Managing Anxiety About the Future

Ah, anxiety. We’ve all encountered it. The palpable tension in our chest, the clammy hands, and the racing thoughts as we try to anticipate each and every potential outcome—we all know that sinking feeling of uncertainty. But what if, instead of painstakingly drafting plans to avoid it, we simply surrendered to the freedom of making the right calls in the moment? By embracing decisiveness and our innate ability to adapt, we could direct our energy toward confronting unrealistic expectations and alleviating that future-looking anxiety.

Before diving into this concept, let’s get one thing straight: Goals are good. It’s how we plan to pursue them that tends to trip us up. The truth is, life unfolds unpredictably, and our ability to navigate its twists and turns is often the difference between sweet success and bitter disappointment. But what does it mean to be decisive, and how does this tie into systems thinking?

Cultivating Decisiveness

In a nutshell, decisiveness is an action-oriented mindset that involves making calculated decisions quickly and efficiently. Systems thinking, on the other hand, is a cognitive process that explores the various components of an issue or situation, allowing us to better understand the underlying relationships and leverage points. By adopting these approaches, we can unearth greater self-awareness and identify what elements of our world we can and cannot control.

To cultivate decisiveness, the first step is to acknowledge and dispel the myth of the perfect plan. As we accept that the future is inherently unpredictable, our approach becomes grounded in practicality and adaptability, rather than on an idealized plan set in stone. By remaining open to new data and adjusting our route accordingly, we empower ourselves to tackle challenges more effectively and efficiently.

The Rumble: Confronting Uncertainty

Now, it’s worth considering what we mean by “the right decisions.” In many instances, the right decision isn’t objectively “correct;” rather, it’s the best course of action given the available information and resources. Being decisive doesn’t imply that we possess a full understanding of every potential outcome. Instead, it’s a commitment to move forward confidently based on our current grasp of the situation, understanding that our decisions may need to be promptly adjusted.

Brené Brown, author and vulnerability expert, refers to this concept as the “rumble,” wherein we confront uncertainty head-on and engage with those uncomfortable emotions. By doing so, we develop resilience in the face of ambiguity and learn to break free from inertia.

Systems Thinking in Practice

A core aspect of systems thinking is the examination of feedback loops, which provide valuable insights into how our actions impact the broader ecosystem. By evaluating these dynamics, we can identify leverage points—those areas in a system where minimal intervention yields maximum effect. In the context of long-term planning, this perspective empowers us to prioritize practical goals, decipher vital information, and make swift decisions that drive meaningful change.

By incorporating these principles into our decision-making process, we develop the invaluable skill of adjusting our approach in real-time. As we collect more information or encounter obstacles, we can recalibrate without becoming disheartened or paralyzed by indecision. The exhilaration of cultivating this adaptability is twofold: not only do we shed the immobilizing weight of anxiety, but we also gain a newfound sense of personal agency.

Reducing Future-Looking Anxiety

The impetus for integrating decisiveness and systems thinking ultimately lies in reducing future-looking anxiety. Plans, at their core, tend to be static—a stark contrast to reality. Subsequently, when plans become our sole beacon of hope, dissonance arises between expectations and outcomes, culminating in anxiety rooted in unfulfilled ambitions. By nurturing decisiveness and accepting adaptability, we minimize that tension, reframe disappointments as valuable lessons, and manage expectations with greater finesse.

Indeed, by giving ourselves permission to shift course when needed and acknowledge that the “perfect plan” is merely a myth, we embolden our capacity for growth. Through systems thinking, we harness the ability to scrutinize the present and find those critical leverage points that inch us closer to our goals. Armed with both skills, we can face the future with resilience and responsiveness—qualities that effectively nullify the paralyzing impact of anxiety and allow us to forge ahead with courage and purpose.

Daniel Erickson is the Founder and CEO of Viable, a Generative Analysis system that helps teams make better decisions with qualitative data.