Mar 152011
Aftermath of Sendai Earthquake by Wikipedia

A few days ago, everything was running smoothly in Japan. Today, the country is struggling to cope with the aftermath of an epic disaster. It is hard to look at the crisis that has hit Japan and not feel saddened by the great loss of lives. Meanwhile, the survivors have to deal with the massive disruptions and recovery. But things could have been far worse.

Given that Japan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is prone to frequent and powerful earthquakes. This is a fact that the Japanese have taken measures to deal with. Many buildings in Japan have deep foundations and shock absorbers to manage the impact of earthquakes. Both adults and children know what to do if an earthquake strikes. In fact, Japan is one of the most prepared countries in the world to deal with massive earthquakes. They are always in a state of constant readiness because of the constant danger. It is because of this preparation that Japan has managed to reduce the damage caused by this crisis.

Yijing Hexagram 19: Approach

Hexagram 19 by Ben Finney

Approach has supreme success.
Perseverance furthers.
When the eighth month comes,
There will be misfortune.

The hexagram as a whole points to a time of joyous, hopeful progress. Spring is approaching. Joy and forbearance bring high and low nearer together. Success is certain. But we must work with determination and perseverance to make full use of the time. And one thing more: spring does not last forever. In the eighth month, the aspects are reversed. Then only two strong, light lines are left; these do not advance but are in retreat (see next hexagram). We must take heed of this change in good time. If we meet evil before it becomes reality – before it has even begun to stir – we can master it.

The Need to be Prepared

The old adage that nothing lasts forever applies well to good and bad times. There are periods in our lives where we will have good fortune and periods where we will have misfortune. No matter how hopeless a situation may be, good times will come again. But we have our part to play. During these dark times, we must never give up the effort in shaping our own destinies.

Yet good times are not for us to indulge to excess or waste. If we squander our good fortune, we could find ourselves unable to handle difficult times. Instead, we must manage our good fortune well and prepare for the possibility of an adverse change in fortunes. This involves a certain level of readiness on our part. There is no other way because life has no guarantees. The best example is the crisis in Japan. Only when we are prepared will we be able to manage the changes that life brings. Being prepared helps us to:

-Pre-empt and avoid needless problems
-Reduce the damage caused by an unavoidable problem

Planning by Jan Willem Geertsma

Factors That Hinder Preparation and Planning

Being prepared is something we cannot leave to chance. We alone are responsible for our lives and choices. While we may not have to deal with earthquakes, there are other areas of our lives that we can manage better if we are prepared. Areas that we have to plan for include our family, career and other specific challenges we face.

While preparation and planning makes perfect sense in theory, it is harder to put into practice. You see, there are many factors that can hinder us. Being prepared is not something that happens naturally due to the time and effort involved. Instead, it is a commitment, one that we are more likely to adhere to if we knew what was at stake. What follows are a list of factors that could prevent us from preparing adequately.

1. Complacency

When a crisis is fresh in our minds, we take corrective measures to deal with it earnestly. But as time passes, it is easy for us to be lulled into a false sense of security. We may come to resent the effort because we cannot see immediate results. At some point, we may convince ourselves that it is no longer necessary. I have lost count of the number of times I have let my guard down and grown complacent. But life has a morbid sense of humour. It is when we are least prepared that disaster usually strikes. Thus, as far as we can, we should always guard against complacency and make an effort to be prepared.

2. Assumptions

When it comes to making the right choices, it pays to have a firm grasp of the situation. Do we know the conditions we face? Do we know our strengths and weaknesses? How well prepared we can be depends on the knowledge we have. Yet it is not always possible to have perfect knowledge. This is the reason why we must make assumptions and act accordingly. Herein lies the danger. The right assumption leads to success, but the wrong one leads to difficulties. As far as we can, we should always do our best to check and update our assumptions. We cannot assume something without a sound basis or take anything for granted especially when the stakes are high. If our assumptions are flawed, we will end up making the wrong decisions. To worsen matters, we may not prepare adequately for a challenge.

