An Expert's Guide To Making Decisions During Uncertain Times & COVID-19
Planning is like breathing: We do it all the time.
In sports, we game plan. At work, we draw up strategic plans. At home, we family plan. We meal plan and travel plan, tax plan, and estate plan. Wherever we are, we devise backup plans and contingency plans in case our primary plans don't pan out. For worst-case scenarios, we emergency plan.
And yet no one planned for this. The coronavirus pandemic has been so unexpected, so disruptive, so deadly and destructive that it has taken our well-laid plans and thrown them out the window. So, too, with our backup plans and contingency plans, our travel plans, meal plans, family plans, and life plans. This is a whole new world in which the very idea of a plan seems altogether irrelevant.
Which raises the question: How do you make a plan for anything, make any kind of decision when everything from our jobs to our health, the economy, schools, sports, and celebrations is shrouded in uncertainty? Here are some thoughts.
Exchange plans for present-mindedness.
Planning is important. It helps us organize our lives and create structures and goals for ourselves. That being said, as a society we have a habit of overplanning. We can all be guilty of this. We get focused on planning things down to a T. When we plan, we feel in control, which in turn makes us feel less vulnerable.
Of course, the truth is that life is always beyond our control. Moreover, sometimes the best things in life happen when we don't try to control them and instead let ourselves be vulnerable to the mysterious workings of the universe. I'm sure you can find dozens of examples of how chance and serendipity have led you to some of your happiest and most important connections in life.
So in this moment of unprecedented uncertainty, when all of your best-laid plans will likely seem foolish a year from now anyway, trying to live in the moment as much as possible is important. Let's help ourselves practice present-mindedness when we can and not take for granted the here and now by focusing too much on a planned future.
Shift the planning mindset.
Living in the here and now is a wonderful thing. But when we have careers and kids and a panoply of other adult responsibilities to think about, leaving things up to the power of the universe is not a panacea. It's more like a platitude. We still need to plan to set ourselves up for the most stability and success as possible.
One effective tool is to take the same structure and process by which we used to plan our futures but now apply them to a much smaller time frame. Instead of being tempted to plan weeks, months, or years ahead, try to focus on planning day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.
State clear intentions. What are the most important things for you to focus your time and energy on today? How can you support yourself to take action on your intentions?
Maybe it's providing stability for your kids or feeling like you want to be kind to yourself and your inner circle. The intention is more important than the outcome. The outcome is beyond your control. Simply by stating an intention, it can serve as a guidepost to make decisions minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
Reframe the present moment.
Once you have your intentions, ask what is within your power to meet those intentions in the immediate future. This may not be a time of huge accomplishment and productivity, if we look at our pandemic lives through the same lens as before.
Many of us have a strong guilt complex right now. We feel like we're not doing enough. We want to accomplish more, go faster, do bigger. If we're not working all the time, achieving important successes or traveling in epic, around-the-world fashion, we feel like we're failing.
But in all honesty, it's OK to move a bit slower and shift what it means to accomplish something. We need to be flexible, both mentally and physically. It's OK to ease up, lower former standards or change them completely, especially if it provides more consistency and day-to-day certainty and mental well-being. We have permission. This is a pandemic.
Listen to your head, heart, and gut.
Planning is hard right now; making decisions is arguably even harder. To decide is to take a plan and put it into action. And as we have discussed, that's a scary proposition in a pandemic world.
A master coach of mine once introduced me to what I now call the "head, heart, and gut framework" for making decisions. The head is our intellectual center, the heart our emotional center, and the gut our intuitive center. Oftentimes we will realize we're "head-heavy" and overly rationalize everything, or "heart-heavy" and have strong emotional reactions to situations, or sometimes "gut-heavy" and will intuitively respond to something without taking a step back and reflecting on other options.
Notice where you may be out of balance, and see what you can do to help yourself make decisions evenly from your head, heart, and gut. Listening to all three centers equally can help you make the best decision for yourself in that moment in time.
Let the light take care of the rest.
When you have to make a decision, gather as much information as you can to make the best choice possible with what you know right now. The world isn't black or white; life is in the gray. It's complicated and messy, and our decisions are too. Rarely is there a "right" decision or "wrong" decision. At this moment in time, there's a better decision for you, maybe a best one, and that's where we want to get to.
At the end of the day, making decisions in a time of uncertainty is hard. There's only so much you can control, and that's where a lot of the fear and paralysis comes from: the uncontrollables. There's a Kabbalah saying I heard many years ago that has always stuck with me: "Do your best and the light will do the rest."
So long as you set your intention toward making the best decision possible, that's the best you can do. Focus on practicing acceptance of that, and let the light (or the universe) do the rest.
Amelia Kruse is a creative leadership coach. She received her master's degree in biological sciences and bachelor's degree in anthropology from The University of Sydney, Australia. She is a certified professional coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and a certified EQ assessor with Six Seconds (EQAC), The Emotional Intelligence Network. She has been featured in Business Insider and Refinery29 and has clients from companies such as Droga5, Google, Spotify, Anomaly, Domino, and Weber Shandwick. She is currently living and practicing in New York City.