To plan or not to plan?

Many of Dan Ariely’s recent columns have focused on COVID-19 issues and his current one is no exception. Here’s a question a reader posed:

Dear Dan,

The holidays are right around the corner, but I’ve been hesitating to make plans to visit family or host a party. The changing Covid-19 situation means that any plan I make is likely to change or fall through, and I could end up really disappointed. Am I right that it’s better to wait and see what happens closer to Thanksgiving? —Michael

And here was Dan’s response:

It’s perfectly understandable that you’re wary about making plans. Many of the things we looked forward to in 2020 were disrupted by the pandemic, leaving us with a long list of disappointments. Nevertheless, making plans is important: It gives us something to look forward to, which is useful and important in itself. Instead of doing nothing, then, why don’t you make plans with built-in contingencies. For example, you could invite a small group of guests for an outdoor potluck on Thanksgiving, and say that if the weather is too cold or people are unwell, you’ll arrange a way to donate the food to the needy. We might end up not having the holiday we hoped for this year, but in general people bounce back from a change in plans much more easily than we deal with uncertainty about the future.

(I bolded what I thought were the two key points in Dan’s response).

I couldn’t agree more. I think there is value in planning while taking into account contingencies. I think planning this part of the fun and excitement. I never thought to think about it the way Dan puts it In terms of that it is easier to bounce back from a change in plans than to deal with uncertainty about the future, but it makes sense to me.

I also loved Dan’s idea of donating your food to the needy if your plans don’t work out.

19 thoughts on “To plan or not to plan?

  1. We are making plans and really hope the plans work! I do agree that uncertainty can be worse! Was surprised to see a post from you. Hope meds are helping control your pain as you rest and heal! I am sure this wasn’t in your Thanksgiving plans!

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  2. This year has been a long list of cancellations and disappointments. I agree that we need something to look forward, but there is a limit to how many ‘downers’ you can bounce back from… especially when you know time ins not exactly on your side 😉

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  3. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve said to my wife that the hardest part of this is not knowing when it will end. Planning alternatives makes sense to me.

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  4. We must not forget that plans have always been at risk. Our worst family example was biggest ever holiday across the world delayed at the last moment TWICE as our three children got chicken pox one after the other! Weather, natural disasters, illness, strikes and accidents always lurk ready to foil our fun so plans B, C and D make sense…


  5. My family and I will be foregoing the usual Thanksgiving gathering and focusing on planning for the Christmas holiday. Hopefully, the infection rate will be dropping by then and it will be safer. But either way, the plans will need to be flexible and nothing can be assured as it was before the pandemic. The truth strength of any plan is its ability to adapt to circumstances when they present themselves. By the way, waiting to here more about your prognosis.


  6. a great approach. we are each having our own little thanksgivings at home, and all meeting up at an outdoor bonfire at one of my daughter’s houses with leftovers on the next day.

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  7. I really like his perspectives on this. of course, we are all different and it may not work for those who are devastated when their plans fall through. As for me, the one thing that I like better than planning is to change my plans, so I’m good with this approach 🙂


  8. I hope you’re making plans for when the casts come off! I know you’re probably dictating these at present, but I do have a rather good mental image of bandaged fists gently thumping a keyboard…

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  9. No Thanksgiving plans as none of the kids will be coming, but I will still cook something for Steve and I. As for planning, I agree, it is good to make plans! I have all kinds of plans for 2021 and I am hopeful at least half will work out! Take care. I hope you are healing and your pain is minimal!!

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