“The future bears down upon each one of us with all the hazards of the unknown. The only way out is through.”
– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
The only thing constant in life is uncertainty. After a year of unplanned globetrotting and launching a bootstrapped software business, I’ve learned there are ways to cope with the unknown to make you stronger.
The feeling of uncertainty doesn’t sit well for everyone. Perhaps some of the following insights and tactics will give you strength in times of uncertainty.
It all starts at the foundation: Your mind.
“If you aren’t in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret.” – Jim Carrey.
Love that guy, and as cliche and familiar as “in the moment” sounds, he’s right. Let’s break that down.
In an increasingly chaotic, interruptive world, one of the great powers a human can attain is the power to own “the moment,” at least mentally. Enter: Meditation.
I can’t recommend the app “Headspace” enough to understand and guide you through daily meditation practice.
The skill that unfolds from meditation is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the constant underlying awareness of your thoughts as an objective, disparate entity. ie. You are not your thoughts.
This “seat of awareness,” observing your experiences as something separate from your body and mind, helps to distance yourself from dwelling on the past or fearing the future. It helps you make better decisions right now, and feel much happier in the process.
It’s the most thoughtful, practical, non-religious explanation of what consciousness is, why meditation works, exactly what “The Self” is, and how you can be OK with the only tangibly certain thing in life: death. Great read if you’re into that kinda thing.
Complete a “January Letter”
For the past 3 years, I’ve practiced an exercise called “The January Letter” to help cope with uncertainty, especially as it relates to the execution of ambitious targets. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post on goal setting I contributed to in 2016:
“The gist: Before NYE, write a letter as your future self. Date the letter exactly one year from today, and start it with something along the lines of “Dear [your name], it’s been one heck of a year!” followed by a description of your accomplishments in these four pillars of your life:
- Personal development goals: Health/wellness and relationships (new workout habits, new mentors, new friends, new skills, mindfulness. etc.)
- Career/business/economic goals: What level of financial abundance you’d like to achieve, what person have you become in your field etc.?
- Stuff goals: What kind of cool toys, trips, experiences, and fun stuff did you do and acquire?
- Contribution: How have you given back to the world, who have you helped?
The point of the exercise is to mentally frame these accomplishments as if they already happened. It’s a powerful subconscious maneuver. The more detailed the better.
“It is always helpful to know where you are headed even if you have no idea of how you are going to get there.”
You’ll find when you read this letter in a year, it’s usually eerily in line with what you were actually able to manifest in reality…so dream big!”
You may have no idea how you’ll accomplish these things (uncertainty), but setting the course and trajectory of your life is something you CAN influence through your day-to-day decisions. Try it out!
“You can’t stop entropy, so why even try?” – 311
Philosopher’s in their own right, my 90s rap-rock heroes, 311, know how to cut to my core. Here’s how to put this in practice.
After being exposed to a lot of stoic literature over the last few years, both contemporary and original, one common thread has always resonated with me: Why worry about that which you can’t control?
An example from A Guide to the Good Life illustrates how the outcome of a tennis match you are playing is ultimately not in your control.
Note how I said outcome. There’s no sense in fretting over the uncertain outcome, for the only thing you CAN control is your preparation and your performance.
Only worry about preparing for battle and playing your best during the match, for that is all you can control.
Negative feelings, fret, and elevated blood pressure over things you can’t directly control is irrational. It does not serve you or anyone in your life.
Be aware of this, and this could be the most practical advice you’ll receive, so don’t worry, be happy.
“If you stumble, make it part of the dance” – Uknown
A key part of playing improvisational music is embracing the stumbles and repeating them so as to make it sound purposeful. Jazz musicians do this often.
In the same vein of not concerning yourself with outcomes you can’t control, failure can be one of those outcomes. In fact, the pain of uncertainty is fear of your worst case scenario…failure, or even worse.
Both failure and success are merely outcomes. In order to truly embrace uncertainty, this needs to be a constant reminder, so just work really hard and live with passion, for you can control those actions.
Stumbling, or failing, is just an outcome. Try it again, iterate based on lessons learned, and produce a new outcome. Forgive me for the simplicity, but failure truly is growth. You’ve seen it on hundreds of memes.
The rest is up to the entropy that got us here in the first place.
Listen to Alan
My buddy and former roommate Alan VanToai had a deep realization the other day while meditating, wrote down this epiphany, and sent a picture to share it with me:
What this means to me is that the outcome you are uncertain about doesn’t actually matter. It’s only about the journey, or pursuit, of your goals.
There actually is no finish line. Have you heard of a super successful person that just…stops working? It’s very rare, as they will continue to chase the rainbow.
Learn to find happiness in pursuit of your dreams, and you’ll come to embrace the uncertainty of your quest.
Have an amazing 2017!