how to navigate uncertainty

and face the unknown

The world feels less predictable than it did eighteen months ago.

We have faced many unknowns.
Uncertainty has become the new normal.
Fear of the unknown is a fundamental fear that fuels all other fears.

Not knowing can be hard.
Having to wait can be worrisome.

Can you recall a time when you were uncomfortably sitting in the unknown, waiting for an answer?

Maybe it was to be scheduled for a essential appointment, for the results of an important exam, for a sale to be confirmed, for the deal to go through, for a text message from a friend during a conflict, for the results from a medical diagnosis, for lockdown to be lifted, for an answer from a romantic partner, or to hear the decision around an application?

When we are facing great uncertainty, most people experience emotional discomfort and manage the unpleasant sensations in predictable ways.

We worry.
We distract.
We numb out.
We seek reassurance.
We lash out at others.
We become obsessive.
We have trouble sleeping.
We become hypervigilant.
We imagine worst case scenarios.
We struggle with fear and languishing.

Most of the strategies we use to manage emotional discomfort are not all that helpful. 

Sometimes, they are even hurtful – damaging our relationships, careers, health, and spiraling us into depression or anxiety.

Your brain tries to predict the future based on what it’s experienced in the past and what’s known in the present. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are based on your brain making a guess about what’s about to happen next.

When life becomes unpredictable (because we’re going through a massive change filled with uncertainty like divorce, job loss, diagnosis, disaster, death or … global pandemic), the brain can’t offer up predictions. Stress settles in and we turn to unhelpful coping strategies that can cause us to feel fearful and frazzled.

In this place of hypervigilance, it’s difficult to discern true danger from made up danger (fear makes us tell scary stories).

While we are wired for fear, we can learn how to fear less.

It’s a skill set, a mental muscle that can be developed.

Scientists call it tolerance to uncertainty

If we have a low tolerance to uncertainty, we’re more likely to get stressed out (anxious, fearful, panic, depression, and turning to unhealthy coping strategies) when uncertainty hits.

People who are resilient have a high tolerance to uncertainty.

The great news is – this psychological quality is completely learnable.

You can learn to compartmentalize your thoughts (in a healthy way), to focus your attention, to challenge your perceptions, to ignore fearful stimuli (in a smart way), and to stay emotionally regulated.

Here are a number of questions to ask yourself to find your own unique way of strengthening your mental muscles of resilience based on what’s going on in your world and what matters to you.

What can I control? What do I have influence over?
Focus on them.

What daily routine will support me in taking care of myself and the people I love?
Implement that.

What systems can support me?
Rely on them.

What small goals give me a sense of purpose and direction?
Take action on those.

What health rewards can I offer myself that will bring me joy and pleasure?
Indulge in them.

What form of movement makes my body feel alive?
Schedule it in.

How can I help others?
Be generous.

Here’s the truthtruth – the future has always been uncertain, it’s just a lot more obvious now.

Training your brain to fear less will help you become more tolerant of uncertainty and will help you love yourself, others, and this wild world we live in a little more.