page if you’re interested.

But you don’t need abstractions to find problems with investing. When a company is owned by external shareholders, those shareholders — who do not earn a salary from the company or get a cut of profits — need the share price to keep increasing year on year for it to be “worth it”. Since the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism ended, companies have largely stopped caring about anything but this goal, and will pursue it however makes sense in the short term: clear-cutting rainforests, outsourcing jobs, closing factories as a tax write-off, cutting corners, shrinkflation, minimizing the number of workers with full-time status, lobbying against reasonable increases to the minimum wage, etc., etc. So, by investing in corporations, one becomes complicit in all of these shenanigans carried out in the name of increasing share price. You’re voting with your dollars, getting rewarded, and reinvesting the rewards into even more votes for the same thing… it’s bad!

And the argument of “Well, they’re taking a risk so they deserve a reward” doesn’t really hold water these days. We’re not helping Florentine merchant vessels make dangerous journeys to Indonesia; we’re buying some index funds that cushion us against any meaningful loss. Or at worst, we’re buying some single stock — say, Amazon — safe in the knowledge that their entire corporate structure is designed to benefit us (as opposed to the environment, workers, or even, at this point, customers — gotta love those fake Prime Day deals!). If the share price starts going down, meh, it’ll probably go up again (unlike a sunken galleon in the Java Sea) and if not, we can sell it and buy something else.

I have no solution to this. My money is invested in a “socially responsible” portfolio, whatever that means, but I can’t justify not investing, because between inflation and the ever-higher cost of housing specifically, there is no way to retire anywhere near comfortably without investing. I don’t want to live in a tent under a bridge in my 70s-80s — I see people living like that in Toronto every day, and no thank you. I will capitalize on the luck I have and take my savings and turn them into a future income. Many of my friends, who entered the workforce with student debt and who haven’t had the privilege of a secure government job, have no money to invest and will likely spend their final years in poverty. Yet capitalist society is like “Too bad, so sad! Should have saved up enough to loan money to horrible corporations for 4+ decades!”

Anyway. That’s what I think they were getting at.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 5:25 pm


Thanks for this. I don’t think it is an argument that investing is intrinsically bad though. It rests on the assumption that the rise of share prices only occurs when companies do bad things like cut down rainforests, dump oil in the ocean, shut down factories in small towns etc. Values also rise when factories are opened, when better technologies are invented, and when companies distribute life-improving goods to people. Economic growth consists of both good and bad.

We all have to decide who to give our money to, and what activities we want to support, but that’s always been part of life. I grew up with this vague anti-capitalist notion that “growth = destruction” but I don’t buy it anymore. Economic growth involves a huge variety of activities and consequences, and a major one has been to lift billions of people out of abject poverty. It’s fair to say that at least sometimes, the dollars are good, and that might be understating it.

Andrew P July 20, 2023 at 6:59 pm

I don’t think this is too uncommon view, and it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense: if you’re just parking money and then more shows up without actually producing something, then surely it must’ve been skimmed off of somebody who *was* actually producing things. But surprisingly this is (usually) not the case, even when it appears to be.

There *are* some places in the market that are actually skimming money — this is referred to as “rent seeking”, which is when you exploit some position or monopoly in order to redirect money to yourself without actually providing value. But despite the suggestive name, even literally collecting rent is (mostly) not an example of this. Whatever extra rent you can charge by owning land in a popular area where there aren’t many options, that’s arguably rent seeking, but the rent you can charge because you’re providing a place for someone to live and doing maintenance, is not.

Similarly, if you run a stock exchange and collect fees on every transaction, that seems like rent seeking. But it’s really not, because you’re providing a transaction layer that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and maintaining the systems that support it, etc.

Lots of “middleman”-type things seem to be of this form. The part that’s unintuitive is that there’s a real cost to managing things and somebody has to bear it. Another unintuitive thing is that when you spend money on doing productive things, there’s a risk that it won’t work out, and that risk also has a measurable cost, even though in any specific scenario things either work or they don’t. Another one is the time value of money, which David is hinting at: if you’re not spending money now, and somebody else can, then you’d be providing them value by lending the money, even though the money wouldn’t have done you any good.

Generally speaking, the only places that you actually see rent seeking are those where there’s a small market that can be easily cornered, or where there’s a big information asymmetry, or when patents or other regulatory barriers exist, or (I would say) in much of the advertising industry where one party simply manipulates another into acting against their will. But even in these cases, I don’t think you could find many hard-and-fast rules distinguishing the “productive” parts of such spending vs the “rent seeking” ones.