3. Taking Responsibility

Taking responsibility for our actions and choices is the best way to manage our lives. If we do not do so, we will always be at the mercy of fate. Instead of avoiding needless problems by nipping them in the bud, we end up having to struggle with a full-blown challenge. Due to our lack of planning and preparation, we may not have the resources to manage at this stage. Therefore, we cannot afford to take things for granted or to be lazy. This means that we have to make the effort to prepare as the times dictate. Only when we take responsibility in such a manner, will we become masters of our fate.

4. Losing Sight of the Big Picture

An obsession with details can cause us to lose sight of the big picture when it matters. Pride or stubbornness for example, can be major obstacles to being prepared. If doing so seems like a sign of weakness, it may become a matter of principle to forego such preparations. On hindsight, such actions seem foolish. But there are many instances where honour and pride is so important that people have willingly given their lives for it. Japanese samurais would commit suicide whenever they lost a battle. Never let emotions or principles cloud your judgment. If we forget the big picture, we might not have a second chance to correct our mistakes.

5. The Unknown

Naturally, we can only prepare for the things that we know. If we are not aware of something, we can hardly prepare for it. Even so, we should make the effort to think ahead when we can. Imagine a few “what if” scenarios and prepare for the most likely events. By doing so, we can become better prepared for the unknown. Whether we are aware of events or not, they will still happen. All we can do is to prepare as best as we can.

Think by Shopping Diva

Taking Action

The disaster that has hit Japan is indeed catastrophic. But we should not forget that it could have been many times worse. Given their preparation and resilience, Japan will surely survive this crisis. But from this incident, we can see that we must not take anything for granted in life. As far as we can, we should always try to prepare for and pre-empt problems. Only by doing so can we manage the changes in life.

If you wish to help the victims of the disaster in Japan, here are some ways you may do so:

-Donation to the Japanese Red Cross Society
-Other Ways You Can Help

Do you have trouble being prepared? What kind of problems do you face when you try to get into a state of readiness? What other thoughts do you have on preparation and planning? Do share your thoughts and comments below! :)


The I-Ching or Book of Changes Translated by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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  26 Responses to “5 Factors That Hinder Preparations”

  1. I am glad that you’ve chosen to write about Japan and how we can learn from being better prepared. Yes, we cannot prevent a natural disaster totally but we can take steps to reduce the ill effects from one.

    I picked my sister-in-law from the airport at midnight yesterday. She flew back after a short 5-day stay in Tokyo. She shared about being traumatized by the earthquake and being unable to sleep every night since last Friday. We give thanks that the hotel that she stayed in was able to withstand the tremors. She also reported that the Japanese were amazing in that they still lined up at train stations. A sense of preparedness probably helped in not creating more panic.
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..7 Tips to Overcome PerfectionismMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      I believe we can learn a lot from observation of all that goes on around us. Although what has happened in Japan may seem far away and remote from us, we are all citizens of Earth and it is hard not to feel sad about the disaster.

      I am glad that your sister-in-law is safe and sound. Given the magnitude of the earthquake, she was indeed fortunate. :)

      Yes I too have read that the Japanese are handling the tragedy in a calm, stoic and orderly manner. It is amazing that they still have such composure in a time like this. As you rightly pointed out, a sense of preparedness probably help to instill this calm. It does make me wonder if we can manage such a crisis with the same level of composure.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  2. Great post Irving! Thanks for the links to the Japanese red cross too. It’s horrific what is happening over there. I have a dear friend who lives South of Tokyo. We’ve been in contact & he is safe. Your preperations are really good. I hope people follow them! Thanks Irving!
    Dandy recently posted..How to Survive Adversity and Yes- Even Thrive!My Profile

    • Hi Dandy,

      Yes what is happening in Japan is truly horrific. I am glad to know that your friend is safe and sound. Hopefully Japan makes it through this crisis soon.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  3. Your post is a powerful counterpart to my musings lately about the serenity prayer. Avoiding needless problems, preparing for and responding productively to unavoidable problems–I like that. And how interesting that you mentioned using “what if” scenarios to help prepare. I am working on a new post right now in which I suggest avoiding playing the “what if” game when it simply fuels ungrounded fears. Your use of what if is much closer to what I do as a lawyer, especially as a contract drafter. Part of my job is to examine the what if’s in order to allocate risk fairly and appropriately. To prepare, just as you said.

