by Megan Sy, M.S.
Whether they are specific and detailed or vague and approximate, plans orient us toward our goals. Both short-term and long-term planning often serve an adaptive purpose – it helps guide our decisions and actions, for instance. However, the demand for control may also create stress, anxiety, and fear. Along with these negative emotions, the rigid demand for certainty can result in avoidant, overly cautious, or self-sabotaging behavior.
The difficulty with this kind of thinking, of course, is that we can never gain absolute control over anything. We can never truly know where life will lead or what an outcome will be. Thus, rather than demand control and certainty, it is often more helpful to learn to tolerate uncertainty and the discomfort that it brings. Instead of saying “I must know that this situation will turn out the way I want it to,” we can think, “Although I prefer a certain outcome, there is no reason why it must happen and I can tolerate not knowing how this will turn out.”
Thinking rationally about the future does not mean giving up on making plans. Planning works. It is beneficial. But it can only take us so far. In the end, we strive to relinquish control and accept uncertainty. As John Lennon wrote, life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. Thinking flexibly about our plans and accepting the gray areas allows us to live in the present and enjoy what we do have.