The stock market in particular has a pretty confusing mechanism for providing value to the world. One service it provides is “price discovery” where the relative prices of stocks signal where money can be usefully deployed. But just dumping your money into the stock market and never selling (which is good advice) doesn’t serve any such purpose. So where is the money coming from?

I think this recent Matt Levine article in Bloomberg does a good job answering this question: https://archive.is/P3bD9 the meat of the article is some obscure thing about an SEC ruling about some cryptocurrency nonsense, but the first half does a great job (I think) describing the mechanics of the stock market and how “investing” is providing value.

Laura July 20, 2023 at 6:44 am

This is me David. I’ve never heard this phenomenon described so clearly.

These are so many things in life where I’ve gone for a Plan B, thinking Plan A was out of reach for me, including, like you, studying. I too had undiagnosed ADHD until this year. I am 51.

Avoiding Plan A’s for so long has the side effect of making me feel alienated, like I’m just “different” from others, like others have a right to live a “normal” life where I don’t. Over years it create a deep well of loneliness and shame.

Thank you so much for writing about this and I’d love to see more on this topic.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 8:56 am

I know this feeling so well — not just specific trouble with Plan A’s, but a more global feeling that Plan A’s in general, and all their prizes, are for normal people and I can never access them. It has been an amazing year as I discover that many of the Plan A’s are now accessible to me.

There are so many of us. I will definitely write more on this topic. I’m working on a major project in this vein actually.

Rudy July 20, 2023 at 6:48 am

Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge with us. Your articles are always a refreshing reminder and encouragement that with, perspective and “simple” strategies, change and consistency is possible. Especially for us living with ADHD.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 9:04 am

Thanks Rudy. I will be writing more on this topic and related topics soon.

Aretina July 20, 2023 at 8:15 am

Round-abouts…otherwise referred to as “traffic circles”. For years I’d go out of my way to avoid them, take longer routes and even avoid destinations I’d otherwise visit if I didn’t have to negotiate one to get there. I feel so much better now, having recently taken a trip that involved six round-abouts although not without some pre-planning and google-mapping in preparation. Seems like such a silly thing to hold me back, but this article definitely resonated!

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 9:00 am

Not silly at all — it’s a high stakes operation whenever cars are involved, and you need to be safe. I avoid left turns onto busy, multi-lane streets because it’s hard on my brain to keep track of all the moving parts, going several blocks out of the way to a light in order to avoid it. This is a Plan B, but not a super costly one.

For some reason my brain intuitively likes traffic circles though. They are simpler than four-way stops once you get the pattern.

Ginzo July 20, 2023 at 8:49 am

This resonates with stoicism. The three points on the triangle are; accepting what is/is not in your control, taking responsibility for your life; and being the best person you can be…..simply put….is it better to be honest or a liar, better to be generous or greedy, ‘better to do some thing the right way (plan A), or the sloppy/aversion way (plan B). These choices determine the direction of our lives.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 9:04 am

Hey that’s a great point, and I hadn’t thought of it that way. Many philosophical and religious traditions make a pretty clear distinction between two modes of action, corresponding wise/unwise, straightforward/circuitous, courageous/cowardly, right/wrong etc which a lot of the time will correspond to Plan A and Plan B. Lying is definitely a Plan B behavior!

Nina July 20, 2023 at 9:20 am

Ugh, this was me with investing. I was so afraid of making the wrong decision from among fairly similar, hands-off choices (think “Questrade vs Wealthsimple vs a DIY ETF portfolio”) that I persisted in making the worst decision — not investing at all — for YEARS. I justified it as “Well, I’m not going to inherit wealth, so I need to be super careful with my earnings! I can’t tolerate any risk!” But really, there was no strategy, only avoidance.

Eventually, I got medicated for anxiety and suddenly the decision to just throw it all into *something* and tweak later as needed became much, much easier. I haven’t even had an investment account for a full year yet, but my relationship to my finances is totally different/better, and I wish I’d started a decade earlier.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:22 pm

The topic of money always shoots my anxiety into the roof, and the irony is that it has kept me from educating myself on the subject, which is probably the number one thing that would decerease my money anxiety. I’m sure this same mechanism happens in other areas — anxiety and uncertainty around X prevents you from managing X effectively, which would reduce the anxiety and uncertainty

Justine July 20, 2023 at 9:33 am

Ordering at a coffee shop. I make and drink coffee at home daily, but ordering at a coffee shop seems so beyond me. I am 52 years old, am intelligent and have done many many difficult things in life, but for some reason have to avoid all coffee shops including the one at my church run by friends. If for someone reason I can’t avoid it I figure out a specific order ahead of time thanks to Google, and I don’t deviate. why I can’t use the same Google Earth to understand the patterns or develop preferences or just ask, I have no idea.

