How to plan ahead when the future is unknown

How to plan ahead when the future is unknown

If a fortune-teller offered to tell you the future, would you want to know?

Or could we solve our problems better by not having a plan?

Depending on our work, our age and the culture we live in, there can be a lot of pressure to make plans for our lives, to set goals and to continually achieve new things. It can give us a sense of worth and purpose – and achieving goals is how we make progress, right?

Well, maybe – up to a point. But less can be more – and bigger is not always better. The state of our planet can testify to the damage that our craving for perpetual growth has caused.

The 2020 corona restrictions mean it’s hard for any of us to see ahead and make plans. We can’t see what’s coming, or what will change from day to day. It can feel overwhelming at times.

But is that really any different to normal?

We can easily forget that the future is always unknown – no matter what year is it or what’s going on in the world. We never know what’s around the corner. Granted, we can usually plan practical things like travel and our social lives, but we can’t know for sure that our plans will actually turn out as we hope.

Many people have had their lives turned upside down during 2020, and the resulting turmoil is taking a heavy toll in many ways, including financially, mentally, emotionally and socially.

Not to belittle that, it’s also important to remember that change and uncertainty are a natural part of life.

Everything changes. Nothing is permanent. Things evolve.

For me, change is part of what makes life interesting. Right now, we’re all being forced to stay flexible and go with the flow. We’re having to change and adapt in ways we hadn’t foreseen. Many of our previous plans have had to be shelved, yet for many this time has been a blessing, being able to explore new projects or new activities closer to home – and enjoy things that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

As a species, we adapt. We innovate, we create and we do what we need to survive through adversity. We learn to thrive.

The trap of comparison-itis

In a normally fast-paced world, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘comparison-itis’ – the trap of constantly comparing ourselves with the progress of others, checking whether we’re keeping up and doing what we feel is expected, but then failing continually because there will always be someone ‘ahead’ of us.

We can miss out on so much of the life that’s happening all around us when we live in that way. Following the carrot for fear of the stick can be disappointing and stops us from seeing other possibilities.

Having no plan at all, on the other hand, can be utterly liberating – and very restorative. If we’re prepared to end up wherever the day takes us, we have much more chance to notice, appreciate and enjoy things we encounter along the way.

I’m guessing most of us are somewhere in between.

The benefits of a simpler approach

I was brought up to look ahead, work hard, have a goal – and my years in corporate life reinforced that. I’ve noticed however that my tendency to plan in detail is now giving way to a much simpler approach. I now simply set a broad goal in my mind – something aspirational like ‘write another book’ or ‘learn how to cook Indian food’ or ‘move house’ – and I decide roughly when I’d like to do each thing by, even if I have no idea how.

Then I just plan two or three simple steps in the right direction whilst also exploring additional things that come my way that move me forward, things I might not otherwise have noticed or embraced.

Once I’ve taken those two or three simple steps, I simply decide on two or three more.

It’s making me much more creative and making me open to new possibilities. It’s making me more spontaneous, reminding me to listen to my intuition about the things that are really important to me. It’s also much more enjoyable.

We can keep our dreams alive by learning to release how they might happen.

Depending on our psychological make-up and the extent of our need for certainty, having greater flexibility can be better for our mental health. Having something big to aspire to, but releasing the need to control how it happens, can be much less exhausting than sticking to a rigid plan.

The events of 2020 mean that we’re all in these strange times together, and so it’s a perfect time to tear up the rulebook and do things differently – to step beyond the way things have always been done and find more creative ways to achieve what we want.

What’s more, if we’re going to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems, we urgently need to find different ways to solve them – because, as the saying goes, ‘what got us here won’t get us there’.

We need fresh thinking, we need new people to be involved, we need to innovate and move forward with different approaches – and fast. Maybe this time of apparent constraint is actually giving us the freedom to explore greater possibilities than ever before. Maybe this time will ultimately be good for all of us – because we can make different kinds of plans.

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