Planning for “peaks and valleys”

Picture of then-Lt Col Anthony “Money” Hernandez aboard C-17 cockpit during USAF Weapons School Mission

The hope and promise of the new year make this a perfect time for reflection, renewal, and reaffirmation.  Emerging from the holidays traditionally yields lots of energy as we head into the new year, scanning the planning horizon and envisioning a better tomorrow. Yet, despite our best intentions and affirmations, there will be many peaks and valleys as we journey toward that horizon. As such, does it make sense to plan for these peaks and valleys? 

As a Master of Strategic Studies from the USAF’s Air War College, I can tell you the answer depends on context, experience, and perspective. So, let me offer a view from a flight level 30 thousand feet above and powered by my experiences. Here are three things to keep in mind while you plan for 2021:

1. It is important to maintain a proper balance when setting goals. There are many types of goals: personal goals, professional goals, fitness goals, spiritual goals, financial goals, social goals, etc. While these are all important, remember there are only 24 hours in a day.* The trick is maintaining some balance across all these goals and not overcommitting yourself.

*There are a few more hours if you regularly cross time-zones or the international date line—just ask any pilot.

In thinking about balance, picture a wheel with several spokes. The wheel represents “you” and each of the spokes represent an important area in your life that can be measured. Perfectly balanced wheels enable progress to be made as you roll down the runway and take flight toward the future you envision for yourself. When we get out of balance, the wheel does not roll very efficiently. Seems like a simple concept right?

Yet, there is a tendency to aggressively plan our year and construct wheels that will get out of balance quickly. We become focused on a single peak not realizing there are many valleys along the way.  So, what happens when you fail to accomplish an activity in support of your goals? Unfortunately, most people quit climbing or accept various levels of frustration as they start and restart a month later, six months down the road or next year.

Experience tells us never to overpromise and underdeliver. The same works for goal setting. Look back on the prior year(s) to inform your daily activities. Areas that need improvement will need to take more of your time and other areas may have to be scaled back.  The key is to make a realistic plan at the outset; this way your wheels are already balanced, and you have less frustration which leads to success followed by more success. Which brings me to the next point in successful planning.

2. No one should ever plan to fail. That would be totally out of context with proper planning. However, there is nothing wrong with planning for overcoming setbacks or realizing you will have to cross many peaks and valleys along the way. This is the essence of being resilient. 

Resilience is reliant on focus, drive, and dedication, which are important parts of achieving your goals. However, what happens when the unexpected keeps you from making progress? A plan without proper balance means getting back on track will come at the expense of something else. Unless you rebalance (i.e., start over) you cannot be efficient.

The point is to have a good plan at the outset which includes contingencies for setbacks. In operational planning, we always considered many branches and sequels. The planning sequence was also critically tested by a good dose of “red teaming” every aspect of the plan. You can do this with proper reflection using the prior year as a guide, having a good mentor or two, and learning from others. In planning for peaks and valleys, here is one more recommendation as you plan for 2021.

3. Try planning for one 90-day burst in 2021. That is all—just one 90-day streak! You have 365 days in 2021 to find at least 90 days in a row where you can focus your drive and dedication toward achieving perfect balance. Remember, this only works with a properly balanced plan. 

If you can get to 90 days in a row, then you can mark all your goals “complete” for the entire year. Deal? Though I am sure once you accomplish this 90-day feat, you will want to set new goals and achieve more. 

Yet even the 90-day goal is difficult. In planning for peaks and valleys, here is what will most likely happen:

You might get to 27 days and have to start over. You may have to take 17 days to deal with whatever setback is in your way. Okay, so deal with it. The good news is you still have 321 days left. 

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and you might go 52 straight days in your next burst before you encounter another setback. However, this time you need 60 days to recover. The good news is you still have 209 days left!  

What happens if the best you can do in 2021 is to get only 72 days in a single burst with a few mini bursts of 10, 8, and 17 days in between?  This time next year as you reflect, you realize that you experienced 186 days where you achieved perfect balance—more than six months in 2021! How is that for perspective?

Would you be closer to your goals after 186 days of perfection? What about the other 179 days? No problem. All you planned was for one 90-day burst inside of 365 days. As far as I am concerned you would have had 275 days of non-perfect days left (assuming you stopped after the first 90-days). Who cares about the 179 non-perfect days in between your quest for a perfect 90-day streak?

I promise you will be very pleased with your results. So, as you head into the holiday season and plan your 2021, remember to 1) keep balance in perspective, 2) realize you will have setbacks and need to plan for these, and 3) try planning for a single 90-day burst sometime in 2021!  

Finally, the next time you are on an airplane looking out the window, think about the many peaks and valleys, oceans and plains, cloud formations, and even some fog. I am sure you can relate these views to other areas of life. Most of all, always try to enjoy the view. Best wishes in 2021!

Anthony Hernandez

Anthony Hernandez

Anthony Hernandez is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Defense Credit Union Council (DCUC).  He joined DCUC as its Chief Operating Officer in August 2016 and was selected ... Web: Details