    Fascinating post. Thank you!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..The Courage to ChangeMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      All we can do is to manage as best as we can in life. The crisis in Japan is a perfect example.

      Thank you so much for sharing a little about what you do. I can see how it is important to consider what if scenarios in your line of work. Only by doing so can we prepare to deal with the possible unknowns that might arise.

      I do look forward to commenting on your new post since it does look at the what if game from another interesting angle. :)

  4. Hi,

    What a powerful post!
    My question is, why does it have to take a disaster to get people from different countries to work together?
    My heart goes out to the Japanese people.
    Anne Sales recently posted..epc BelfastMy Profile

    • Hi Anne,

      Nothing unites people like adversity does I suppose. When survival is at stake, people have no time to focus on their differences.

      Yeah, I hope that Japan manages to pull through this great crisis. The alternative is unthinkable.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

  5. I forget what it’s called…the word for it…but it’s the state of constant readiness. It’s the ability to accept the present exactly as it is, and to let go of the moments that pass because it takes up far too much energy to live in the past.

    Being ready for what comes means being able to adjust to what is right now. Japan, I believe, has this ability.
    Delena Silverfox recently posted..epc BelfastMy Profile

    • Hi Delena,

      I am not exactly sure what the word you are referring to is…acceptance? Vigilance? Living in the now? Adaptability?

      But yeah, I agree with you. Japan has the ability to cope with the disaster. It could have been worse, but thankfully they were prepared to deal with it to a certain degree.

      Thank you for your lovely comments! :)

      • Yeah, I’ve been trying to think of the word that expresses the concept of simply being in the present and accepting everything as it comes, but expecting nothing in particular so you are always ready for whatever comes.

        I wish I could think of it. The only thing that comes to mind is a scene in Christopher Moore’s book “Lamb,” when Joseph and Biff are training in the temple of the second Wise Man. (The book is hilarious; I highly recommend it.) It’s a silly example to use, but it’s all I can think of.

        Delena Silverfox recently posted..123Inkjets CouponMy Profile

        • Hi Delena,

          Do let me know if the word comes to mind. I am curious to see what this word is. :)

          Don’t worry about the book being silly. We could all use more humour in our lives. I shall keep Christopher Moore’s book Lamb in mind the next time I step into my local bookstore.

          Thank you for the recommendation! :)

  6. A word comes to mind as I think about your beautiful post Irving. It’s the word diligence. Whenever I read anything you write I feel the divine diligence (as I might think of it) behind your words. Yes, let us treasure the unique gift that Japanese people bring to this world and be with them in these days.
    Christopher Foster recently posted..Two ways to help JapanMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      Diligence is a good word. Thank you so much for the appreciation! It is such a waste if we do not give our fullest efforts to something we do. Since that is the case, it is better to give it our all or not at all.

      Indeed the Japanese do bring such unique gifts to the world with their resilience and culture. I have learned a lot from their actions and history. I hope they will recover from the disaster soon.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. Irving, you’re right on again, my friend. Like you and so many others, I was devastated at Japan’s loss. SO many missing or dead. It’s absolutely a nightmare. We have friends there so of course it hit close to home for us in a lot of ways. I think if even the only thing we can do through crises like these is to teach ourselves or learn SOMETHING, it can be a big silver lining. That better preparation can help us to know how to not make the same mistakes in our building, construction, design, but also it can help us better know how to help those affected. Thank you for all you do!
    Bryan Thompson recently posted..Why You Need a Sabbath You’re Not a MachineMy Profile

    • Hi Bryan,

      Yes, what happened to Japan was truly a nightmare of epic proportions. It does drive home the idea of how fragile life is and how a disaster can turn lives upside down in an instant.

      I am sorry to hear that you have friends living in the area, I do hope they are coping well.

