We can’t escape it, so we may as well learn to embrace it. The power of uncertainty may leave us surprised by unexpected, opened possibilities.
—See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World—
I dislike uncertainty as much as the next person, perhaps even more. My reaction to it can cause deep anxiety that negatively impacts my health, wealth, and overall enjoyment of life. Yet, despite uncertainty’s bad rep, I have learned that: a) no matter what we tell ourselves or how we arrange our circumstances, we can never be free of it, and b) learning to embrace it can lead to incredible possibilities that I didn’t even know was on my radar.
As long as we are living, breathing beings we will always live with uncertainty. Knowing how to manage and respond to it can make all the difference between a rich, fulfilling life and one that is always fraught with the anxiety of what “bad” things could happen.
Ignorance is bliss… sort of.
Simply put, anxiety is fear of the future whether known (if that’s actually possible) or worse, unknown. It’s a cliché to say that we all live in uncertain times. When I hear someone say that, my first reaction is to ask “Does that mean our ancestors somehow suffered less uncertainty?” Which is ludicrous when you think about it. Given not that not to long ago (in the grand scheme of things) you were lucky to make it to your 40th birthday.
However, the fact that we have unprecedented instant access to all the news, scientific studies and pundit theories as to all the ways we won’t make it as a species, I can see how this generation may be feeling a tad bit more anxious. It’s the hyper-awareness of all the things that may do us in (or at least, severely cramp our lifestyle) that seems to be causing massive pharmaceutical industry profits in chemically treating our collective malaise. So, it seems that anxiety due to uncertainty is more a function of how many things we know about could go wrong rather than the going wrong itself.
From this perspective ignorance is truly bliss, until you are taken out by something you ducked your head in the sand about.
Different circumstances, different kinds of uncertainty.
In my previous career I made a lot of money; and I remember often thinking, “Why do people stress out so much about money?” Did having a lot of money eliminate my uncertainty, hardly. Uncertainty is like a water bed, you push it down in one corner and it will pop up someplace else. There is simply no escaping it.
The desire to escape it, however, can be overwhelming and in some cases cause us to do really stupid and sometimes incredibly damaging things. Dictators attempt to eliminate uncertainty by oppression and removal of all threats by any means they deem necessary. Wall Street attempts to eliminate uncertainty by rigging the game in their favor as evidenced by the recent scandal of major banks manipulating the currency markets. An even more interesting twist is how ideologies, whether political or religious, seek to eliminate uncertainty by showing zero tolerance for any individual or group that does not agree with their point of view.
A fear ignored is far worse than one faced head on.
Perhaps one of the more rational approaches to dealing with uncertainty is insurance. While it doesn’t eliminate uncertainty, it can mitigate its impact. Yet all of this raises the question as to why uncertainty is so universally reviled by our species?
I personally think it boils down to one simple thing: survival.
When you don’t know what’s coming, or worse, you think you know what’s coming but feel powerless to stop it, there is this deep sense of impending doom that can ruin your day. And, we are hard wired to avoid that at all costs.
How to re-wire our response to uncertainty.
Fortunately for all of us, we have a free will (at least I’m sort of certain about that). And that means we have the ability to consciously “re-wire” our response to uncertainty. The best way I’ve found to do this is to:
Face the fear of uncertainty — uncertainty gets the best of us when we try to pretend it’s not there. A fear ignored is far worse than one faced head on. Acknowledging it fully is the first step.
Get skilled in being present — uncertainty is all about the future and therefore cannot touch you if you are fully in the present moment. While it is not practical to live in the moment all the time, knowing how to put yourself there quickly when the ugly head of anxiety shows itself will go a long way to help you conquer the hold uncertainty has over you. In this Age of Distraction, learning to be in the moment is one of the most important skills you can acquire.
See uncertainty as the threshold to possibility — I can honestly say the best things in my life came about as a result of embracing uncertainty and jumping head first into the abyss of the unknown. How different would your life be if you viewed uncertainty as a powerful force for incredibly good things in your life, and not just a sign of danger?
Uncertainty is always going to be with us, no matter what our circumstances. Fortunately we all have a choice on how to respond to it. Popping pills or using distractions to hide from it is one way. The other is fully embracing it and seeing what kind of adventure it will take you on. Not really much of a choice, is it?
This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the author’s full (and kindest) permission.