The Uncertainty Process: How to Make Plans for a Future that is Not Yours to Control

How can you go about making plans when the future is so uncertain? Here are a few ideas!

You know the drill: your financial advisor has asked you something you cannot possibly know. How long will you live, and who is likely to go first in your family? Everything depends on your response to this question: how much you can spend how soon; whether your savings will last or do you need to downsize or keep working and so on and on?

How does one make sensible plans when so many of your expectations about the future fall somewhere on the spectrum between best guesstimates and outright fiction? When it comes to making plans for a future that is not yours to control, there’s actually some good news. Over the many decades I’ve been teaching decision-making techniques, I’ve repeatedly witnessed that even as we rely on our rational minds as our first line of defense to approach and solve problems, it is our subconscious minds that are actually doing most of the heavy lifting.

As we age, we benefit greatly from developing capacities that have been underutilized in the past. Balancing out our reliance on reason, will and drive, the potential exists to both more fully utilize and transcend our traditional problem-solving techniques to bring you to clarity beyond that which your rational mind alone could have delivered. By using all of our capabilities, we increase our chances of avoiding the two poles of denial: catastrophizing on one hand, romanticizing on the other. Somewhere, in the heart of the spectrum of possibilities, is if not absolute certainty, a sufficiently compelling probability. In planning for the future, happily, this is not only adequate, it is enough. Here’s 5 steps that will get you there.


1. Go through your traditional problem-solving routine to come up with your best guess regarding the question about the future with which you are being confronted, For many issues, this will include looking at family history, researching statistics, balancing probabilities and so on.

2. After you’ve gone through your normal process, ask yourself “What do I want?” When you’re faced with questions about the future, some of us go too quickly into planning for the worst possible outcome. At least for starters, allow yourself the luxury of opening your heart to the best possible outcome, as well.

3. Now ask yourself this question. “As I think about my present circumstances as well as about the future, is there anything that I know of now that is or could probably be an obstacle to my actually achieving/having this in my life?” If you have good reason to believe that the risk in this particular category for falling short of your hopes and expectations is low, and your level of skills and resources is adequate, skip to step 5.

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Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., Fierce with Age
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