“Looking deeper, we could say that the real cause of suffering is not being able to tolerate uncertainty.” ~Pema Chödrön
Before March 2020, we could make plans and carry them out with relative ease. Now, however, we book a flight knowing that the trip might not happen. We plan a trip for next February, hoping it will not be cancelled due to traveling restrictions. Politicians and school districts make mandates and recommendations and then change them mere weeks or months later. We are all making plans during an uncertain time where so much is out of our control. How can we plan ahead in all this uncertainty?
Last August, in a blog post, I suggested that we keep perspective, live in the present, do what we can do, use our resources, and adapt. Now with another year of experience under our belts, I would like to add another suggestion for how we can plan during uncertainty:
Plan only for what we can control.
Let me explain with a few examples:
There is a chance we may have new or reinstated restrictions placed on our daily living again. I flashback to last year with grocery shortages and stay-at-home mandates. I get stressed at the thought of it. What can I do?! Buy toilet paper. I can be prepared with the essentials I need at home to ride out another lockdown, should it happen. I can be ready. I can do my part to face whatever is to come. I can plan for me and my needs. I cannot control what will happen in the future, but I can control my readiness for it.
Another example: My friend and her husband have a trip planned to Panama soon. They are concerned that they will be unable to go on this trip because of vaccine mandates and the overall state of the world. While my friend’s husband is stressing about their trip falling apart, she feels peace because even if they cannot go to Panama, they will find somewhere else to vacation. (She actually sees it as sort of an adventure if they have to select a last minute destination!) They cannot control what happens in the future, but they can control their response to it. They will have a backup plan!
One final example: I have several friends who are worried about their children going back to school and all the uncertainty surrounding that. If our schools change their mask policies or decide to go virtual (again), we cannot control that. Of course parents always need to have their children’s best interest at heart and be involved however they can. While we can of course use our voices to advocate for what and how we want our children taught in school, we can also teach our kids how to be flexible when changes arise by modeling that behavior. Let’s not worry too much about something that is ultimately out of our control. We cannot control everything that happens to our children, but we can give them one safe place to pass the time.
The next time we start feeling anxious about how little control it seems we have at present, let’s look inside our own homes and lives to what we actually do have control over. Let’s buy the toilet paper and be prepared for whatever might come in the future, let’s be flexible and have fun making plan Bs, and let’s teach our children how we can only control how we respond to life. Life is uncertain–especially right now. We can find certainty in the uncertainty by controlling our responses. At the end of the day, this is truly all we have control over. So let’s make it count.
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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