A few months ago, you might have been forgiven for thinking we in Australia were over the worst of COVID-19. The vaccine rollout – although slow – was happening, the spate of short lockdowns earlier in the year had stopped, and things were gradually getting better. But it didn’t take long to shatter that illusion, and now we’re back to chaos and uncertainty.
This is part of our reality now, and we have to be careful not to let it cripple our thinking for the future.
Most people plan for the future by starting from where they are now and looking ahead. But that drags you in the direction of the most obvious outcomes instead of what could truly be possible. This is magnified in uncertain times, when it’s tempting to think even smaller because we can’t predict even a short-term future.
A better way to expand and extend your possible futures is to start from the future to get a broader perspective.
In their book ‘Decisive’, Chip and Dan Heath describe a decision-making technique we can adapt for this purpose. I often use this process to help clients facing uncertainty and disruption, because it’s particularly useful when you’re facing a brittle, volatile future.
I’ll explain it step by step.
The basic principle is to step out of the present and project into the future.
Right now, we’re in a very uncertain time, not sure what the next day will bring, let alone next week or next month:
Choose three future time frames, representing the short, medium, and long term – for example:
- 10 weeks from now
- 10 months from now
- 10 years from now
You don’t have to choose those exact numbers – for example, it could be 2 weeks, 5 months, and 3 years. The point is that you choose a short-term, medium-term, and long-term time frame.
Now imagine stepping into each of these future times and see your ideal life at each of these three points in time.
This gives you two very important things.
1. It gives you a new perspective.
First, instead of being stuck in crisis mode right now, you can imagine there’s a better future out there. That alone can reduce some of your stress and anxiety now, and give you more confidence.
That’s helpful in itself, but the second thing is even more useful.
2. It helps you make better decisions NOW.
Imagine, say, 10 months from now, the Future You looking back at today:
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so grateful 10 months ago you made those decisions and took those actions.’
Finally, ask yourself what decisions and actions is that Future You talking about?
That gives you more clarity about what to do now – not only for managing now, but for preparing for that future.
Take a few minutes now to try this process.
This is a simple process, and it’s easy to ignore it because it seems too simple. But don’t fall into this trap! Even though it’s simple, it’s also very powerful.
It gives you a different perspective for the future – one that starts from the ideal future instead of the chaos of today. It also gives you an initial direction for action, so you’re not stuck in uncertainty and indecision. This process won’t provide the perfect answers, but it guides you in the direction of actions towards your desired future.
After you do this exercise yourself, repeat it with your team. Everybody will have different ideas about their ideal futures, and that alone helps you understand them better. Work together to define your shared ideal future, which then gives you all greater clarity for taking action.
This won’t solve all your problems now, but it can move you from doubt to more confidence, confusion to more clarity, and helplessness to simple actions you can take right now.