Uncertainty is the spice of life. Unfortunately, sometimes life over-seasons and it all gets a bit much.
With the world in its current state and this year being one extravagant shit-show after the next, we are all too rudely reminded that uncertainty is an inescapable and constant part of life. Awesome news for those of us who devolve into an anxious brand of primordial goop at the prospect of not knowing what we’ll be doing (or be allowed to do) come next Monday.
The bad news is that there is no easy-hack to eliminate uncertainty from our lives. But the good news is that there are ways we can learn to live with and relate to it – even when it’s particularly challenging. Below are a few suggestions to help guide you through the rocky terrain of uncertainty. When practiced regularly, these tips will hopefully help you foster a relationship with uncertainty that isn’t one solely characterised by flat-out denial or abject terror.
1. All things must pass.
Channeling the big dog, George Harrison here (the second best Beatle, imho). This now cliched and overused phrase is a useful reminder – nothing lasts forever, however good or bad. It’s simple truth is at once confronting and comforting – we can’t hold onto the good times, but we can be sure that the bad times won’t hang around forever either. In the face of uncertainty, this reminds us that whatever we are destined to move through will be temporary, and faith in our inner gumption will be all that’s required to help us make it through.
What you can do: Think of something crappy that you’ve experienced in the past. Can you track how you moved through it emotionally? Perhaps it stung and ached badly at first, and then, slowly, you were able find equilibrium or calm. With the gift of hindsight, how can you acknowledge and credit yourself for making it through, now that this experience has passed?
2. Catch yourself out for catastrophising
Can the real over-thinkers please stand up? please stand up? please stand up? One of the hallmarks of anxiety is that our minds tend to zero-in on the worst possible outcomes or worst-case scenarios. Our minds do this from a misguided sense of protectiveness – because we are wired to attend more actively to negative stimuli, we think that ruminating over the worst outcomes will provide a sense of preparation and safety. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. Instead, when we catastrophise, we send our minds and bodies into “Fight or Flight” mode – making it difficult to do, well, pretty much anything helpful.
What you can do: Spend some time in mindful reflection with your thoughts – observe them as if they are actors on a stage in front of you (rather than voices of objective truth inside your own head). Recognise the actors that loudly go from zero to 100 into full prepping-for-the-apocalypse mode. Confront these thoughts from a place of curiosity – is this the truth? That is, is this the only possible outcome? How likely is this outcome to happen? And how helpful is it – for your health, relationships and performance – to entertain this thought as the truth?
3. Get clear on what you can control vs what you can’t
In the face of uncertainty, it can also be helpful to develop a clear understanding of what is inside your control and outside of it. There are a lot of things in the world around us that can impact us – sure. But we are also empowered to react and respond in positive, prepared and supportive ways.
What you can do: Create two lists. In one list, write everything that’s freaking you out that is outside your control (government restrictions, other people’s behaviour, etc.). On another list, write all the things that are within your control (what you eat, how you respond to your emotions, how you move your body, how much sleep you get, etc.) Looking at the list where you’re in control, highlight a few points and think about how you can take action on those (e.g. schedule an online yoga class, practice some mindful breathing exercises, etc.)
4. Dump the idea of the “Perfect Outcome”
Hate to break it to ya, but there is no such thing as a ‘perfect outcome’. And it’s worse if we fixate, inflexibly on this being a prerequisite before we’re allowed to relax and be happy. There is no one way our life will go, instead, our life adjusts around all the kinks and curveballs and twists and turns that we inevitably face. We can take these challenges and grow from them, or we can allow the obstacles and constant change to stunt and cripple us. And let’s not forget the possibility that things could go differently than anticipated, and turn out better than we could’ve imagined!
What you can do: Practicing mindfulness offers us the opportunity to bring our attention into the present moment, instead of dwelling on future outcomes. We work on mindfulness-based activities as part of our latest online course. Our online course, Get Your Shit Together, offers a slew of incredible resources to help you develop greater insight into yourself and your self-care needs.
5. Avoid “If-Then” reasoning
Those of us who are inclined to control every little aspect of our lives (hands up, totally guilty) sometimes slip into the practice of ‘if’ and ‘then’ reasoning. That is, we will try to convince ourselves that, e.g. “If only they don’t enforce another lockdown, then I can stay on top of my mental health…” That sounds great, only, you’ve got no bloody control over whether they enforce another lockdown, and you’re basically setting yourself up for failure if they do. This goes for most things we “If – Then” about. We’re setting conditions on our life that are not always purely in our power to meet. And these conditions might be rigid, inflexible and/or destructive.
What you can do: Be mindful for when you start thinking or talking in ‘If-Then’ terms. When this comes up, ask yourself how you might support yourself in the moment to keep your actions aligned with your values, goals and personal wellbeing.
6. Make room for feeling
Uncertainty has a flavour for each of us as it radiates through the body. Some of us might also be more sensitive (thanks to our past experiences) to change and uncertainty in specific areas of our life (like love and relationships, work, health, family, etc.) Unfortunately, we cannot banish these feelings outright, so it’s worth cultivating a curious relationship with them (see how we said ‘curious’ and not friendly – you don’t have to be the Mother Theresa of uncertainty).
What you can do: When you find yourself triggered by uncertainty in some area of your life, scan your body for uncomfortable feelings and ask yourself, “Are they moving or stationary. Where do they start and end? Find the sensation that bothers you the most, and observe it from a distance, that is, with openness and curiosity. How deep are they? Where are they most intense? Least intense?” Take some slow, deep breathes into and around the sensations, making room for them and allowing them to be there – even if you might not be a huge fan of them.