Future Design

2020 tested our limits in myriad ways.

Each time we thought that we’d reached our maximum, we found out that we could stretch a little more.

We adapted to uncertainty.

We turned fear into resolve.

We built resilience.

What’s in store for 2021?

We both know that I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know, from reading, science and personal experimentation.

Viktor Frankl and James Stockdale had something in common. Both not only survived unthinkable torture in brutal conditions with no known end in sight—Frankl as a prisoner in a Nazi death camp and Stockdale as a POW in North Vietnam—they each turned those events into pivotal, life-affirming experiences that defined the remainder of their lives. They did this by (1) focusing on daily actions in which they could find meaning and (2) the belief that they would prevail.

How can we use what Frankl and Stockdale knew to face the uncertainties and opportunities of 2021?

1.       Narrow the focus of our attention. Humans have the gift of anticipating the future, but thinking too far into the future can erode our sense of control and send us into the realm of anxious thinking. A useful reminder is that “we can only see as far as the headlights beam.” Look ahead, yet not too far. Keep things in the realm of manageability.

2.       Focus on what matters most today. Both professionally and personally, what has to happen today? Find meaning in your daily actions. What small actions might you take today that will further some purpose or add meaning to your day? Focusing on small actions that move us toward a desired outcome, or the resolution of a difficult circumstance, combined with the belief that we will prevail, sustains us..

4.       Consider starting each day with this question: How will I thrive today? To thrive is to progress toward or realize a goal. Using that as a working definition, the answer to the question gives us a direction for that day and for the days that follow, so that we design and achieve our aspirations on purpose, and a future of our choosing.

5.       Consider ending each day with this question: What went right today? We have a tendency to gloss over those things that went well, the very things that we ought to celebrate, yet ignore. Big wins are built on a series of small ones. Focus your attention on what went right, then do that again, and again, and again.

Let’s all dare to thrive in 2021.