Editor’s Note: UPDATED as of October 15, 2016 for relevance and accuracy.
Fear, control, doubt, failure, lack of safety, worry, unpredictability, confusion, uneasiness, concern, anxiety, suspense, haziness, losing it, freaking out, ambiguous.
These are just a few of the words that my friends and colleagues gave me when I asked them what uncertainty meant to them.
I say a few because not all of them saw uncertainty as something that needed taming. Not all of them felt they needed to adopt a proactive approach to it. In fact, more of them said they were happy to be reactive. To throw caution to the wind and see what happened, to embrace uncertainty and feel the wonder in it.
As a self-confessed control freak, it was actually very reassuring – if not slightly scary – to see the other side of the coin.
Want to know you too, can embrace uncertainty? Here are five ways to do it.
How to Embrace Uncertainty
1. YOUR PERMISSION SLIP TO JUST CHILLAX
So I set about trying to find ways to embrace uncertainty with the same relaxed excitement that the ‘chilled-out’ amongst us seemed to do. And there lay my first clue. Embracing uncertainty requires a certain amount of “ça fait rien“, a no worries attitude, a kind of French pace of life to it.
Uncertainty means leaving things to chance.
It means giving yourself permission not to worry about it, not to stress about it, letting nature take it’s course. It’s the ability to cope without the complete picture. There aren’t many things in life these days that don’t need planning and controlling within an inch of their lives. There’s not much we don’t fret over and need an immediate and cast iron answer to.
So, let uncertainty be your opportunity to chillax a little and rebel against organization! Embrace the laid back you!
2. FAILURE AS FEEDBACK
One friend said she liked to ‘play it safe’. That she purposely planned her life to avoid as much uncertainty as possible. I have to say I used to be a little like this myself. Over the past couple of years however, especially after reading Dr. Carol S Dweck’s book “Mindset”, I have grown my ability to embrace uncertainty and court the idea of failure more often.
Uncertainty (not focusing on the destination but on the journey) is where most of life’s lessons happen. That journey, that risk, will of course, result in dead ends and wasted trips. But it’s in the getting-it-wrong that we can glean precious feedback.
Feedback = Learning.
Uncertainty therefore, creates determination. An achievers – in place of a defeatist – mindset and the ability to step into the unknown without a gold dangling carrot in sight. It teaches grit, it teaches us to set goals, assess goals, re-set them, and unfold ourselves into our uncertain futures. Embrace all failed journeys.
3. FUN and FREEDOM
If we knew all the answers, and in doing so we could avoid uncertainty and head straight for the end result, how boring and uneventful life would be! Nobody wants to wait for anything any more. Everyone wants it all and everyone wants it now!
Even our kids are growing up too fast. The element of fun and freedom is disappearing in this fast-paced, competitive world. So much focuses on where we’re all going, what we’re all earning, where we’re all living, what we’re all driving. We are results-driven from kindergarten!
One of my fellow coaches is location-independent, allowing her to run her business from anywhere in the world, which means she doesn’t have to stay in one spot. There couldn’t be more uncertainty in her life if she tried. She literally picks a spot, where there is both sun and waves, and off she goes.
She’s bucked the trend to conform, the need to know. She has no interest in keeping up with the Joneses, to tick the boxes that society has laid out for her.
Instead, she chose fun and freedom. She chose to embrace uncertainty. I never know where she is going to be when we Skype. She surfs, the adrenaline she gets from the wave, from not knowing how long she can ride it; where it will take her or where it will spit her out is like straddling uncertainty and riding it like a wild stallion.
Another of my close friends runs sustainable travel programs for students, volunteers and families. These trips are off the beaten track. Although there is a lot of planning involved, there is also a lot of uncertainty when you travel like this. You are not working with modern systems of travel and economy. It’s more primitive than what we are used to depending on.
This means you have to be adaptable to weather, terrain, and cultural changes. They have to have faith in what they don’t know. But this kind of risk discovers new places, develops the individual and provides valuable experience, whilst preserving the culture, communities, and environment around you.
Embrace the extreme fun, unbridled freedom and personal growth that uncertainty can bring when you don’t do things the “normal” way.
4. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Uncertainty offers us the opportunity to get inside our own heads, to practice self-help in the control departments of our brains.
When we feel out of control, the old negative self-talk pipes up. These voices are pretty destructive, but are manageable with practice. They come from fear that is often distorted. It’s perceived fear and when we don’t know an outcome our emotional brain conjures one up for us. It kind of fills in the gaps and joins the dots – just not very realistically or rationally.
Our emotional brain is pretty powerful, much more powerful than the logical part of our psychological brain. It takes practice to manage it; it’s like a naughty gremlin on the lose! When dealing with an uncertain situation, look at what you DO have control over and what you DON’T have control over.
John Kim, AKA The Angry Therapist, has an exercise where he asks you to draw a line vertically down a piece of paper and write Control on one side and No Control on the other. He then asks you to fill in both columns with the things you do and don’t have control over. Finally, you look at where most of your energy and stress is focused.
It’s usually with the things you have no control over, the things that are uncertain in our own worlds. To practice dealing with uncertainty, we must focus on what we do have control over, rather than trying to sort the whole world out.
We have to start with our own sh*t first! Embrace the chance to practice self-help.
5. FAITH and LOVE
The saying goes that “the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty”. As life is ever-changing, growing and evolving, we cannot be certain of anything. You don’t even know what will happen by the time you get to the end of this article – nothing, apart from the right here and now is certain.
Therefore, life requires a degree of faith. Whether you believe in something bigger, higher, or mightier than you, whether you believe in a talisman of sorts or even in nothing (which actually is a pretty big thing to believe in). that’s faith. You are practicing spirituality at a very high level to have faith in uncertainty. We do it every minute of every day – and don’t even credit ourselves for it.
“He loves me, he loves me not”. Oh how flipping uncertain love is! But it is the uncertainty that creates the butterflies in the stomach, the shortness of breath, the longing and lusting. “Will she, won’t she”. That first touch, that first kiss, it’s heart-stopping because of uncertainty.
I challenge anyone to swap this risk for clarity in those tingly moments! Sure, uncertainty in love can lead to emotional discomfort – but only if you analyze it and require immediate results from it. Let love naturally grow and take you where it wants to go.
Why not embrace uncertainty for as long as you can, immerse yourself in the rush that comes from it, and don’t be quick to decide where it will all end up. Embrace the moment and the deliciousness of life.