Contingencies as an Art Form
Updated: Jun 24
You may know the book, The Art of War. It has been considered the definitive text on military strategy ever since it was written in ancient China around 500 BC, inspiring businesses, athletes, and generals to beat their opponents and competition the right way.
We are all writing our own book on the Art of Contingency. We are trying to develop our own definitive texts on living life and planning for the future at a time when things continue to be unsettled. Although we have been doing this a while, we may not have the feeling that we are getting better at this type of living.
So what are the skills necessary to write your own Art of Contingency?
Create shorter timelines for daily life: You may have started with weekly goals and may be finding yourself unable to reach them as focus and motivation go up and down. You may need to shift from weekly goals to daily goals to help you feel more accomplished which can help you feel more motivated. Writing thing down can help introduce structure which can also help you meet your timelines.
Reframing long term goals to include multiple pathways to success: In March, making plans for events in August was something we did naturally. Now there are questions about whether or not normal life events can take place. Making definitive plans has to wait until time passes and we see the course of the virus.This can mess with our ability to define and work toward our version of success.
To cope with our new life patterns, rather than having a single view of success, develop multiple views of a successful outcome. This may include reframing the view or creating multiple plans for an event. For example, focusing on a student starting college as the amazing accomplishment that it is, rather than focusing on losing in-person college orientation. If a family reunion is being planned, talking to your family about creating a plan A, a plan B (and maybe a plan C or D) and creating a timelines for decision making.
Keeping focused on what is important: As we move through this time, we have to fine tune our focus on what is important. We can appreciate that simple things have great impact. An elderly relative learning Zoom so that she can actively participate with family. A friend making cookies and dropping them at your doorstep. A conversation that takes place across a street with a neighbor. Focusing on the effort and intent of these creative responses to our social connection challenges underscores that value is not created by the external trappings of an event, but on the effort that people make. We can remind ourselves that events and interactions may look different, but can still align with our values and vision of a well lived life.
Letting go: Letting go can be a challenge when we are all looking for ways to exercise more control over our lives. Letting go is opening our minds to other possibilities and envisioning alternatives as we approach our decisions. Think of it as a brainstorming approach to life: Think Freely. The more ideas the better. No Judgements.
Here are some tools that I hope you can use to create your own Art of Contingency:
Inspiration and Guidance: One group that is having to master this Art of Contingency very quickly are high school seniors who are grappling with a strange ending to their childhood education and facing unpredictable transitions. I came across a letter from someone who has a perspective that might be helpful to seniors and their families. The author is currently an award winning teacher in Louisiana, but when he was a senior, Hurricane Katrina upended his senior year. Take a look at his letter (attached below).
Journaling: As you work on letting go and opening your mind to other possibilities, taking time to journal can be helpful. Here are some prompts from an article by Lori Duchene:
1. Today, I choose to let go of the things I can’t control, including…
2. I recognize that I don’t need to have all the answers right now. Today, I give myself permission not to know…
3. Dear inner critic: You always focus on everything I’m doing wrong, but I know I’m doing a lot right, including…
4. I know I’m strong enough to handle whatever comes at me, because I’ve survived a lot, including…
5. Instead of worrying about making the “wrong” choices, I trust that no matter what I choose…
Perspective: The Art of Contingency is all about perspective. Listen to this Podcast on the Silver Linings Exercise and how it helps you move through difficult times.