Having to deal with uncertainty can be a huge source of anxiety and stress. But on the other hand, while it brings peace of mind to know what’s happening next (like having a fixed pay check), and having a weekly schedule is better for your productivity than waiting for the inspiration to come to get work done, routine can sometimes kill our dreams.
When we feel too comfortable in our lives circumstances, we become afraid to pursue that which we truly desire. We feel like we can't afford to take the risk.
Without making any judgments about which is the best way of living life; freedom requires a skill that we’re not naturally gifted with, nor taught. That is the art of dealing with uncertainty.
While we might be designed to deal with uncertainty, it’s in our nature to look for stability, security, and predictability.
When we lack these, our body feels threatened, and our mind starts to project worst-case scenarios. It's no wonder we become anxious, overwhelmed and stressed. That, of course, doesn’t help on making the best decisions and feeling satisfied with life.
There are billions of options as to what to do with our time, and everything seems to be running on fast-forward. Specially when we scroll through social media, consuming the best bits of our friends' lives (and the lives of strangers with whom we crossed our paths once), it’s not easy to find peace of mind about our choices.
How do we find some comfort in the midst of uncertainty's chaos?
Here are some psychological strategies that work for me.
1. Perceive uncertainty as a fertile ground for change
I have experienced the “commodity” of having a stable job, and I know that the feeling of stability isn’t necessarily the most satisfying. Those predictable routines that once felt comfortable, can start to weight on, and soon enough one feels trapped in it.
When uncertainty knocks at the door, and the prison of predictability is no longer a reality, the change can make you feel alive again.
2. Understanding change as the main ingredient for personal growth
No matter how much we might love some of the comforts of stability, our soul yearns for growth. That's why we feel most realised when we learn something new, or overcome an obstacle.
That, of course, does not happen when you’re comfortably snoozing in your comfort zone. So it’s no surprise that depression comes knocking when life feels stagnant, even if our pay-checks are big enough but our time to use them isn’t.
3. Love time
The most painful consequence of having to deal with uncertainty is anxiety. And it becomes worst when you start feeling like time is slipping away from your fingers. When you look in the mirror to see you’re not getting any younger when the world around you seems to.
But there’s a powerful shift that happens when you start loving time: time begins to love you back.
When you begin to recognise time as your most precious asset in life, you’ll start recognising the benefits of having lived through time, appreciating more the time you’re expected to live in the future and, most importantly, the time you’re living right now.
Besides, what’s most meaningful to you: a busy schedule of predictable activities that might not be so exciting or fun? Or an empty schedule with the potential for life-changing experiences and growth?
4. Practice dual thinking
Particularly in Western cultures, we’re trained to embrace structure, objectivity, consistency, and predictability.
But for Eastern cultures, and many religious and philosophic traditions, duality is seen as an essential aspect of life. An aspect that should be recognised and practiced for mental flexibility and strength.
To accept dual aspects of life, and apparently contradictory concepts, as possibly simultaneously existent, is a useful ability.
Accepting that strong can be soft, relaxed can be attentive, chaotic can be structured or uncertain can be fruitful, are good ways to start to deal with uncertainty as something positive.
5. Practice “no comments"
It’s a hard thing to do, albeit necessary. We’re wired to have an opinion and make a comment about everything. But when this turns into a negative judgment of our life's circumstances, it can pull us down like a muddy swamp.
Besides, when comments are what the mind is most used to do, and that it feeds itself with do we want to be feeding ourselves with negative observations about what’s happening around us, or leave a space for things to be as they are?
6. Acceptance of a world without "shoulds"
We put so much effort into putting things in “should” boxes and resisting how things are that we forget to enjoy what is. And, the more we practice acceptance of the world as it is, the stronger we become at enduring life’s challenges. Because life doesn’t know about human society’s rational and cultural “shoulds”, life knows nature, and it knows flow.
Allowing the world to be as it is, and life to flow in unexpected ways, creates a fertile ground for being grateful and appreciative of all that we already have. That’s an attitude that attracts more positivity and creates abundance. In this way, instead of living in a world full of faults, we can start experiencing the world as full of miracles.
7. Being fine in stillness
In one of those uncertain times in my life, where I had no idea where to turn to, I had an encounter with a stranger that told me: “if you don’t know where to go, don’t go anywhere”.
I loved hearing those words because they allowed me to relax. As if I had gotten permission to lay back and take a deep breath. It made me realise that I could enjoy that moment. Rest and pause to reflect where to move to next.
While it is true that to keep life's balance we should keep moving; a time of deliberated stillness can be incredibly powerful in creating the space for new ideas and direction to appear.
8. Inviting intuition for guidance
In that stillness, where we cultivate relaxation and unfearful presence, intuition will find its way to speak. So, to be able to listen, I try to be attentive to what kind of thoughts I'm having. And pick those that are not being brought up by fear, but by curiosity.
I keep asking myself: what am I genuinely curious about? What do I find myself doing for no reason rather than having fun?
For this reason, curiosity is a very important intuitive voice. And one that I pay particularly particular attention to when dealing with uncertainty.
9. Practice awe
Have you ever caught yourself looking at the sky, amazed at its beauty and at the fact that it never repeats itself?
I try to practice the same appreciation and awe in regards to my life. Not only it will never repeat itself, but it will also inevitably have moments of sunshine and rain, and it’s that dynamic that brings beauty to it (not to mention rainbows).
Appreciating the beauty and power of life’s changes, and the miracle those changes create is a practice that helps me to keep myself optimistic.
So a thought that I like to visit often is that a life without changeable dynamics would be catastrophic. In the same way that no flower has ever grown off of only water, or only sun.
These are some of the practices that help me to keep anxiety about the future away. They represent what I cultivate in my life to help me deal with the fact that many of my expectations about life might not be met. But that many unexpected miracles might happen instead.
I choose to regard the life’s surprises that I’ve been blessed with as more important and significant.
After all, would I be so arrogant to think I’d know better than life what’s most important for me? And what would I have gained from being rigid about my expectations, apart from disappointment and breakdown?
Today, I look at my life as a garden. Some parts might be flourishing, while some might be resting, and some need pruning. My job as my life’s gardener is to care with love for all parts of it and to keep the soil fertile. That soil is my mind, and I treat it by keeping it well rested, well fed, and free from weeds.
Not knowing what the future holds is not something changeable. But the way we perceive it is.