A flexible palm tree bends with the wind.

Like many people, I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about goals for the new year. Goals are good. They can point to a roadmap of how to get from here to there. They help us form a plan.

And that’s where the problems start.

Like goals, plans are good. Mostly. But they all have a fundamental flaw.

Every plan requires things to go just the way we think, hope and guess they will. We try to see the future and then mold everything and everyone in our world to conform to how we want things to be. How often does that work?

And it’s easy to be too rigid in sticking to a particular plan. Things change. Circumstances change. People change. Things don’t progress they way we had hoped. There’s nothing wrong with tenacity, but sometimes it can go too far – we hold ‘em instead of fold ‘em.

So what do we do? Don’t plan? Forget setting goals? Nope, we plan to be flexible.

Think like a palm tree

Part of the island principle of Palm deals with being mentally adaptable, versatile and resilient. The islanders recognize that sometimes we need to bend with the winds of life. Things won’t always go the way we had planned. Raging against this fact just leads to frustration and upset. When we don’t hold on so tight to our pre-conceived ideas, new possibilities open up. Flexibility gives us more options.

So for 2011 I’m going to practice being more flexible. Believe me, coming from someone who usually tries to making things happen by shear determination, this is no easy feat. I often have trouble letting go of a particular “plan.” And the expression “go with the flow” usually just annoys me! Nevertheless, I’ve come across some ideas from the island that I’m going to try. Maybe they can help you too.

When you practice being mentally flexible, remember:

1) There is always another point of view.
No one else will see things exactly like you do. It’s impossible. Take a moment to step back and consider a different idea.

2) You never know all there is to know about a situation.
That’s impossible too. New information surfaces. You learn more. Maybe a change in plans would now work better.

3) There is always more than one way to solve a problem.
Brainstorm. Ask. Get help. Nobody knows every answer to every situation. Maybe someone else has a better idea.

4) You never really know how people will react.
You can have market research, focus groups and all kinds of educated advice, but you can’t really predict how someone will respond to you or your ideas. When people don’t conform to your plan, instead of getting mad, realize that’s just the way things are. Try a different approach.

5) Try new things.
There is rarely just one “right” way to do something.  Maybe you’ve done something a certain way your whole career or even your whole life. Who’s to say it’s best? “Because you’ve always done things this way” is a stupid reason to stay stuck in a rut.

This new year, set goals, make plans, but remember that a requirement of every plan is to be flexible . . . like a palm tree!