How to Plan for the Future Even When It’s Uncertain

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To say 2020 has been a wild year would be an understatement. It’s showing us all why uncertainty is so intimidating. But I’ve also been thinking, how can you and I plan for the future even when we might feel afraid of what might happen?

The best way to plan for the future is by focusing on the things you can control and letting go of what you can’t. You’ll develop this ability as you journal about what you want, work backward from that future vision to make a plan, and practice daily visualization to stay motivated.

Word Math

Plan: design or make a plan of (something to be made or built).

Future: time regarded as still to come.

Uncertain: not able to be relied on; not known or definite.

Starting with:

Plan for Future Uncertain

Now, by substituting our definitions in and simplifying a little bit we get:

Design or make a plan for a time regarded as still to come that is not able to be relied on; not known or definite.

And with some additional editing to make things even more clear:

How can I design my life and prepare for events that are still to come even though they’re not known or definite and I can’t rely on them?

1. Begin Your Plan for the Future by Getting Into the Right Mindset

Most people have a hard time improving their lives because they focus only on what they can’t change. 

Take the news for example. It’s often wrong, misconstrued to fit the agenda of the news agency and it’s advertisers. What’s worse, they know that fear sells, so they’ll turn the scare tactics all the way up. 

Watching the news is a complete waste of your time if you want to be prepared for the future because it only leads to anxieties about things you have no control over. 

You cannot do anything about corrupt politicians, war, the economy, viruses, and everything else they blab on about just to get their advertising revenue. 

Instead, for a bright future, think only about what you have control of. Look at what your own legs, hands, and mouth can do. 

Consider the difference it makes when you prepare well for something you have the power to change. Contrast this with the worry you get when you think of news stories that you’re helpless to do anything about.

The mindset you need to adopt is this:

I cannot control the events of the world and that’s okay. I can control my actions. They make a difference in my life and the lives of those around me and I can track them to improve. 

To adopt this mindset, prepare and practice

First, prepare by deleting all news and social media apps from your phone. 

Next, consider what kind of future excites you. Create a vision of it and a mantra that represents that.

Then, repeat the mantra each time you’re tempted to look at the news or worry about something you can’t control. Immediately after repeating it, get up and go work on your goals.

Preparation kills fear, and the best way to prepare is to make a plan, which is what I’ll show you how to do next.

2. Create a Google Doc or Spreadsheet to Explore What You Want

A couple of years ago I was at my desk at work when it suddenly hit me that I needed to change careers. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like engineering enough and am good at it, but I just had the strongest feeling that I’m better suited for something else. 

It was terrifying, especially considering that I have a family to provide for. 

But what made that moment of future uncertainty more clear was journaling about what I really wanted and what was possible. 

That night I started a Google Doc to record all of my ideas and feelings. I mostly used it to make a plan, which is how I work through things that worry me until they don’t anymore.

I like to call it “visioneering” because it involves creating a vision and then engineering the plan to get there.

You can check out that exact document by clicking here. There’s not much in there because not long after making this one, I created others for the specific businesses I wanted to start. 

As you’ll see, the plan started in 2018 and went to the Spring of 2020. I’m very happy to say that it’s the end of the Spring in 2020 right now and I’ve successfully made the transition I had hoped for.

It didn’t go as I planned, but because I had the mentality of focusing only on what I can control and letting myself be guided to the right path, I’ve been happier with it than I thought possible.

The Importance of Free-Writing Your Future and How to Do It

To make your visioneering easier, free-write everything you’re feeling about your future. If you’re worried specifically about your career, focus on that. I like to divide it up into the categories of faith, family, finances, fitness, and fun.

Free-writing is essential because the stream of consciousness onto the page makes you more likely to get it all out. Thoughts are difficult to organize, but when you have a screen in front of you, it’s much easier to put it all into words.

Plus, the emotions you’re feeling will all come out too. Those are helpful to capture so that you can work through them as well as the thoughts.

Finding out what you really want in the future is as simple as asking yourself the right questions. Start with these and add your own as they come to your mind:

  • What do I really want my life to be like in the future? Pick a time, maybe 5 or 10 years out, and envision what’s going on for you.
  • Which career or job would I love the most? What past jobs did I enjoy the most and why? Are there career paths that would let me do more of that?
  • What family situation do I really want? Do I want to be married in the future? Have kids? How many? Where do we live and how big is our home?
  • What do I want my weight to be? Body fat percentage? Overall health levels? Do I want to complete a marathon?
  • What does a typical day look like? Describe it from the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed in as much detail as possible. 

