Friday, February 4, 2011

Planning and Control

by Steve Brock on February 4, 2011

One of the keys to improving the planning part of your trip is to understand the role of locus of control – both internal and external.

If you start to confuse what you can control and what you can't, just consider how much you can control something like the weather...

Internal locus of control refers to those areas of life over which you have direct influence. External deals with the other 99.97% of things.

You may, from some of the entries on the subject of surrender here at The Meaningful Traveler, get the impression that I favor the idea of control as much as I do outfits for fifteen-year-old girls worn by their forty-five-year old moms. Not true (about control that is). My point is to understand the difference between internal and external locus of control because all of us routinely confuse the two.

When it comes to travel and planning, one of the most effective ways to improve your trip is to concentrate only on issues you can control and let God handle the rest. For example, for an upcoming trip to Peru, I can and should (if trying to book increasingly limited frequent-flier-miles seats) make our reservations as far in advance as possible (330 days to be precise for most airline systems).

However, I can’t control if say, the airline changes our flight times several months later and sticks us with a new seven-hour stopover in Miami in the middle of the night, a miserable, jet-lagged slog of pure boring misery (I’m not bitter or anything about the change, by the way). I can try and negotiate with the airlines about the schedule change, but with frequent flier tickets, you have about as much leverage or likelihood of success as a Chihuahua has of getting a parked car to move by barking at it. Basically, the airline’s schedule and whether I get a sympathetic customer service person when I call both lie way outside my locus of control.

Another thing I can do that will actually lower my stress – and is in my locus of control – is to determine as early as possible what I absolutely have to book in advance and what I don’t. I usually try to book a hotel for my first night in a new place, especially if I arrive late, and also in highly popular locations.  I also try to determine what events or even transportation options are likely to fill up before I get there and reserve those in advance. The rest, I figure I can take care of once I arrive.

Thus, you’ll have to map out a general sense of your itinerary fairly early and that can take some time. But here’s the good news: Once you tough it out and get it done, it’s done.

Doing the work of planning and reservations is an exercise in control that can provide us with some unexpected benefits.

First, control (internal locus of it, that is) ties to our sense of effectiveness and purpose. When we get things done, we get a psychological and even emotional boost. That in turn, can make us feel better about ourselves and our whole trip.

Second, once we make reservations, yet another psychological phenomenon occurs: We now own the decision. We may not have chosen the best hotel or tour package, but now it is ours. In the same way that voters are far more positive about a candidate after they leave the polling station or consumers are more positive about a product’s attributes once they bring the item home, we actually feel better about our choices once we’ve committed to them.

Finally, when we deal with the issues like making reservations that lie within our internal locus of control and leave the rest to God to take care of, that frees us up to enjoy the anticipation part of our trip. No longer do we have to spend energy worrying about what needs to get done and listening to that nagging voice – which sounds surprisingly like a barking Chihuahua – that tells us we better make our reservations or else we’ll miss out.

We’ve created the mind space needed to dream. Now, we can sit back, read – without anxiety – our guidebooks, Web sites and travel magazines and imagine the possibilities.

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