Incidentally thank you so much for this blog, David. My daughter-in-law called me earlier this week saying that she suspects that my son has ADHD. I think they are going to pursue a diagnosis. I sent them your post that you linked here.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:16 pm

The coffee-ordering aversion seems so strange to me, because I love coffee shops, but then again I’m the person who was afraid to even *phone* a business until I was in my thirties. We all are defending ourselves from repeating painful experiences in our private ways. So often though it’s a long-running aversion that sustains itself purely on momentum, and we can break through it with just a few instances of trying again.

Susan O July 20, 2023 at 9:33 am

My first few attempts, as an adult, to make pencil sketches ended up looking like a 5 year old drew them. I decided drawing was too hard, and that I didn’t have any natural ability. Well the part about natural talent may be true, but drawing is a skill that can be learned. I am learning watercolor painting, and I’m finding that not being able to draw is limiting me in the type of art I want to create. I’m working around my lack of drawing ability instead of just learning to draw. Thank you for your insight. Time for Plan A. Going to start on some drawing classes!

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:24 pm

I had a similar experience. I began the excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and the first assignment is a self portrait. I hated mine so much I crumpled it up and didn’t draw anything for years and didn’t read the book at all. The whole point of doing the portrait is to gauge your improvement by the end of the book, when you do another, but I switched to Plan B (don’t draw at all) immediately.

Sharon Hanna July 20, 2023 at 9:40 am

School was a struggle though I made it through by people-pleasing and being quick. Started university in 1966 and got my degree in 1997 ;-) Part of it was changing majors, dropping out, having a child, etc.

I am 74, almost 75 now. Undiagnosed (probably) ADHD. Have had many, many different jobs (duh again). Noticed one of my children had it but – pretty sure I totally have it. I loved this and will re-read.

I can make pastry, and follow the directions on clothing labels, and grow flowers (and veggies)…and invest $. And I have actually written a best-selling book! But lately have been noticing ‘small’ stuff which I never figured out before – mostly to do with household maintainance – has lightbulbs going on. Still struggling with the garden hose – haven’t figured that out yet. Should probably buy a more expensive one that doesn’t kink but dragging it around is crazy. Biggest ‘struggle’ now is loneliness. Not sure there is any plan A or B. I’ve been in this house since 1975; terrified of leaving it, but….yikes.

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 2:26 pm

My theory is that we all have TONS of these little Plan Bs everywhere, making our lives pointlessly difficult, around light bulbs, stove grime, accounting, sleep habits, absolutely every corner of life. One bad experience and we shy away from the most effective way of doing a thing, maybe forever.

Sharon Hanna July 21, 2023 at 9:57 am

One bad experience – hmmmm. Relationships with men, perhaps? Yikes. all kinds of bells ringing. Oh yes and I bought the light expandable hose as suggested by Nina! It should arrive tomorrow.

Nina Charest July 20, 2023 at 2:36 pm

Have you looked into expandable hoses? I don’t know how they work, but they lengthen when filled with water. When empty, they’re super light and easy to deal with.

Sharon Hanna July 21, 2023 at 9:55 am

YES!!!! I bought one on amazon (I hate them but seem to be using them more often, haha)….one just like you said! Plan A. Thanks! xoxo

Georgia Patrick July 20, 2023 at 12:07 pm

David, I missed an important fact. Were you 40 or in your 40s when diagnosed ADHD? And what year was that? Then, is this shift back to Plan A part of your 2023 story or did you make that shift before today?

David Cain July 20, 2023 at 1:59 pm

I was diagnosed in January 2021, when I was 40, but had figured it out six months before that.

It was only recently that I had this insight about Plan A and B. I’ve been going back to old “sticking points” and working through them over the last couple of years, but it was only this summer that the Plan A/B structure to life became clear to me.

Betty July 20, 2023 at 3:30 pm

Nothing is worse than when someone says, “It’s easy!” That means I’m going to have trouble with it. I’ve always struggled to learn new things, but once I finally (after many tries) finally understand it, I sometimes find little things about it that others don’t/didn’t notice. I try to tell myself that is my skill.

