I’ll let you into a little secret; here in our Western societies, we’re addicted to making plans. From to-do lists and career-goals to bucket-lists and target-weights, we love planning for the future!
Planning for a future self and place when everything will finally be okay is in our DNA. The notion of busy is best and goal setting is something at the very core of our society. From our early education, the values of striving are instilled into us so deeply and broadly that we fail to question whether this conditioning is right or wrong. It’s just the way it is. Put in the work now and reap the dividends later.
Into adulthood, we knuckle down and climb the salary scale so that we can borrow and spend freely on things that will supposedly make us happy once we attain them. But the happiness felt from getting ‘there’ and possessing ‘that’ is usually short-lived, as goalposts have a tendency to shift once again when we reach them.
So how do you plan for the future in a world that’s currently suspended in limbo? And just how much is this continual planning for the future serving us? Let’s examine planning for the future in a world where you can’t really make plans.
Stop planning for the future by making lots of plans
‘What are you insane!’ I hear you cry, ‘How can I plan for the future by stopping making plans? Won’t the world fall apart? Won’t my future life dissolve into ruin, dragging my present life with it?’
Not planning for the future can feel very uncomfortable to us here in our ambition lead society. It’s just not in our nature. It leaves a kind of emptiness before us that we’re not used to seeing, forcing us to be truly present with what we have before us. When you stop focusing on what might be over there, what is actually right here can seem very real and raw.
However, giving yourself some space to be with what you currently have and not what you don’t have, strengthens the foundations of your life. The process of being present helps to build up your gratitude muscles, which, in turn, allows you to realise your core values. As you cultivate gratitude for that which you are, not that which you will become, the future becomes about an organic unfolding into the future over a forced and prescripted ideal.
Keep future plans fluid and flexible
The Chinese concept of Wu Wei is often translated as non-doing, however, the paradox of this Taoist concept is that it’s not about inaction, but rather ‘effortless action’. The Taoists believed that we should flow through life like water. By breaking down our rigidity and tendency to impose a plan or model on a situation, we create a fluid passivity that will effortlessly flow around any obstacle we encounter in life.
In this same way, if we allow our relationship with the future to be something fluid and flexible, just like water, then we will naturally find ourselves flowing along the right path. But the more we try to impose rigid ideas and expectations onto our futures, or allow others to do the same for us, the more likely we are to be affected by hindrances to this path.
If the global pandemic of recent times has shown us anything, it’s that life as we know it can change at any moment. Fortunes can change, relationships can crumble and health can take a turn for the worse. The Taoists liken the state of Wu Wei to being drunk, as it represents a peaceful state of diminished anxiety, regardless of what you’re doing and what’s going on around you. A drunk man falls uninjured from a moving cart laughing, whereas a rigid man will break many bones from the experience. Sometimes on our paths, we may get thrown off course, but those living according to Wu Wei never doubt that a new way will present itself to them.
Clear out the old to make space for the new
We all walk around with the weight of the past on our shoulders. But how can we tread lightly into the future, if we’re still dragging weight from the past around with us? Planning for the future won’t serve for anything if you haven’t learnt to let go of that which is no longer serving you from your past. Whether it’s redundant stories about yourself or habits and behaviours which you’ve outgrown, first create space in your life before beginning to fill it with something new. Without a good spring-clean of mind, body and soul, you’ll simple project your past onto your future. This will cause you to get stuck in a perpetual loop of yesterday becoming tomorrow. Use inward-looking practices such as meditation and journaling to work out what needs to stay and what needs to go in your life.
Learn something new just for the fun of it
Learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby is a bit like planning for a future you don’t yet know exists. In our goal-orientated society, we’re so wrapped up in self-development to reach an outcome that we forget how to enjoy the process of learning for pleasure. Sure, hours spent learning to play a musical instrument probably won’t convert you into the next celebrity singer-songwriter, but does that even matter?
Hours spent in the flow state you experience when learning a new skill are hours away from the noise of your mind and may even extend your life. One of the best ways to prevent the onset of dementia in later life is by learning a foreign language or how to play a musical instrument. Learning new skills keeps your mind agile, creating new synaptic connections in your brain and muscle memory in your body. It can also open you up to different social connections if you participate in the skill with others. So investing time in ‘just because’ projects is an investment in the health and happiness of your future self. Any new skill can open up a world of possibilities when you least expect it, as life has a way of weaving your experiences together. Therefore the best way to plan for the future is to create a healthy relationship with your present moment experience.
Yoga, along with other mind and movement practices, is a great way to build a happy and healthy foundation in the present for the future. Check out the Ocean Flow Fitness online studio to see what classes are available and to book your place in a class. Everything from one-off classes to monthly subscriptions available and video recordings sent out on request.