One of the most stressful parts of life is dealing with the unknown. In fact, a recent study conducted by the APA found that the most common stressors shared the factor of unpredictable outcomes. Facing uncertainty can leave us feeling powerless—but that's far from the truth. When it comes to change, we may not always be able to control the outcome, but we can control our response to it. And that’s resilience. It gives you the tools to bounce back from tough situations and thrive in the face of challenges. Here are five keys to dealing with uncertainty:
1. Let Go. The first step to dealing with uncertainty is to accept that we can’t control everything. This is where Iceberg Beliefs—those big, bone deep assumptions we have about the way the world works—come into play. If you have an Iceberg Belief such as, “I should never be uncertain,” or “Everything must always stay the same,” then uncertainty can be especially challenging. Tom Corboy, licensed therapist and author of The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD, suggests replacing these beliefs with one that is more open-minded and realistic, such as “Uncertainty is less than ideal, but it is acceptable and tolerable.” Recognize that there is only so much you can do right now—and that makes you human, not powerless. Things will unfold soon enough. In the meantime, the way you treat yourself is in your control, so be kind!
2. Envision the Best. We often try to spare ourselves disappointment by thinking through how things could go wrong. However, research in cognitive behavioral therapy shows that people tend to overestimate the risks and negative consequences that may result from a situation. That leads to a lot of anxiety, or worse—sets us up for failure. Beginning something by worrying about the outcome can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, try imagining the best possible scenario. Picture your surroundings and how it will feel. Not only will you feel more confident about where you’re headed, you’ll feel calmer and clearer about where you’re at now, which will help with decision-making and boost your odds of success.
3. Reflect. Remember that you’ve faced uncertainty before. The psychological concept of “hindsight bias” says that we tend to create the illusion that everything in our past was certain, when in reality, it was once uncertain. The fact that you stand here now is proof that you are strong enough to make it through. Take time to think and reflect on what helped you before. Write it down—and then read it when your worrisome thoughts start to take hold.
4. Avoid Avoidance. (And Keep Moving!) A little uncertainty can be healthy. It activates the sympathetic nervous system—our “fight or flight” response—which gives us a jolt of energy and mobilizes us to take action. When this response makes us too anxious, however, it can have the opposite effect and be paralyzing. If you know that you tend to avoid dealing with the future, remind yourself that although dealing with uncertainty is hard, there are consequences for not facing it head-on. Check out the Accepting and Dealing with Change Meditation in the meQuilibrium program if you need an extra boost.
5. See the Possibility. A blank slate ahead means that there’s nothing written on it yet. And while that may appear daunting, think of it this way: You are standing on the threshold of possibility. Remember why you made this shift in the first place and be proud of yourself for making a move—no matter how it turns out.