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!
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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.
4. Define the nature of the obstacle to achieving what you want. Is the obstacle something that you believe you may have some degree of control over but don’t yet know how to address, or do you believe it will be the result of circumstances likely to arise beyond your control?
5. Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed for at least 10 minutes. Have paper (or better yet a journal) with you, along with a pen. At the top of the page, write this question: “What is intuition telling me (about whatever decision/question/plan with which I am being faced) that I most need to know?”
For the next 10 minutes, write nonstop whatever comes into your mind. “Forget” about the question at the top of the page, and allow your stream of consciousness to take you deeper. Don’t stop to correct mistakes or worry about grammar. If you think “this is a stupid waste of time”, write that down. The only rule is that you refrain from judging or censoring your train of thought.
At some point, many people experience that their thoughts begin to flow, tapping inner resources and ways of knowing in unexpected ways. Some people report recognizing this deeper voice, offering reliable guidance, when they get goose bumps on their arms, or a chill down their back. Others report that they “just know.” Suddenly, where there was confusion and indecision, there is clarity and certainty. Trust that even if this does not happen for you in this first effort, you are giving your subconscious mind permission to play a bigger role in your life. Today, regardless of your results, assume a stance of receptivity and prepare to be surprised.
The truth is, we can’t know what the future may bring our way. But the more time and effort we bring to accessing all of our resources—external and internal—the more information we will have upon which to base our plans. Unlike catastrophizing or romanticizing, a well-grounded vision springs organically out of the very fabric of your being, taking into consideration both the shadow and the light.
Carol Orsborn is Founder of FierceWithAge, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn is the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. (Spring 2013) With a doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt, Dr. Orsborn is a sought after speaker/retreat leader and spiritual director.