If you don’t like typing all of that out, Google Docs has a nice dictation feature that should help a lot. 

3. Make Your Plan by Working Backward From Your Ideal Future

By this point, you’ve got your mindset right, or your plan to get there. You’ve also created a Google Doc in which you’ve recorded all of your feelings on what you really want. 

Next comes refining that initial brain dump into a plan.

The easiest way to do this is to divide your entire vision into the categories I mentioned earlier. Those were faith, family, finances, fitness, and fun if you need a reminder. 

Take just one of them at a time and make sure your vision for that one piece of your life is solid. 

Say you looked at your life five years in the future. Now you want to take that goal and work backward, finding out what you’d need to have two to three years from now, then one, then six months, and so on down to daily action steps.

An Example of How to Work Backward

Let’s say, that you chose to visioneer that in 5 years you’d have run the Boston marathon.

For that you have to run a separate marathon just to qualify, so that plus actually running the race should account for 2.5 years, give or take.  

That gives you 2.5 years, or half of your total five years, to have run at least a half marathon

Cut that into two again and you’ve got about 1 year from right now. You’d need to run half of a half marathon, which is roughly 6 miles or about a 10k.

This means that in the next 6 months, you have to be comfortable running a 5k, which is about 3 miles.

Six months is about two quarters or two 12-week periods. That means you’ll have the current one to work on getting into a running habit, and the next to run the actual 5k.

You’ve now successfully broken down a future that was previously uncertain and made it certain by creating a vision and a plan for yourself to get there! 

Now all you need is to find out what daily action steps, or lead indicators will prepare you to get there. Also, consider what weekly lag indicators will show whether you’re progressing or not.

You might, for example, decide that you want to start by running just a mile or a half a mile a day. 

At the end of the week, you can check your progress by seeing how fast you ran, how much you ran, or how much weight or body fat you lost.

Do this with all of the other areas of life and you’ll be set with a solid future of where you want to be in a few years!

4. Set a Regular Time to Review, Plan, and Visualize

It’s crucial to have a Google Doc for this so you can go back and look at it anytime you want. And edit, update, and refine it until it’s this polished plan that lights you up inside

That’s exactly what the Google Docs I’ve created as part of this pattern have done for me. 

The real reason it worked out, though, was because I was consistent at remembering my vision and working on my plan to make it happen. I had a regular time, usually Sunday, when I would go back and review the document to make updates and see how I was doing. 

Research indicates that when you visualize practicing, it’s almost as good as doing the actual practice. Some athletes even experienced muscle growth from their mental exercise.

That’s why you need to schedule a regular time each day or week to review your plan, update it, and reinforce your vision of what you want. I love to do this to upbeat music because it really gets me pumped up. 

This is really just a form of meditation. If you’re new to mindfulness, I recommend starting with the Headspace app. I was a skeptic until I tried it. But after seeing the positive difference it’s made on my life, I’m hooked.

The morning usually works best for this practice because you can be alone. 

To create a visualization routine, begin by opening your document to remind yourself of the future you want. Then, sit down, close your eyes, and run through a typical day in that ideal future. Ask yourself all of the questions I mentioned before to get ultra clear on your visualization.

Dozens of books talk about the power of visualization,=. If you’d like to learn more, I suggest The Secret and Think and Grow Rich.

What’s The Next Step You Need to Take to Plan for the Future?

I know this method of preparing for the future you want is going to work for you because I’ve done it myself. 

I did it to run a marathon, switch my career and double my income, marry the woman of my dreams and begin a family with her, and so many other huge goals. 

The power in this method is that it transforms your thinking to become intentional and proactive, rather than unintentional and reactive. 

In other words, you’re consciously choosing where your life will go rather than just letting the world take you on its downward journey that leads to loneliness, mental illness, obesity, and countless other issues. 

Take charge of your future. Find out what you want and go after it with a carefully crafted plan and fierce determination. You can do it, I believe you can because I’ve done it myself. 

And I’m here to help if you ever need me!