8 ways to accept uncertainty in our lives
Challenging our intolerance of uncertainty and letting go takes courage, time and patience; but by addressing our need for certainty and reducing our need to know how everything will turn out, we can also reduce our need to worry. Here’s how:
1. Tune into the problem
If we want to change something, we need to become totally aware of it without judging ourselves or trying to block out anything we might deem to be irrational. To really listen to what we are feeling and tune into our thoughts. We might be surprised by what we ‘hear’; things like: “I’m telling myself how terrible or unbearable not knowing is”; “I’m seeking reassurance”; “I’m getting agitated and restless feelings that come with not knowing what will happen”. This is a good start: we have focused the issue and differentiated it from the rest of the white noise going on around us.
2. Challenge our beliefs
Now that we are aware of what is going on inside, the next step is to accept that we cannot control everything. This is where our belief systems about how the world works come into play. If you believe: ‘I should never be uncertain’ or ‘Everything must always stay the same,’ then uncertainty can be especially challenging. But we can replace these beliefs with one that is more open-minded and realistic such as ‘uncertainty is less than ideal, but it can be acceptable and tolerable.’
3. See the possible
Next: we need to enlarge our view of what is possible. A blank slate ahead means that there’s nothing written on it yet. And while that may appear daunting, we can think of ourselves as standing on the threshold of possibility. Are there some uncertainties in our lives that we can live with? Yes, there probably are. We don’t know everything that is going to happen to us a week from Friday, yet this may well be within what we can tolerate. How about what is going to happen to us this Friday? Or today? Bit by bit we can enlarge this zone of possibility: the space in which we can tolerate the unknowable, the uncontrollable and the uncertain.
4. Envision the best
Research in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy shows people tend to overestimate the risks and negative consequences that may result from a situation. We often try to spare ourselves disappointment by thinking about how things could go wrong. But this can lead to anxiety, and set us up for failure. Instead, you could try imagining the best possible scenario. Picture your surroundings and how it will feel. Not only will you feel more confident about where you are headed, you’ll feel calmer and clearer about where you’re at now, which will help with decision-making.
5. Remain in the present
We may notice at times that our minds wander back to needing certainty again. That’s okay. We just need to bring our attention back to the present once more. Some simple Mindfulness exercises will help. Just sitting with our thoughts and feelings a little while, just observing and noticing them. Notice your breathing and how your body feels sitting on your chair. You could even visualise your need for certainty floating past like clouds in the sky and as you breathe out say under your breath “let go” or “accept”.
6. Predict realistically
The more skilled we become at dealing with uncertainty, the more we can predict realistically what is likely to happen, and ask ourselves questions such as: “What is the likelihood that the things I am predicting will actually happen?” or “Do I tend to predict that something bad will happen, just because I am uncertain?” or even “Could something good or neutral be just as likely to happen?”
7. Use kind self-talk
One thing that is well within our control is the way we treat ourselves, so we can choose to be kind to ourselves and when we feel we are slipping back to anxious catastrophising, we can introduce some kind self-talk such as: “My need for certainty is completely reasonable and valid but unnecessary…uncertainty is just part of life”. It might help to write some of this self-talk down each day in a journal – and then read it back when worrisome thoughts start to take hold.
8. Accept we are human
As we begin to master our worries day by day, week by week and month by month, we may see that a little uncertainty can actually be healthy. It activates the sympathetic nervous system – our ‘fight or flight’ response – which mobilises us to take action. We can also accept that there is only so much we can do right now – and that makes us human, not powerless. Things will unfold soon enough.