      If we cannot prevent disasters, the next best thing to do is to have the means and the preparation to deal with it.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. Hi Irving,
    Good points about being prepared. I find it challenging to “prepare”. Like you said, it implies assumptions and going into the future with “what if” scenarios. I can totally relate to the usefulness of this approach. At the same time, it puts us in the future (instead of enjoying the present) and in a fearful mode for what could happen. In the end, I think your wise words sum it up “All we can do is to prepare as best as we can.” You gave me much to ponder, my friend, and for that I’m thankful.
    Thanks for this intriguing perspective. Loving blessings
    Andrea DeBell – britetalk recently posted..2 steps to realize that our problems are solvedMy Profile

    • Andrea,

      You’ve given me something to think about too! Does being in the moment mean not being prepared for the future? Now there’s something to reflect upon!
      Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..Where Two Roads DivergeMy Profile

      • Hi Andrea, Sandra,

        When I was younger, I struggled to reconcile the idea of being in the moment and preparing for the future. I used to think that they could not exist together. But today I feel that being in the moment does not mean being unprepared for the future. And preparing for the future does not mean we cannot be in the moment.

        In fact, I feel that if I am prepared as best as I can for the future, I am better able to be in the future because there is little need for me to speculate on how things will turn out. Take watching a movie for example. If I read the synopsis in advance and know what is going to happen, there is little in the movie that can surprise me. But reading a synopsis is not the same as watching how events will unfold because what I imagine may not be the same as what is shown in the movie. This is why I enjoy watching remakes of popular movies or shows even though I know what will happen. In the process, I can enjoy each scene and moment because I am not thinking of what will happen next. I can immerse myself in the feelings of the characters and what they are going through. This is how I reconcile the idea of being in the moment with preparing for the future.

        We can only get to the future by living in the moment. But let us not leave the moments to chance if possible so that the future is likelier to turn out the way we want. After all, if no one is steering the ship, we could end up sailing in the wrong direction.

        Thank you for your lovely comments, I just had to reply to this comment first! :)

    • Hi Andrea,

      I know what it is like to worry needlessly about the future and to try to control things. Even so, I feel it is not prudent to leave everything to chance. In such a situation, we are more likely to react on impulse and make choices that might not be good in the long run. Having said that, we cannot prepare or control everything. All we can do is to prepare as best as we can and adapt as needed. The preparations are more of guidelines than fixed rules. The key here is not to be too attached to the outcome. This, I believe, is how we can live in harmony with change and life.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. A very thoughtful post and beautifully illustrated. It seems to me that we want to plan for the best but accept our limited control over outcomes. That’s a hard lesson to master however one that will reduce stress and allow you to use you energy in a wiser way. Thanks and wish you the best.

    • Hi Riley,

      As human beings, we have our limitations. But even so, we must still put in our effort and do our part before we leave things to fate or God. To do otherwise would be to leave our fortunes to chance. When that happens, we might find ourselves reacting to problems instead of preventing them in the first place. The price we pay is the consequences that the problems bring. All we can do, all we must do, is our best.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. Irving, Very well done and thought-provoking. You have such a unique way of writing your articles. They always intrigue me. My husband is very grounded, but I tend to be more impulsive. It’s harder for me to make preparations as I’m easily dispelled by the wind. You have given me important points to consider here as I do intend to make more preparations.
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..Where Two Roads DivergeMy Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      Thank you for your compliments. As far as I can, I try to write about things that matter to me so there is greater passion behind my words.

      When I read about such a disaster in Japan, I just had to write something about it. The events were such that it called out to me to help in my own small way. We tend to take our security and safety for granted. That is why when disasters strike, so many of us are unprepared to face it.

      While you may say that it is hard to make preparations, your latest article on preparations seems to prove otherwise. I believe it is a matter of breaking the task down and getting to it. When we realize our lives are at stake, our basic need for survival kicks in and we do what we must. I am glad that my article managed to influence you in some small way.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  11. [...] for a disaster.  What holds us back?  The Vizier explored this question in his excellent article 5 Factors that Hinder Preparations.  You might want to start there if you find the thought of disaster preparation difficult to [...]

  12. [...] to disaster, and tells you how to prepare. Irving explores the parts of human nature that hinder us from preparing for disaster. Bret takes the lessons from Japan and applies them to protecting yourself from [...]

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