Paul July 20, 2023 at 6:54 pm

Thank you for this. I haven’t been reading you long, but knew there was something I liked about it. Now I know we are in the same club, especially after reading your other post about your diagnosis and experience of medication. I have always known there was some “user manual” for life I was never issued. I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 46, in 2001. I was able to do the stimulant meds for about 7 years and they were wonderful. Then I had another health problem that made me stop. I have just gotten clearance to resume them, but now it’s been so long I have to get another evaluation and then there is the current drug shortage. So, I have a long list of “plan B’s” and some have evolved to closer approximations of “plan A” but it is still a struggle. One vital thing I have finally learned is to be kinder to myself. I’m doing the best I can, regardless of the final result. Thanks again.

Calen July 21, 2023 at 1:58 am

I made it through a graduate program and only rarely did the “Plan A” method of studying. I can recall doing it maybe four times? I never much paid attention in classes or read the textbooks in a diligent way.

Grad school did fix that, somewhat. I got practice with the “Plan A” method and found that at some point as I had grown up, I preferred the slow, meditative pace of it.

I still hardly ever did it. But the few times it did, it sure as hell made things easier in the long run.

Now that I have my PhD and the pressure is off, Plan A — just sitting down and reading the book — is my preferred method of learning. I use it for almost everything I want to do. I think the reason I had so much problem with it back in school was that it always felt like being trapped.

Odd, how that works.


Paola July 21, 2023 at 3:59 am

I was the woman who didn’t invest her money because “finance is too hard to understand and too boring, my brains shut down when I try!”.
Then a few years ago I decided I had had enough of that: it was time to do that difficult thing because it would free me from fear of losing money and fear of being tricked. I luckily found a patient and kind consultant who did online courses and booked a series of one-to-one coaching specifically tailored for me: I found out it’s actually a very interesting topic and now I follow financial news :D

Nethra July 21, 2023 at 9:12 am

Amen to everything you said. The pandemic was a great time for me to slow down and attack my Plan As. I pushed myself to consider my fears and resistances mindfully and I’m learning to permit myself to go the Plan A route more often now. Shinzen’s microhits really helped! :-) There’s still a whole bunch of Plan Bs to reframe but hey, now I know how to do it.

Linda July 22, 2023 at 3:27 pm

I diagnosed you with ADHD after the first paragraph. Too bad it wasn’t acknowledged and treated back when we were kids. I have a couple of 70-plus friends who just got diagnosed. One of them told me, “I think my medication is working. My husband noticed that now I close all the kitchen cabinets after I use them.”

Giovanni Tertulli July 23, 2023 at 2:28 am

This article was a revelation for me, and an occasion for some serious journaling.
I enjoyed it so much that I “borrowed” it (with proper referencing to your blog of course!!!) and adapted it for my own blog, explaining my take of the Plan A-B philosophy in the context of type one diabetes (https://www.thecuriousdiabetic.com/blog/stop-complaining-start-doing-it-is-time-for-plan-a).

Thank you, your writing has been helping me immensely to improve myself over the past months.

Steven Schrembeck July 23, 2023 at 11:32 am

Consistently insightful, in a practical, humble way (I mean the topic, not the person). Thanks David

I suspect this next sentence will trigger you. You should totally distill every platinum nugget you’ve ever uncovered into a single, cohesive framework for living! Most likely as a book

Have you ever tried to formalize the through-lines of your work? I’d love to read an early draft of that

David Cain July 24, 2023 at 1:50 pm

Identifying the through-lines of Raptitude is something I really want to do and I’ve always struggled with it. Every time I try to distill it down to some common threads I feel like I’m somehow not getting it right. I haven’t given up on that though, and in fact I’m going to make another go of it this year.

Chris Blahoot July 23, 2023 at 3:28 pm

Huge fan of this idea. I feel the hardest part is identifying Plan Bs. Any suggestions?
One thought, which doesn’t help with initial identification but might hlp with motivation: Ask, “If I knew how to parallel park / had a loaded metro card / emptied my bladder at the theatre / learned how to study, how glad would I be and how much would it be worth it not to revert to my current B approach?”

David Cain July 24, 2023 at 1:54 pm

The giveaway that you’re using a Plan B is that most people seem to do a thing in a more straightforward and conventional way than you, and their lives seem freer and easier for it. For example, most people don’t avoid parallel parking. They may not love it, but they see it as something a person can do if they need to.

