6 Mental Skills to Master for Living with Uncertainty
A NEW WAY OF BEING
What if the key to personal growth was embracing the very things we ordinarily ignore?
Welcome to 2017. We’re at the dawn of a new transpersonal, geopolitical, and technological era defined by uncertainty and subjective realities. For many, whatever new world awaits is very difficult to imagine; for others — a golden opportunity for new beginnings.
Bridging the gap between uncertainty and opportunity may be tough, but not impossible. Within the challenge lies a learning path beckoning us forward. The development of our individual strengths in concert with overcoming the blind spots limiting our lives may be one of the most critical areas of our ongoing personal development today.
For a long time, a pivotal concept that kept me in motion was embracing the shift from being a casual observer of life to becoming an active participant — an agent of change. Growing up, it seemed to me the TV-watching mentality unconsciously found its way into my day-to-day life, almost creating an imaginary barrier between the individual and the external world; contributing to a very strong division between the self and “everything else out there.”
No longer do I believe participation is optional — success or failure of integration into our weird future is entirely dependent on oneself. Today, we’re living in a very different world than the television era of my childhood.
The ability to create our own reality — or lack thereof — is inseparable from how well we’re able to align ourselves with any possible future ahead. Making matters more complicated, this isn’t a call-to-action for one’s own personal elucidation — quite the opposite. We’re a collective species, a global community, and our actions today are impacting everyone else on the planet. Scientists have announced we’ve reached the Anthropocene: the age of a world changed by human actions. What we do today individually is already impacting untold future generations.
What next? How could we sit idly by as global temperatures rise higher yearly while extreme weather and war continue displacing people everywhere, and today’s innovations are further driving inequality and disparity instead of growth and connectedness?
We must “take back” our minds and agency, dedicating ourselves to what moves us, driving the forward momentum of our lives even in the darkest times.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: 21st CENTURY SKILLS
We’ll all need to nurse and develop new talents to ensure we can handle whatever happens next. From my experience working in media production, burning man culture and recently the tech industry, I’ve identified the areas most valuable in overcoming seemingly impenetrable challenges.
By no means is the below list an exhaustive one; instead, these are the traits that have contributed to the most personal growth for me lately:
Especially amidst today’s uncertainty, each of these skills have value individually but together create an unstoppable momentum for success, mental health, and forward motion. Every day I apply one or more of these, my experience of the world is significantly different than if I hadn’t otherwise. Included are sample exercises.
No matter what circumstances appear weighing against us — no one can control our thoughts as well as ourselves. Choosing to see the silver lining of any situation or even the lessons learned in our seemingly worst experiences provides an opportunity to become more optimistic where we once wouldn’t have imagined it could be possible.
Especially in light of all possible scenarios stacked against us all, the act of having hope is in of itself a revolutionary act. Hope is the fuel that feeds the fire to push us forward.
The more infectious optimism we emanate, the more chance our attitude will ripple outwards and positively affect others. As Gandhi once said, “A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle.”
Optimism experiment: What are you grateful for right now? Is anything contributing meaningfully towards your experience of reality? What opportunities may be available this moment due to current circumstances that would not be otherwise?
An ever increasing amount of stressors appears ready to pull any of us down at virtually any moment. The modern world we’re living in appears more fragile than ever. Many of us today are deep in the process of building castles of sand around career, future, and life despite any grim outlook elsewhere.
Growing our ability to “bounce back” from any tough situation and maintaining inner peace and balance will provide the strength needed when everything else seems impossible.
On the smallest scale, resilience for individuals is a bridge to achieving more than we ever thought possible. At the largest scale, resilience for major organizations and governments is what separates the living from the dead.
As we become more resilient, our obstacles shrink; and at best, become enjoyable challenges leaving guideposts for others.
Resilience experiment: Think back to one of the toughest experiences you’ve had recently. Upon reflection, have you learned anything from that experience you may have already unconsciously applied? What new skills can you recall in hindsight from experiences that were difficult when they first happened?
Hand in hand with resilience, adaptability provides us the opportunity to flow with any situation we’re presented. With increasingly shifting and contradictory everyday life circumstances, moving at the same speed of the chaos around us opens new opportunities where we once only saw roadblocks.
Especially in the context of socio-economic instability and technological acceleration, adaptability ensures we’re playing with the best deck of cards at every turn — and each new pivot is as smooth and aligned as possible in whatever context.
One way to becoming more adaptable is finding comfort in unknowing. Once we learn to better appreciate the freshness of the unfamiliar, leaving our comfort zones becomes much less hard. The more we learn to embrace the mystery, the more unpredictableness becomes something we look forward to instead of something to dread. Adaptation offers unexpected success, depending on how well we can see it for ourselves.
Adaptability experiment: Imagine a difficult situation ahead. Analyze your options. Follow the best option through a trajectory far into the future. Is the situation still so difficult? If so, what could you alter to make the experience more beneficial? Now that you have visualized a workaround, is the difficult situation nearly as much a challenge?
