One trait that has allowed our species to survive for so long is our ability to plan ahead. Whether it be hunting an animal, preparing for a winter, interviewing for a job or making a move on a romantic interest, we think of all the ways the situation might play out. Our brain has an extraordinary capability to imagine and simulate possible outcomes. Based on this, we can optimise a plan of action.
Let’s look at an example. When we plan a trip, we choose a location and research sights to see, foods to eat, places to stay in, what the weather will be like… Then, we come up with an itinerary by thinking of how to group everything into different days, what transport to take and setting aside enough time for rest and to buffer against unexpected changes. Planning allows us to travel efficiently so that we can pack as much fun and experiences, while preparing us for when things go wrong.
But of course, life is full of surprises and it never play out perfectly. Our instinctive ability to simulate and plan for the future is probably evolution’s way of tackling this. We are trained to think of all the different ways our plans can fail, to maximise our chance of survival.
Therefore, as powerful as this ability may be, it comes at a great cost. It makes us obsess about “the right moment”.
When we face a crossroads in life, we have to make choices and take action. Should you take this opportunity to move to a different city? Should you ask out that girl or guy on a date? Should you make that leap of faith and change careers? Because these important decisions carry greater consequences, our brain goes into overdrive thinking of how things may fail and ruin our lives. We worry that we are not ready for the change or that a better opportunity may arise. So many times in life, we see opportunities slip by while we are hesitant, leaving us with regrets.
No matter how much you plan and prepare, the universe can easily find a way to surprise you (see Murphy’s Law). There is no such thing as the perfect moment, or a perfect person, or a perfect life. So waiting for the right moment is as futile as waiting for a train that is never coming. A ship waiting in a harbour for perfect conditions before setting sail is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
What we can do is to just live life. It is certainly good to have a rough sketch of a plan, to know what general direction you are heading in. But when it comes to the finer details, it is best to just make a decision and act on it, whether it be based on rational thinking or gut feeling.
If things work out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you still gave life a chance instead of letting it pass by you. You can learn from the experience and try different decisions the next time.
Instead of waiting for the right moment for everything to be perfect to take action, we should be taking actions and making the moments right.
(Image source: https://www.xkcd.com/1952/)