coping with uncertainty

Let Yourself Do the Thing

photo shows the feet of a hiker in the woods

Sometimes it’s not life’s big puzzles that floor us.

Sometimes, it’s those thorny little tasks that hang around and finally exhaust us with frustration, maybe filing some paperwork that you’ve never had to do before or canceling an account you haven’t used in two years (but get billed for monthly!).

Too many of us assume that procrastination is driven by laziness or poor priorities. But pros who study this phenomenon suggest that putting tasks off is often a form of avoidance.

Have you ever let a piece of mail sit, not wanting to even find out whether it’s a bill? Or bad news? Or more work than you’ll be able to get done this week anyway? That anxious spiral there is exactly what experts mean by “avoidance.”

A lot of advice encourages structural solutions, liking breaking a job into smaller tasks or blocking time off your schedule to devote to it. If the problem is emotional, however, these rational approaches won’t help us cope. A different perspective might help.

Let past you off the hook. “This has been sitting here for months! What’s wrong with me?” you may hear yourself saying. You know the task could be short and simple, but you may feel dread with all the emotional baggage you’re dragging to it.

The past has already happened: you can’t go back, so embrace this moment as a fresh one. Whatever your next step is, that’s the important one.

Sit with uncertainty. Sometimes we avoid tasks because we feel uncertain. We may be afraid of something new and unfamiliar, or an ambiguous task may have morphed into a giant monster in our minds. Facing and accepting our feelings can be a great way to soften them before moving on.

You ain’t busted: you don’t have to “fix” your feelings.

Gather support. It’s nice to go for help when you need it, though. It could be that asking a few questions from a professional you trust would be enough. If the challenge is primarily emotional, calling a friend to vent may be enough to face the issue, which reminds us…

Remember that you’re not alone. Not only do you have a network of support around you, in all different forms, there’s probably also someone out there who has experienced something similar before.

What’s the lesson? Take (or find!) comfort, and do the thing.

Clients, if we can help you in any way as you’re doing the things, please write or call.


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Minesweeper, Free Cell and the Nature of Life

© Can Stock Photo / paulgrecaud

I recently upgraded my primary computer, a Microsoft Surface tablet. After using only a touchpad and touch screen for a few years, I decided to try using a mouse again. One quick way to acclimate is by playing games in my downtime.

The solitaire card game FreeCell has a fundamental difference from the puzzle game Minesweeper. Any game of FreeCell may be won, with enough thought or trial and error. You may go back to it as many times as you want to solve it. It is possible to win every game, sooner or later.

Minesweeper, on the other hand, forces you to make decisions from a position of uncertainty. You can know many things about the terrain, but not everything. You can learn more by leveraging what you know. But in the final analysis, you must act even though you cannot know everything you want to know. Sometimes you set off a mine, and that game is lost.

If investing were like FreeCell, all we would have to do is study and think enough, and every holding would be a winner. But investing is like Minesweeper—we cannot know everything we would prefer to know, and sometimes things blow up.

Some approaches to investing try to make it look like FreeCell: charts and graphs and computer models, all very scientific. But you know and we know it is like Minesweeper, prone to periodic blowups. There is no point in trying to disguise the nature of the game. The markets go up and down. Some years are down years. Volatility is an inherent part of long-term investing.

In other words, investing is a lot like life itself. We do the best we can with what we have, and deal with the surprises as they come up.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.