As it becomes more and more obvious that things are not ‘going back to normal’ any time soon, all of us find ourselves facing an uncertain future.

Perhaps the first thing is to recognise that none of us ever have the kind of certainty or control over our lives that we would like to think we have. We ask each other interview questions like, ’Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ and plan holidays and other events a year or more in advance, but, even without a global pandemic to deal with, life frequently gets in the way.

Don’t pay interest on trouble you haven’t borrowed yet.

Accepting that we can’t control everything is often, paradoxically, something of a relief. It means that we recognise that spending all our time worrying about what might happen is usually a colossal waste of energy. As the saying goes, ‘’Don’t pay interest on trouble you haven’t borrowed yet.’

It is also often difficult to predict whether what has happened is ultimately going to turn out to be a good or a bad thing. I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak earlier in my life if I’d simply realised that my failed relationships were simply clearing the way for a later successful marriage.

But does this mean that we should just throw up our hands and surrender to fate?

Distinguish between what you can, and can’t, control.

I wouldn’t say so, no. In fact, feeling that we are totally at the mercy of whatever happens can make us feel worse. Instead, I think it’s about recognising the difference between those things which we can’t control (pandemics and other global or national events, other people’s behaviour, accidents) and those over which we do have quite a lot of control.

To go back to the relationships example, I didn’t have any control over how they felt about me, but sometimes I most certainly could have made a better choice of partner…

The current situation is unarguably difficult, and it has to be accepted that we are facing an uncertain future, but we can absolutely control how we deal with this.  

Three more ways to deal with uncertainty

In the first place, we can avoid constantly reading or watching the news. Of course it’s important to be aware of what is happening, but with so much news available, it’s very easy to overload on this. We have an inbuilt negative bias, designed to protect us from danger by focusing on the bad news we hear. But when so very much is easily available from around the world this can have the unintended consequence of keeping us in a constant state of alert and stress. This then undermines our ability to think strategically and plan for the future in a balanced way.

Secondly, we can consciously focus on any positive aspects to our current situation. This isn’t to deny the negatives, but just not to give them more space than they merit. Perhaps we now have more time to learn a new skill or to develop our skills further. Perhaps it’s finally time to start that website we’ve been thinking about for years, or make new contacts, or try a different approach to getting what you have to offer out into the world?

Creating little wins and successes will not only put us in a better situation to deal with the future, but also help to improve our mood and thus strengthen our ability to cope with adversity.

And finally, use the community you have, or create or join one if you don’t. Trying times are an opportunity to forge links and support each other. Being part of a community can also open doors and provide opportunities and ideas that you might never have considered on your own.

This post originally appeared (in a slightly different version) on Olivia Chute’s blog, Passion and Meaning. Olivia is an award winning composer and musician, as well as a long standing ELT professional.