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Why Having a Backup Plan Can Blow Up in Your Face

Working toward a goal? Focus on doing everything you can to achieve it before developing a Plan B–or run the risk of failure as a result.

Spending time developing a backup plan may prevent you from achieving your goal. 

In a new study reported in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, subjects were asked to complete tasks with or without an alternative plan in a series of three separate experiments. Those given extra options had a lower level of success than those with fewer options, and showed less desire to succeed. Not only were the participants who had a Plan B in the experiment less successful, their interest in the original goal decreased drastically. 

"Simply contemplating a backup plan makes you want to acheive the primary goal less, which makes you put less effort into it," Jihae Shin, co-author of the study said in a press release. "As a result, you have lower chances of success in your primary goal." 

If you have premature negative thoughts about something you're trying to achieve, you'll tend to work much harder. But if you're more lax, relying on plan B to pick up the pieces, you won't focus as much on the end game and slack off. In short, strategic planning can sometimes be a major downfall. 

"You might first want to do everything you can to achieve your primary goal and really focus on that for a period of time, before you develop a detailed backup plan," says Shin. 

Bottom line: It's OK to have a Plan B. But A is for "Attention!" 

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