Pete July 24, 2023 at 7:52 pm

If only we knew where we were going to be, we could have drawn a map. Turns out for me, I didn’t need anything they were pushing in Plan A. I didn’t need to write or do math any better than a 7th grader. All the history they wanted me to read might not have been true. I should have been on a bike instead of in a car. I didn’t need to have the best lawn. I could wash clothing like my uncle, in a bathtub. I only needed a mug, a bowl, a spoon, a knife, a cutting board, frying pan, and pot.

I just had to find out what I need, and/or what I was interested in, and voila, my Plan B became Plan A.

David Cain July 25, 2023 at 10:25 am

I want to clarify that by “Plan A” I don’t mean conventional life choices. I mean the usual method for doing a particular thing *that you want to do*. Plan B is a worse way to do a thing, in terms of outcomes, that at one time might have been necessary, but may not be any longer.

Louise July 25, 2023 at 10:50 pm

I’ve been avoiding freeway driving in favour of longer street routes through my city. I enjoy the scenic routes but I’m very aware that I’ve been sliding into Plan B because I’m nervous about freeways – and avoiding them is making it worse. Yesterday I needed to drive a friend to a destination where the freeway was clearly the most efficient route. Plan A, I thought as I gripped the steering wheel and squinted through the driving rain and fog. I merged and sped along like the pro driver I actually am AND regained some personal power. Plan A for the win!

David Cain July 26, 2023 at 8:20 am

Nice! Question: do you feel like that single instance of going with Plan A increased your confidence to do it next time?

Matt A. July 27, 2023 at 10:41 am

A chilling iceberg of a post, David. I think your comment to Susan about drawing, and the possibility that the Plan B can just be not doing the thing at all, rather than merely a sloppier method, is deeply significant, and reminds me of your classic about “the person you used to be still tells you what to do.” The shadow-lord of Plan B’s might be rationalizing why not doing something the way almost everyone else does is not “for you.” This can be life-risking, like if you say you’re trying to beat your addiction but won’t follow recommendations, or just kind of silly, like my occasional insecure insistence that drawing like a 10-year-old still is charming and maybe even nobly anti-establishment.

I had never heard of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain till your comment, so I obtained it and have done the early exercises, because in your reported experience with the self-portrait, I recognized the disgust I would feel in my own attempt. I wouldn’t have done it before either. But now I’ve done it. It really helped to think of a Plan B as truly my PLAN – not a static trait, but my chosen strategy that I can discard and replace. (Also could help to have started with a Plan B that is not important, not urgent, and not social.)

Marcy July 29, 2023 at 8:59 am

People make choices to do one thing versus another because the human brain is a complex cost-benefit calculator. If someone does something you think makes no sense, it’s because you don’t understand all the inputs that go into making the calculation. Temperament/personality is one such factor, as are external factors.

Sometimes external forces will drastically change the cost-benefit analysis in an instant. Someone who just got a big pay cut may find the costs involved in cooking at home vs. getting takeout seem to be lower. If she also loses weight, that’s going to increase the benefit. If she then gets a pay raise, she may not go back to getting takeout as much, b/c the cost-benefit analysis has shifted.

I like your concept of plan A and plan B. It’s a neat way of writing about cost-benefit analysis.

“ But the problem with Plan A might have been a small or contingent thing that’s no trouble anymore, or at least isn’t the brick wall it once seemed to be. Maybe you just didn’t have someone to ask for help, or there was no internet back then, or you were just younger and less wise.”

You’re right. Sometimes the input that would change a cost-benefit analysis is a small thing. I heard an example of someone who was depressed for not reaching a goal, and it turned out he was just ignorant of how long it actually takes to reach that goal. Once someone told him the truth, he got right back to trying.

Also, by going back and doing plan A, what might happen is you get better at it and more efficient at it, and thereby reduce the costs of doing it. And that will change the CBA.

Cost-benefit analyses and all the parameters that go into making them are fascinating. I also like how personality factors into them. The reason an extravert goes to a party is that his CBA comes down on the side of it being worth it. And for the introvert, it’s the opposite. But the analysis could change in a heartbeat. My bitter ex is going to be at the party? Nah, I’ll pass. Someone I’m attracted to and want to get to know better is going to be there? Hmm, maybe I’ll go for a while.

Léna Léman August 2, 2023 at 12:18 pm

Damn you just described my life.
I can see this happening in many cases, and it’s only in recent years, after exasperatingly asking, “how do others do it? How is it so simple for them?” that I’ve begun to realize the answer is probably, “because it IS simple. YOU are the one making this needlessly complicated!”

