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Today’s post is from a big thinker on human development and potential, Shawn Thomas, M. Ed., M.S., who also happens to be my wonderful husband and a great fine art photographer.  He’s written a very interesting article about what it takes to change your behavior, and the struggle between our internal “planner” vs. “do-er.”

The Planner and the Do-er, by Shawn Thomas


We all have some aspect of our work, our lives, or ourselves that we think falls short. In these situations, it’s important to know that to be successful at creating desired change, we must do two things: create a plan and take action.

In their book, Nudge,  about decision making, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein describe the planner and the doer. The planner and the doer exists within each of us. As an example, the authors describe the planner as the part of us that sets the alarm clock at night with the intent of getting up early in the morning to exercise or get to work early. The doer is the part of us that, in the morning, either hits the snooze button 4 times, or gets us out of bed to implement the planner’s plan. Which of these two things is more likely to happen for you?

Many of us have set our alarms again and again with great intentions only to have our sleepy, lazy, no good doers foil our attempts to do something good for ourselves. And all of us tend to blame our doers for this lack of well-intentioned action.

It seems like the doer is at fault when we fail at implementing our plans and achieving our goals. It is our doers, after all, that are ineffective at getting us out of that nice, warm bed and into our running shoes or the gym. But, according to the authors of Nudge, the real problem may lie with the planner.

Any successful leader or manager can tell you that motivation is one of the most important keys to getting things done. In addition, they will tell you that part of their job is understanding exactly what motivates each of their employees. Following that logic, one very important part of our planner’s job is to understand and utilize things that will motivate our doer to take action when the time comes. And this is especially true in situations where the action to be taken is challenging.

Let’s go back to the example of getting out of bed early enough to exercise before work, and add an example of creating motivation. Getting out of bed to exercise in the morning can be especially difficult for anyone who is unaccustomed to the gym. One of the most significant barriers to feeling comfortable at a gym is a lack of experience with it. In this case, motivation is definitely needed to keep the doer from repeatedly hitting the snooze button. So, part of the planner’s job then is to add motivation by, for example, inviting a friend to meet the doer at the gym for a workout. Or, maybe by making an appointment with a personal trainer who can show the doer around and introduce them to the equipment and other people in the gym. With the added motivation of having a friend or knowledgeable personal trainer waiting to provide the doer with confidence or assistance, the planner stands a much better chance of having their goals realized.

Take some time to think about things that you would like to change. Identify in each case the work currently being done by your internal planner and doer. More than likely, if you identify things you’ve wanted to change for some time but have not found success at doing so, you have identified a problem for your planner to solve. Your next step then is to identify some things that the planner can do to ensure the doer has the proper motivation to take action and get things done. Once you have identified the proper motivation, make completely sure that it is incorporated into your plans, and you will soon find that you are finally making progress toward achieving those unrealized goals.

Thanks for reading!