Saturday, February 15, 2014

Planning Ahead Reduces Stress

published October 31, 2013 in  

“Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.” – Prophet Muhammad (s).

This morning, I was upset to realize that my son had gone to school without his coat because it didn’t fit anymore, and I spent some time fretting about having to buy him a new one. Then, I went into the closet and realized, he already has a brand new coat in a larger size. I bought it last summer when winter coats were on sale! The relief that I felt was physical. My blood pressure instantly went down and my head cleared of its stress. Isn’t it better to forget that you did something than to forget to do something?
The Muslims in New Jersey with their large families taught me a lot about stocking up on clothes. As a new mother I didn’t realize how fast the time goes by when you have a growing child and how stressful it can be to go clothes shopping with children. So if you find a good product on sale, buy it in several sizes.
So many problems can be solved more efficiently with advanced planning. Many of us however wait until it’s raining to buy an umbrella. Recently I was helping my friend sell sunglasses for a ridiculously cheap price, but they weren’t selling because it was cloudy. So many people make their decisions based on the here and now even when the future is completely predictable. The sun will be back. The winter will be back. Kids grow.
Much money can be saved by buying things you know you will need ahead of time, especially things that you are not going to use more of just because you have a lot of it: for example aspirin, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo. Food is also usually cheaper if bought in larger amounts and you can save a lot of money by stocking up on things that are on sale – but be careful about stocking up on junk food and unnecessary convenience products because you probably will eat and use more if you have a lot. It more energy efficient to keep your freezer full than empty.
If we are really smart we realize that psychological issues can also be planned for ahead of time, for example: if we show concern for their feelings when they are very young, they will trust us with their problems when they are older, and be more likely to let us steer them away from bad ideas.
When it comes to small children, the ability to predict events is key to smooth parenting. We know that after being in a noisy crowded place, the kids will probably need to play alone for a while. If they don’t have a full stomach, they won’t be able to sleep. If they eat nothing but macaroni and cheese for a week, they will get sick. If they go to the park, they will need a bath.
Sometimes it gets tedious and overwhelming predicting the behavioral outcome of the entire family. Older children can be reminded of things that need to be done with a checklist on the door. But if an adult repeatedly has to remind another adult that you can’t leave the house at 2pm and be there by 2pm, or other such easily predictable events, the respect in the relationship will diminish. One spouse will take the roll of the nagging parent while the other takes the role of the annoyed teenager. One spouse or the other will usually act as general manager of the household, but it is important that one person is not always solely responsible for remembering everything that needs to be done, or they will burn out.
It’s also very important to learn to predict our own behavior based on past patterns, to avoid putting too much burden on others. There was one man who invariably fell asleep as soon as he came home from a political meeting. However, he would not admit this and would habitually make plans with his wife after a meeting. Time and time again, he would break her heart by falling asleep but every time a meeting came up he’d insist that this time he would not fall asleep. Tip: If someone else notices you have a pattern, you probably do. Learn to work around it. Schedule around it. Likewise, women have a certain time of the month when they don’t feel that well. It’s usually easy to predict. Don’t overbook on those days. Be aware of what you can and can’t do without becoming cranky or useless from exhaustion.
Another thing that many of us need to plan better is our old age. Unless we die, we know we are going to get old. It is possible to get caught up in the moment year after year, never thinking about tomorrow, but the younger people get started saving and investing, the greater likelihood that they will have their families’ needs met when they are elderly.
Oddly enough, given its importance, many people do not even think through and plan ahead for marriage. Since the decision to get married is often made emotionally, it is not uncommon for people to marry first and panic later. This is why it is a good idea to not only make sure the relatives discuss things with each other but for the couple to sit down with an experienced marriage counselor to go through all the issues that are likely to arise. Again, these things are usually pretty predictable. Not only do you have to make sure that the person is in a financial position to marry (and this should include checking their credit rating to find out if they keep their agreements), but it is a good idea to find out the fine details of their cultural and emotional expectations. Don’t wait until your wedding night to discuss whether or not you plan to have children right away and who is responsible financially for what. 
People who live unconsciously often feel powerless, as if life just “happens” to them. They are constantly dealing with emergencies instead of planning ahead. They don’t start their homework until Sunday at 10pm. They order pizza with a credit card because there’s no food in the house. They run out of gas on the highway. Worst case scenario, they get their heat turned off in winter, or their spouse gives up on them.
People who live consciously make a decision to invest time doing non-urgent but necessary things like good nutrition or family time – for the best possible outcome – because it’s easy to predict what will happen if you neglect your health or your family.

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