Does having a Plan B make one less likely to work hard towards the primary goal?

Shivani Manchanda
Shivani Manchanda
Posted on 06 Jun 2023
09:13 AM

Recent studies have shown that backup plans jinx the success of the first or preferred plan
Increasing one’s ability to adapt to change is another benefit a backup plan offers

Recent studies have shown that backup plans jinx the success of the first or preferred plan. They come in the way of the motivation one has for pursuing a certain goal. So, if you really want to get into an IIT or crack the civil services then a targeted concentration can fuel the passion to work hard towards a single goal. Or if you are a struggling but talented artiste, then perhaps not having an alternate job would push you to take your chances and experiment more in your domain of choice. But other studies go on to argue the contrary. They claim that in some situations having a backup plan can work like a cushion, help an individual recover from failure. All of this makes having a backup plan, or fallback option, a double-edged sword. Here are my thoughts on the issue.

Battle uncertainty

A backup plan helps us manage uncertainty. So, if you are anxious about the success of a certain course of action and are spending a lot of energy in negative thinking and playing out several “what-if scenarios” in your mind, then having a backup plan can reduce anxiety levels and help you harness all your energy towards achieving your goals. Therefore, the next time you think “what if this does not work”, you can take a quick look at your backup plan, which will calm your nerves.



Increasing one’s ability to adapt to change is another benefit a backup plan offers. For instance, if you are studying aeronautical engineering but use the time off from college to also study artificial intelligence or AI, machine learning or ML and other new-age skills and techniques then you are double-barreling your resume to negotiate your way in the near future. Additionally diversifying your skill-set — that is having a double major or doing a certificate course in a related or a different subject — is a plan that can recession-proof your career and make you more employable.

Next level goals

Having a well-developed second option can also be a great resource in life even if one attains the first level of goals. For example, in the future you can always revive your alternative plan and integrate it into your current career goals. For example,if succeeding in music is your primary goal and you have taken business courses as a backup then you can still use your marketing orfinance or human resource training to manage your music career as it moves forward. Additionally, many professionals these days do have “side hustles” or sourcesof passive income. Thus, a well-developed backup plan can be easily converted into something substantial that you might do on the side. In conclusion, it is safe to say that planning in all kinds of situations is a great exercise for brainstorming, and managing risk.Traditionally, a backup plan is recommended as a safety net against uncertainty, recovery from failure in the fastest way possible and as a means to widen choices and career options. In exceptional circumstances, where your junoon to succeed will make you outweigh all possible uncertainty, not having a backup plan might be worth the risk. But having seen a wide majority of students succumb to the pressures of binary thinking — that is this and nothing else — I can say with certainty that the benefits of wearing the parachute of a backup plan are very substantial, considering the adaptability, flexibility and growth mind set that a backup plan can empower you with.


When we think about what we’ll do if we fail to achieve our goals, are we less likely to succeed? Can backup plans backfire? Jihae Shin of Wisconsin School of Business, US, and her coauthor, Katherine Milkman of Wharton, US, gave 160 university students a sentence-unscrambling task and promised an energy bar to those who performed it well. Before receiving the text to work on, half the participants were asked to think about different ways they could obtain free food on campus should they fail to earn the snack. People prompted to think about those backup plans unscrambled significantly fewer sentences, on average, than people who hadn’t been asked to formulate a plan B.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Last updated on 06 Jun 2023
12:00 PM
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