How to Prepare For an Unknown Future

Photo by Dunamis Church on Unsplash

Chance favors the prepared mind. — Louis Pasteur

There’s a reason humans hate unpredictability. We’re wired for threat.

Here we are. Upended. Suspended. Work is home. Out is in. Together is apart.

There are no ducks. No rows.

We can plan for the possibility of what’s ahead by harnessing the power of presence. Here are 4 science-based practices that can help you look within to look ahead:

1. Cope proactively, not reactively.

On a good day, we can handle stressful events. We can even forecast stress. Anticipate and strategically plan how we’d cope with each kind of stress. Scientists call this kind of situation-specific skill anticipatory coping.

This is a moment to prepare our mind and body. To balance our thinking and our responding. To look within while we look ahead.

By practicing mindfulness, we reduce our reactivity to stress. This allows us to expand our ability to proactively cope with imagined and real stressors. Now. How?

2. Toggle perspectives.

In the face of unpredictable, uncontrollable situations, our fear tends to fill in the blanks. We can quickly lose perspective. Researcher Barbara Frederickson of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found positive emotions can “open our mind”.

Negative emotions narrow our thinking, and harm the functioning of the heart by causing inflammation.

It’s a good thing we can often ‘undo’ the negative effects of harboring fear, anger and anxiety through becoming more mindful of positive emotions. (More on the power of generating positive self-emotion in #4).

3. Practice presence.

It may sound counterintuitive to focus on the moment when fears of un unknown future are gripping you. It’s not about avoidance. It’s about attention. The science is compelling.

When you tune in to senses and breath, you focus your attention — and this is the kicker — where you choose to focus it. This strengthens your capacity for stress resilience.

And, amazingly, Nobel Prize winning research tells us that practicing presence… promotes health longevity. (How long are your telomeres?)

4. Widen your lens.

A curious thing happens when we are stressed out and afraid. Our peripheral vision gets narrower. We see less when we’re less calm, less hopeful, less curious. Widening our vision, literally and figuratively, requires something that’s hard to curate when we’re scared: curiosity.

Bonus: all of these practices of broadening and building, reflecting, toggling, minding the moment… they integrate the brain.

An integrated brain is a supercharged brain (body and mind). Linking previously differentiated parts to form a stronger whole. Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel says integration is the heart of health.

“Positivity doesn’t just reflect success and health. It produces success and health.” — Barbara Frederickson

We can meet the unknown with a sense of curiosity instead of terror. An acceptance of current reality, instead of resistance. An inner knowing that we can proactively cope without reactive fear immobilizing or derailing us.

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Lu Hanessian, MSc

Lu Hanessian, MSc

Adjunct Professor, Journalist, Former NBC Network Anchor/Discovery Health Channel Host, Host & Exec Producer of “The Foreseeable Now” podcast.