Tool 7: Befriend Uncertainty
Uncertainty (not being 100% sure about something) is a big trigger for many people. In the face of uncertainty, we often have thoughts like:
- I can’t stand not being absolutely sure.
- I should always look ahead to avoid surprises.
- I don’t want to decide in case it’s not the right decision.
We also often do things to try to gain more certainty. We worry, for example, in an effort to figure out all the possible ways things could go wrong so we can be more certain of the outcome. But we know it doesn’t work. We still feel anxious because there is no way of knowing exactly how things are going to turn out. There are no guarantees.
We also try to seek more certainty through actions like repeatedly checking things or constantly seeking reassurance from others. For example:
- Are you sure we made the right decision on the car seat and it is the best out there?
- Are you sure you still find me attractive?
The problem is almost everything in life is uncertain because no one can predict the future.
We can make our lives a lot more enjoyable if we can “befriend” uncertainty, rather than spending more time and energy trying to fight against the inevitable.
So how do you get comfortable with uncertainty? Accepting it and building tolerance for it.
Demanding certainty can be a frustrating experience because we can NEVER do enough to be 100% certain. We need to make peace with the fact that uncertainty is part of life. The strategy of R.O.L.Ling with anxious thoughts could also help you to let go of your need for certainty and accept uncertainty as an unavoidable part of life.
How do we R.O.L.L with uncertainty? Let’s look at an example.
Recognize: “I notice how much I hate not being absolutely certain that the baby is healthy.”
Observe: “It’s interesting to notice my need for certainty, a guarantee. This need is making me anxious and agitated. I feel pressure in my chest and I notice a headache coming on. I have the urge to do anything I can to fulfill my need to know so I can stop the discomfort. I’m just going to observe and sit with these feelings for a while …”
Let go: “My need for certainty cannot be satisfied no matter what I do. Being uncertain does not mean things will turn out badly. Uncertainty is part of life and I will accept it. I will let my need for certainty go.” (Visualize your need for certainty floating past you like clouds in the sky.)
Learning to accept uncertainty will not make our need for certainty disappear, but it will save us time and energy when we let go of trying to control the uncontrollable.
In addition to accepting uncertainty, another helpful strategy is to practice building your tolerance and comfort level with uncertainty. This means intentionally facing your fear of not knowing, over and over, until it feels less distressing.
Check out Increase Your Tolerance for Uncertainty for more tips.