What will happen tomorrow What in a week? And in a year? Or in twenty? What’s the future like? These are difficult questions that may not be easy to answer. By definition, the future is what has not yet happened. Therefore, it is full of uncertainty, and it is this general feeling of doubt that prevents us from finding peace. Can we reduce this uncertainty?
We can reduce, if not eliminate, our uncertainty. While there are pseudosciences and other arts that claim to know the future, they often use vague interpretations of the future in order not to make mistakes. If they affirm that tomorrow will be a good day, it is more than likely that it will be a good day because our attitudes will be more positive because of the pleasant forecast. But, other than changing our attitudes to reduce uncertainty, this is not a realistic prediction for the future.
Reduce uncertainty with a plan B.
We should first understand that the future is unpredictable and we have no way of knowing what will happen. The best option is to embrace this undeniable fact. If we do that, our insecurity will already decrease.
Another option is to make various predictions. Let’s imagine we don’t know what the weather will be like tomorrow. However, based on our intuition, we come to the conclusion that the sun will shine. But even if it hasn’t rained for many months – if it rains tomorrow, it could ruin our beach plans. What to do? Now if we had a plan B – if it’s sunny we go to the beach, and if it rains we go to the museum – then our plans would literally be waterproof.
So imagining different future scenarios is one way to reduce uncertainty. By reducing uncertainty, we will be better prepared to face the unknown no matter what.
To predict the future and reduce uncertainty, we don’t need to figure out exactly what will happen. What we can do is think about what could happen. Let’s imagine all the possible scenarios that may arise and discard the unlikely ones. This last point is extremely important in order not to wear ourselves down in worry. As for our example, we might assume it could be sunny, rainy, snowy, cloudy, etc. Still, based on the current temperature, humidity, geographic location, etc., we can discard some of the options and assign more or less probability to the others. The snowman is not a real alternative to the beach.
Create patterns to reduce uncertainty
A common, sometimes unconscious, practice that we use to reduce uncertainty is through the use of patterns. Experience teaches us that certain events repeat themselves when the starting position is the same. And the more experience we gain, the more these patterns are confirmed and refined.
Usually these patterns are useful, especially when looking at the causes and effects of incidents. We know that if we throw an object at another person, we can hurt them. But knowing that the damage depends on the material, the size of the object and the force with which we throw it, we can change these variables as we wish. This is why it is okay to throw snowballs. Or with depth charges.
“I’m interested in the future because that’s where I will spend the rest of my life.”
Likewise, these patterns help explain our behavior. However, this is so diverse and weighty that it becomes difficult to account for all the variables that influence it. Making a joke at someone’s expense can make them laugh or get angry. If we make the joke and the person laughs, it is likely that similar jokes will make them laugh too. But beware! What if she’s having a bad day? Maybe then she won’t laugh. These patterns are not always good predictors because heuristics and biases can also have an impact.
Using foresight to reduce uncertainty
Before the idea of predicting the future came up, another discipline emerged: foresight. Foresight is the discipline that studies the future in order to understand and influence what will happen. Of all that we can know about the future, the least interesting is what will happen. What interests us most is the how and, above all, the why. We can therefore view the future as an instrument for coping with and reducing uncertainties.
Foresight seeks to understand the causes and flow of events that lead to an event. Therefore, foresight does not make any predictions. It is not used to prophesy the future. Rather, it is used to explain why something is going to happen. Ultimately, the goal of using foresight is to change paths before it gets us to a specific destination. Although the future is uncertain, it is possible to reduce the uncertainty about it so that we are not surprised.