No one likes or welcomes uncertainty. It can leave us feeling unsafe and vulnerable not knowing what will happen in the future. We do our best to anticipate problems, in our eternal quest to control our environment in order to feel safer. We stock up on insurance, we eat well and we try to anticipate danger. The truth though, is that there is very little than we can control in life. We can’t control the environment, we can’t control our health in many ways (such as getting cancer) and we can’t control other people. This leaves us with very little to actually control.
Uncertainty isn’t all bad though. Imagine knowing the outcome of your life before it has even happened. I don’t know about you but I think I prefer the element of surprise. In fact, just adopting that approach makes uncertainty less daunting. When we choose more positive thoughts around uncertainty instead of fearing it, we can cope with it better.
Uncertainty helps us to problem solve and find ingenious ways to do things differently.
Here are a few tips on how to cope with uncertainty. We may as well get used to it – it’s a part of life.
Okay, this is an obvious one. When we resist uncertainty, we tire ourselves out and exhaust ourselves. Accepting that there are many things beyond our control can lead us to feeling a sense of peace. When we keep trying to control that which isn’t able to be under our control, we create enormous stress and anxiety for ourselves. A healthy dose of acceptance doesn’t mean that we should give up, stop caring and become passive. What it does mean is that we work more at being flexible with regards to what life throws at us.
Using positive affirmations can help too. I often say to myself, “No matter what comes my way, I will find a way to cope. I have survived this far…”. This is fair healthier and less anxiety inducing than running about, trying to control things beyond our remit.
Focus on what you can control
The only things we can fully control are: our thoughts and our reactions. Focus on being centred, on feeling confident in your ability to embrace life and it’s various surprises and challenges. See surprise as a good thing. We may not be able to see what the future holds but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. We often believe that if it is uncertain or unknown, it’s a bad thing and this isn’t necessarily true.
Consider the advantages and disadvantages of needing certainty
We often believe that having certainty would be a good thing. The more we persist with positive beliefs around needing certainty, the more we will resist uncertainty and the more anxiety we will live with. Think about this – imagine knowing exactly what will happen in the future. Sure, it could help us avoid a bad relationship but seeing as uncertainty is a part of life, it’s more useful to look at what wouldn’t be good about having certainty.
Imagine knowing when people you care about will die. Imagne knowing the date of your own death. In many ways, I am quite happy to be ignorant and this helps me to accept and embrace uncertainty. I quite like many aspects of uncertainty. I accept that the future is unknown and this helps me to try to enjoy every moment.
Adopt an attitude of positive expectancy
Monitor your thinking and when you catch yourself predicting the future in a negative way, get into the habit of challenging these thoughts. We don’t know what will happen in the future. Stop yourself, remind yourself you are predicting the future and ask yourself three questions:
Where’s the evidence that this bad thing will happen?
There will be no clear evidence as no one can predict the future. Sure we may have an inkling but there is always room for doubt.
Is thinking this way helpful?
Generally, being negative is unhelpful. Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviour. Negative thoughts (Cognitive Behavioural Therapists refer to them as “NAT’s” – negative automatic thoughts) will lead to negative feelings (such as fear, anger, etc) and this in turn will affect what we do. Our behaviour may then be unhelpful, such as avoidance or self sabotaging behaviour etc
Be more open minded an neutral.
Is there another way to look at this?
Look for alternatives that might work better for you. Generally, in life, there will always be more than one way to perceive a situation.
For example: Perhaps you have predicted that you will get cancer and die in the next year.
Where’s the evidence? You may have had a scare than raises your likelihood but this still doesn’t definitely mean it will happen as you predict.
Is it helpful? Not at all. it will just scare you and leave you worried, sapping current joy out of your life.
Is there an alternative? Yes! “I may be more likely to get cancer again but it might also be that I am healthy and life carries on. I will cross that bridge if/when it happens”.
The above exercise will minimise unnecessary anxiety from our overactive minds that are constantly looking out for danger and certainty.
No one has the luxury of certainty. Learning to live with this fact will help you rather than hinder you. If you find that you can’t stop worrying, try assigning yourself half an hour to worry each day. During that half hour, write down notes, be problem solving and focus on what worries you. After that half hour, try to live your life and enjoy the moment.