Are Backup Plans Helpful or Harmful?

Is it wise to invest time and energy into backup plans, or is it better to focus all of your energies on trying one way to achieve a goal?

In a new study, psychologists from the University of Zurich developed a theoretical model to study the use and usefulness of backup plans.

“Our model is based on a straightforward idea: Backup plans change the way you pursue your goal, even if you aren’t using them, and even if you never use them,” said Dr. Christopher Napolitano, first author of the paper.

“Sometimes, having a backup plan may boost your confidence,” said Dr. Alexandra Freund, co-author and chair of Developmental Psychology, “but other times, having a backup plan might distract you, or limit how hard you work using Plan A.”

How much you invest in developing a backup plan could determine its effect.

“Of course, it’s a good idea to spend some time and effort developing your backup plans, so you go into complex and important situations with a safety net in place,” said Napolitano.

However, according to Napolitano and Freund’s model, investing too much in making backup plans could create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy where one is especially likely to use especially well-developed backup plans, and thereby undermine sufficient investment into succeeding with a Plan A.

Thus, perhaps the take home advice is that backup plans are helpful but do not spend too much time on a second case scenario as it could obfuscate obtainment of your primary goal.

Study findings will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Source: University of Zurich/EurekAlert
Woman thinking about her future plans photo by shutterstock.