I love me some Shankar Vedantam. If you haven’t checked out his new podcast, Hidden Brain, you need to, because it’s light and fun but also fascinating if you like learning about the psychological influences behind human behavior. Which I do!

This week’s topic was about backup plans. Researchers found that despite feeling like having a backup plan is helpful, “Plan B” can actually make you less motivated and less focused to accomplish your Plan A. Essentially, it reduces the perception of risk: if your primary goal doesn’t work out, eh, no big. You’ve got other options. With the perception that you are taking less risk, you are less likely to pursue and accomplish your primary goal.


That’s not to say that backup plans don’t have value. Being inflexible is also detrimental. Clearly we all need to think about saving for retirement even if our primary plan is “get rich enough to not really need one” or “follow my dream of being an artist even at the cost of financial stability.” They also may temper unrealistic expectations or goals. But it might be important to remember that focusing TOO much on Plan B may be detrimental to your Plan A.

Interestingly, this also extends to the metaphysical. Researchers at Stanford also found that reminders of God - especially with the perception that God is a reliable source of safety - participants were more likely to take physical, nonmoral risks.

I know this happens in my own life in many ways. An example: I find that I probably spend too much time thinking about the various projects I want to do in my house, and end up neglecting the one room I’m working on because I flit around from minor upgrade to minor upgrade. It slows down the renovation process by not focusing on just getting this one room painted.


Where do you think in your life, too much Plan B might be interrupting Plan A? When is having a backup plan beneficial?