One of the most important attributes to develop and nurture is passion. Without it — the whole world might appear much dimmer than it really is. Add passion, and the vibrancy of life begins to seep through everything.
When passion fuels the choices and actions we make, the impossible suddenly becomes achievable. If success is a mindset, not a measurable quality — then passion is a guaranteed avenue to consistent success, every time; even in failure.
No matter where the economics of the future may lead, nurturing our passions now is the best bet toward maintaining a state of fulfillment outside of the traditional market we’re accustomed to.
In an optimistic future, the time may arrive when the things we’re most passionate about be what we invest 100% of our lives into. Even in the worst possible future, an enthusiastic passion for something is one way to live a more fulfilling, redeeming and bearable life.
Passion experiment: Think back to the earliest or strongest emotions you’ve held around an idea, experience, or location. Try identifying the aspects that stand out. Do you similarly feel this way about anything in your life today? If not — what else do you often think about without recognizing you think about it? The first things that come to mind might lead the way.
Without action, little is possible. Great ideas begin in the mind but often die there too. Only until we’ve transmuted an abstract concept into a concrete step towards execution can the process begin. As Albert Einstein so eloquently said, “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.”
Humans now have access to more tools for comfort and relaxation than ever before. The quest for convenience is a billion dollar market and isn’t going away anytime soon. Meanwhile, the imperative to make a difference has never been more valuable. More seemingly invisible yet weighty issues today demand resolution, with potential to impact large and unsuspecting groups if left unresolved.
Unfortunately, for many reasons today society has defined value in a very limited set of terms, almost exclusively tied to financial profit. But the arc of achievement moves slowly across very long cycles, and sometimes things appear deceptively value-less in monetary terms until the very moment they become public.
As more individuals are empowered to take the steps needed to move forward the projects they’ve dreamed of, we’ll inch iteratively closer towards the world we wish to see, instead of the world as handed to us by others.
Action experiment: Visualize short term things you want. Imagine the tools or steps required for success. Ready to move forward? If not, list anything required next and set a short term deadline to complete. Remind yourself frequently until done. Don’t let new circumstances stand in the way.
Most important of all, an ability to focus is the most critical puzzle piece making any effort worthwhile. All too often we try to multitask or make so much possible in so little time — often to subpar results. Multitasking is possible to a small number of people out there; not everybody. Uninterrupted engagement of any problem might reveal deeper layers of complexity that might go unnoticed if a deep focus isn’t readily available.
Beyond our personal abilities with whatever time management practices we leverage, the outside world competes for our attention as much as physically possible. Modern internet advertising and social media are built around the attention economy; and if we’re not actively controlling our attention, subconscious advertisements of some kind may be controlling us.
If someone else decides that your focus is worth pennies on the dollar, and they’d prefer you navigate sponsored content through a funnel until you buy a product you don’t need — is that really worth it over the long term investment of something important?
As we become even more overwhelmed with a plethora of choice unlike any other time in human history, having the discernment of knowing where to focus is paramount. Ingraining the ability to manage impulses around focus and attention can achieve so much more in significantly less time.
Focus experiment: Clear as many distractions as possible and find something meaningful to you. Music, writing, art — anything that moves you deeply. Allow yourself the space to let go. Once you feel refreshed, get back to whatever needs doing. Find the peace you’ve achieved moments ago and let it guide your clarity moving forward.
WHY BOTHER IF EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE ANYWAY?
While easy to rationalize our place in the world by telling ourselves stories — the world has fallen apart, or is accelerating faster than we understand, and has too high a barrier to entry for “everyone else” — we must remain dedicated to growth and progress over complacency and apathy.
Our mindset is the greatest tool — and barrier — for upliftment. If our cognitive biases go unchecked, we risk the chance of running in circles until we go insane. As we develop the strength necessary to face head-on whatever challenges approach us — even if the world does fall to pieces or doesn’t change as drastically as all signs point to — why not have a more healthy relationship between life, satisfaction, and action?
Some of the biggest advances in science and technology have occurred in the past few decades, some even in the past few years and months. Media distribution and information consumption have reached new heights of mass distraction. Inequality is rising, yet medicine and self-help tech is accelerating our ability to manage oncoming challenges much more readily.
As we appear closer to both utopia and oblivion, surfing the waves of anxiety transformed into hope may be our best chance to shape the future we need. While becoming more self-sufficient and working towards our highest aspirations, we too can become agents of change for other individuals, organizations and even governments in the tumultuous times ahead.
In my personal process of growth, the skills mentioned above have helped me immensely. Over time, in my quest to master each of these — I hope explaining my process may help others as well. The act of writing these skills out for sharing is in of itself one experiment to assist in my remembering to apply these lessons daily.
If given the chance — would you choose to watch the movie of your life, or direct the story of your dreams? With these skills, I hope we can all become better owners of our lives and circumstances.