Uncertainty is an inescapable part of human life. Uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable and so we try and escape it any way that we can. Humans like certainty. Experiments have been done by researchers that show that people would prefer to have an electric shock now, rather than the possibility of receiving them later in the experiment.
Some of us are better at dealing with uncertainty than others. But in order to lead a rich and fulfilling life we have to be able to develop a system for tolerating the uncertainty that comes from everyday living. If you stop to think about it everything is uncertain and if you allow this uncertainty to chew up your valuable brain space life can pretty quickly come to a grinding halt. Think about the uncertainty that you face just from the time you wake up in the morning until you reach your office. How do you know you won’t scold yourself with the kettle as you make your morning coffee? How do you know you won’t be involved in a car accident as you make your way to work? How do you know that you won’t be fired when you arrive? Life is unpredictable.
For many clients that attend my clinic the inability to accept uncertainty is at the heart of the stress and anxiety that they experience. Sometimes they fall into the trap of believing that thinking will solve their problems. So they worry, over plan and create back up plans, over think what they will say or do and as they do this their worry continues to grow and in turn so does their belief that they can’t deal with uncertainty.
But living with uncertainty is very possible. The secret to living with uncertainty is . . . learning to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. Now that is easier said than done. So here are some ideas on how to achieve that.
- Recognize That Total Certainty Is an Illusion and Accept it
Start to notice when you need for certainty takes hold and label it. For instance “I notice I have a need for certainty right now”
- Learn to Surf and Build An Openness to Uncertainty
The need for certainty is like a wave it will come and go. The trouble is most of us feel so uncomfortable as the wave rises that we give into it and do something to make the wave go away. But if you can ride it out and not respond you will find that you are on your way to dealing with uncertainty.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness helps people to bring their focus to the present moment. When we are caught up in uncertainty we are not living in the present, we are caught up in the future. So being able to focus on the here and now can really help.
- Take Action Where You Can
Sometimes the things we are uncertain about lend themselves to actions. For instance if we are uncertain about losing our job we can start looking for a new one and take action. But often uncertainty isn’t associated with any action that we can take or problem we can solve. In these cases we just need to use the ideas listed above to help us to accept uncertainty but keep moving forward with our life steering it in the direction we want to go.
If uncertainty is taking hold and crippling your life, there are things you can do about it. Getting stuck in the illusion that certainty only fuels the problem. Nothing in this life is certain but we can still live full, rich and meaningful lives even though this fact is true. If you think you may need some help accepting uncertainty, contact the team at Cassidy Psychology.
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