Don't Make A Backup Plan: Why You'll Be More Successful Without It

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One of the fundamental tenets of negotiation is that you must understand your BATNA — Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. Another way to think of this concept is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. If the deal doesn’t work out, what’s your plan B? The better your alternative, the stronger your negotiating position. But what if you have no plan B?

The textbook negotiating guidance goes something like this: If your only alternative is the status quo, create some options for yourself. For example, if you’d like to buy a new car but the dealership won’t give you the price you want, maintaining the status quo would be simply keeping the car you already have. Another option would be to explore leasing rather than buying something brand new. Perhaps you could trade in your existing car. Depending on your needs and what’s available in your area, you could explore relying on a car sharing program or public transit. You get the idea.

I’m going to break with convention and share a secret with you. When meeting your goal really, truly matters to you, don’t make a backup plan.  Jump without the rope.

Why? Because having a backup plan undermines your likelihood of success. Even by putting a little effort into thinking about alternatives makes you work less hard to achieve your goal. New research backs this up.

I use the same mindset for all the big goals in my life: I decide what I want and go after it with single-minded focus. I don’t get distracted by alternatives, and I won’t be deterred by obstacles. I find or create a way to deal with challenges and moved forward.

Let me give you some personal examples.

Growing up, I wanted to live in New York and I saw going to NYU as a means to that end. I worked with a professional college admissions counselor to submit my best application materials, applied early decision and was accepted. Good thing that worked out, since I didn't apply to any other schools.

During college, my goal was to have a full-time job lined up so I could transition straight from my dorm into an apartment. Moving back to my parents' house after graduation was not an option, so I knew I had to figure out something permanent. I focused on applying to organizations that I thought would likely pay well. By spring of my senior year, graduation — and a lack of housing — loomed. I was interviewing like mad, but so far didn't have any offers. At what felt like the last possible moment, the company where I was interning created a new position for me. I started working full-time the week after graduation.

Of course, not everything works out according to plan. A few years ago I found myself in a situation that absolutely did not go my way.

I had found my dream job. It was at an organization that had a deep impact on my life, that I believed in wholeheartedly and where I was ready to devote myself fully. It would have required moving across the country, but I was open to it. I prepared my application materials with single-minded devotion. Although I applied online with no personal connections to the organization, I managed to get an initial phone interview and was ready to use all my tricks. I was extremely thorough in the test assignments they gave me, relentlessly pleasant in my follow ups. I poured every drop of effort and intensity I had into the months-long interview process and made it to the final round. I flew to the headquarters, spent a day at the office and came home positive, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had nailed it.

Spoiler alert: I did not get the job. And according to my plan, I had no backup plan.

Technically my BATNA was maintaining the status quo by staying on at my current job, but I was miserable there. My plan had failed; I felt bereft. And then, about a week after I was rejected, I was also laid off.

Time to set a new goal.

I eventually realized working for that particular organization was just one way to approach the bigger picture. What I wanted was to serve a mission that I found meaningful. How could I do that every day?

My side hustle, Ask For It, was focused on developing women's negotiation skills. I stopped interviewing for other jobs, declined a full time offer and decided to work on Ask For It full time. Fast forward to today and the mission I serve is empowering others to achieve their goals.


If you’re working toward something that matters deeply to you, don’t waste your time making backup plans. Listen to your gut. Trust yourself enough to leap without looking back.  You’ll work it out.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.