Updated: Jul 2

Every important ambition involves completing a series of successive tasks to achieve fulfillment, often called an action plan. But as Mike Tyson famously stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the head.” Unfortunately, the best-laid plans require constant adjustments to manage uncertainty and volatility. By nature, life repeatedly hits us, so we best be nimble. However, if we do not learn to continually adapt, our higher aspirations will likely suffer agonizing defeat.

The process of learning is easily hindered by stress. We choose control over adaptation when experiencing frustration and fear, and the subsequent tunnel vision restricts our problem-solving abilities. Without thinking twice, we avoid exploring new skills that could better accomplish a task in favor of our standard methods that “get things done.” Consequently, our skillsets do not improve, and we are left less-equipped for performing higher-level tasks. Hence, the ability to learn and adapt is the paramount concern for realizing our ultimate goals.

With this in mind, we are far better off spending our time refining a crystal-clear vision of our aspirations than detailing an action plan. Then, with this clarity, we can focus each day’s work on the most impactful task that will drive meaningful progress. With this less-rigid workflow, stress is mitigated by added flexibility in our planning. We schedule today’s challenges today, and we perform each task to our highest abilities. This approach produces high-impact results day-in and day-out, and we go to bed each night knowing we are growing and making headway—not "just getting things done."

Why this is important: It’s impossible to learn when we’re worried about controlling every detail of an established plan. In fact, the adaptive learning process progressively deteriorates the more we hustle to cross things off our calendar and to-do list. The quality of our work, not quantity, delivers results. If left unchecked, the approach of “just getting things done” diminishes personal growth to such a degree that our greater ambitions suffer a knock-out blow.

How to change: We utilize clarity instead of control. Bottom-line: It’s impossible to control everything, so don’t waste time trying. Put down the calendar and task list for a while, and develop the “elevator pitch” for your ultimate goals. Roll your ambitions, purpose, and basic needs into one bundle, and allow your mind to contemplate every possible approach for realizing your dreams. Write this down, focusing on the “why,” not “how.” Then, make this personal mission statement the binding theme of your daily efforts. In essence, this crystal-clear vision becomes the “North Star” on your journey, and your willingness to learn and adapt will forever keep you on course.

Remarkably, the simplicity of this approach provides a level of productivity and efficiency we can hardly imagine. Our efforts are focused on the most impactful tasks presented each day. Irrelevant distractions are limited, and deadlines are met. We begin to recognize hidden opportunities and assemble greater resources. And, as a result, our whole attitude and outlook become more calm and flexible. Best of all, personal growth becomes a meaningful benchmark – we discover the love of learning.

James Faber is the co-founder of L’Atelier Schilling, a revolutionary, learn-earn-work culinary school & apprenticeship program supporting underprivileged individuals. Additionally, he works with the Bay Area business accelerator, ICA, consulting and mentoring food entrepreneurs. "Passion powers success -- so find yours!"