We can probably all agree that plans are important. Being able to plan something ahead of time – and predict the outcome – requires an ability to look past “the now” and foresee complex situations and outcomes. It requires a vivid, but realistic imagination and the ability to define the most likely outcome – accurately. Your ability to plan is part of a cluster of brain functions known as the executive functions.
Your brain draws from a multitude of functions when making a plan and executing it
Memory your Brain is dependent on memory to compare the current situations with past situations, experiences in general and your plan. The ability to relate the situation is paramount to determining the outcome of the plan you are trying to form. Naturally, not all situations are comparable to the past, but your brain will try to find similarities if possible.
Working memory – Your working memory, which was the focus of our last blog post, defines how much information you can process in your mind in a moment. The better your working memory is, the more information you will be able to process and it is less likely that you will feel overwhelmed and lose the big picture.
Attention – The ability to focus on important things, select information and prioritize is paramount for making the right decision. Your brain contains a ton of information and tons more is exposed to it, every second. Choosing the right information to focus on, can mean the difference between success and failure.
The list of brain centers that work together to hatch a plan is long and we could go on, but you get the idea – Making a plan is a complex feature of your brain. The same holds true for executing it.
The quality of your life depends on planning
Your ability to plan ahead is amazing when you really think about it. If you were not able plan, you would always do what feels right in the moment. Why go to work when you can sleep? Why study in school when you can hang out with friends or play? Why work out when you can be comfortable on the couch? The ability to assess when you should relax, when you should work, how to solve a problem etc. All involves planning, execution of your plans and evaluation of your plans. It does not matter what you do in life, a plan is required to do it.
That being said – you naturally do not always analyze and evaluate a situation consciously in order to make the most optimal plan. However, when you run into a novel challenge or problem, your brain is forced to make a decision. If the problem, challenge or situation repeats itself your brain is likely to learn what the best solution is – and then your reaction becomes a more automated behavior. You do not think about it anymore – you just do it, because.
The point is this; what begins as plans often ends as behavior, but your behavior is influenced by your plans, your goals and how driven you are at executing them. Situations can also change, being aware of this and changing your plans accordingly can have a huge effect on your life.
Studies show that your ability to plan – and sticking to your plan – has far reaching consequences
Planning skills predict children’s ability to read and write later in life.
Published in: Child Development, July 1, 2013
This study is based on the observation that children from a lower socioeconomic background are slower to learn math and reading. The finding: Planning skills proved to be one of the common denominators in preventing poor math and reading skills. Regardless of background and IQ, children with poor planning skills had a significant tendency to have more difficulty learning to do math and read which showed in the performance later on in the school system. Training a child’s planning skills from an early age could be part of the recipe for success in school and seems to be more important than background and IQ.
Self-control predicts health, wealth and public safety.
Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 24, 2011
The study followed 1000 children in New Zealand from birth to the age of 32. It showed that children with low self-control, regardless of IQ and background, predicts lower physical health, substance dependence, poorer personal finances and criminal tendencies. Additionally, a following study of 500 sibling pairs showed that the child with the lowest self-control had the same tendencies as the previous study, despite the siblings having similar backgrounds. It seems that people with less self-control, from an early age, are having more difficulty in sticking to the plans that will benefit them long term, but are more likely to give in to their needs and wants in the moment.
Plan for your future and try to control your behavior
The key take-away from this blog post is; that planning and the ability to execute your plans is a biological marvel, incredibly difficult – but also incredibly important! Your whole life depends on your ability to plan and control yourself – regardless of your IQ or background. As with all plans, practice makes perfect and training to analyze situations and executing them on a very basic level can help you plan and execute plans on a greater scale.
We, at Brain+, are committed to help you achieve your brains true potential. Executive functions and more specifically planning, problem solving and control is a high priority for us. We are working hard at producing an exercise that targets your ability to plan and it will be out soon. Later on, we will target the other executive functions like control and problem solving. If you want a tool that will help you achieve your true potential, download the app. You can also sign up for our newsletter, at the bottom of this page, or like us on Facebook to hear more about the upcoming additions to the app and what benefits brain training can offer you.