I see this happening in areas like:
– Freelance writing: I never got around to it because it sounds to hopelessly complex and hard, even though plenty of people are freelance writers so… clearly it’s doable? I think “but should I focus on networking first? Should I pitch these 2 mags simultaneously? But taxes?” and nothing happens.
– Sports: I got a strength training plan from my coach at the gym and already I’m worried “what if I don’t use the machine right. What if I don’t know when to change the weight.” “What if it’s too much and I should do this and this…” Even though the gym is filled with people who are following similar plans to mine and they seem to be fine.
– Dating: God, the worse. My dating life is non-existent because trying to date always felt like this massive, horrifying endeavour to me (I feel very insecure about my attractiveness). Something beyond my comprehension and abilities. I always wondered why others have relationships and not me and the more time passes the more I think it’s because it’s a normal thing that just happens – I mean, it’s complex and not easy for everyone, obviously, but if you make eye contact, smile, engage with the person, practice flirting, and act a bit bolder than you did yesterday, probably good things will happen! Maybe it’s not that complicated. I finally decided to hire a dating coach last week to have someone to report to and be accountable and I told her I wanted to approach it like a project, getting better at dating and learning to flirt. When I think about it this way it doesn’t seem so mystical and obscure anymore. She approved of it.

Anyways thanks for your article. I think it’s time for plan A in my life now.

David Cain August 2, 2023 at 3:01 pm

I identify with everything you’ve said here. A big (but gradual) shift for me is separating the method from the identity. It feels like the difference between our weird Plan B approaches and normal-people’s Plan A approaches is who we are, but ultimately it really comes down to the way you approach a given task. Some of us have resorted to so many plan B approaches that we feel like “B” people, but I think you can still cross over in any particular endeavor by simply returning to a normal plan A method and seeing what happens. Good luck.

Carolyn Sill August 2, 2023 at 8:08 pm

I love houseplants, but I can’t seem to keep up with a watering schedule, or find the right spot for each in my home to properly care for them. Having read two of your articles today (Plan A and Atomic Accountability) perhaps I need to learn more about which plants can grow nicely in my home (Plan A) and then find a friend who’d be willing to spend my money if I don’t give them the proper care (AA). But really, all of it just seems like too much right now. Ugh.

Sheena August 16, 2023 at 2:21 pm

In a reply to a comment above, you mention an aversion to vacuum cleaners, mainly because of the cord.

I believe there is a Plan A+ for this situation, a plan which the majority of people have not yet adopted, but which is better than Plan A, in this case.

My daughter solved the whole vacuum thing for me by buying me a robotic vacuum cleaner for my birthday, a few years ago now. It connects to the internet, and can be set to do the kitchen and living rooms during the night. Getting up to clean floors every single day, with no effort at all, is like magic! Later in the day it can be put in the bedrooms, so the whole place stays clean with virtually no effort, or even much awareness of it happening.

Sometimes it might not be a technological improvement on Plan A, but simply finding a better way of doing things. For example, when studying, Plan A+ could be NOT reading the textbook, but just watching YouTube videos of the subject covered. The textbook could then be consulted, but only to check that the material presented on YouTube was sufficiently accurate, which might require skimming, rather than proper reading.

Or maybe Plan A+ for studying could be making flash cards, or using a learning app. Plan A+ wouldn’t necessarily need to be the same for everyone.

I am going to look for areas of my life which I currently do on automatic pilot, and see if I can upgrade them to Plan A+. If nothing else, it should provide a bit more fun than boring routines I have been doing for years.

David Cain August 17, 2023 at 10:46 am

So Plan A isn’t necessarily the “best” optimal way to do something, it’s the clearly better way to do a thing that for some reason you rejected along the way, in favor of a compromise that doesn’t work well. It won’t be the same for everyone, yes.

In the case of floor cleaning, I have a Roomba, which maybe isn’t what you’re describing. In anycase it’s not that great because it will get caught in places if I don’t move all the furniture aside beforehand.

Recently I decided to “Plan A” my floor cleaning method. I asked my mom, who suggested taking complete control of the cleanliness of the floor — by regularly cleaning it on one’s hands and knees with a rag and bucket. Kneel on a towel. Wash a section of the floor with Mr Clean, and dry it with a dry rag. Move things aside that need moving. Make it a meditation — really attend to the floor with your eyes, clean everything manually.

This really works for me, and gets the floor actually properly clean. I enjoy how thorough it is compared to all the shortcuts I’ve tried.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 Trackbacks }

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.