How to deal with uncertainty

“The key to change is learning to deal with uncertainty,” I said. In fact, it was the fourth time I had said it this week. I could hear them nodding on the phone. “I know” they said… “but how?”.

Uncertainty is something very few people enjoy. It shows up when we are made redundant; when we are applying for jobs; when we are thinking of going back to work; when we are forecasting our businesses; when we are waiting for a health diagnosis; when we are moving house…it shows up all the time and is probably the no. 1 fear people have when they walk through my door.

Our brain tends to have irrational tendencies to over-react and turn the anxiety levels up to 11. I hear the words “I hate not knowing” or “I’m just not sure”. There is a feeling of being stuck, paralysed by decision or feeling out of control as decisions are made for you.

Uncertainty causes us to feel stressed out, anxious and freaked out. The good news is however that there are ways to fight those feelings of uncertainty. When we use them, we are able to control our responses and that, dear reader, is resilience.

Let it be

The first step towards dealing with uncertainty is to let it be (anyone else singing?!). I used to advise letting go (again, singing?!) but ultimately I have found it’s not that straightforward. However, letting ‘it’ (i.e. the feelings of uncertainty, stress, anxiety) be feels easier. Acknowledging the feelings is a good start. Just like you might look out of the window and acknowledge the weather when we acknowledge our feelings we can become more self-aware. This doesn’t mean the feeling will go away (just like the rain doesn’t stop when you notice it) but you can be better prepared for coping with it (waterproofs or staying in).

This acknowledgement and/or curiosity is part of being mindful. To notice our feelings and thoughts brings us back into the present moment. This is important for reducing stress. We stop the cycle by recognizing the feeling and the reminding ourselves that we can’t predict the future, but we can help create it.

When we notice what’s going on we can accept it and that often brings some clarity to the situation. Let it be for now and know one thing: if anything is certain it’s that everything will change at some point – it always does.

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos

Time to reflect

Whether you have noticed your thoughts and feelings or not, times of uncertainty can be a great time to reflect. By this I mean think back to a time when you faced a similar situation or felt similarly. You will have faced uncertainty before, you just might not remember it. In fact, you may look back and think that until this point everything in your life has been certain, or at least not as uncertain as it is now. That is called “hindsight bias” and it’s an illusion.

Take time to think and reflect on what helped you before. Write it down—and then read it when your anxiety or stressful thoughts start to take hold. 

Do something

I talked in the LinkedIn group (Grow Your Potential) about my 3 core beliefs when it comes to coaching.

  1. We always have a choice (perhaps not the circumstances but the way we react)
  2. Change is possible
  3. You are enough

These are important because when you feel you can’t, I believe you can. Belief allows action. It doesn’t matter necessarily if you don’t believe in yourself, you can still take action because someone else (me) believes you can do it.

The action you take doesn’t have to be big. The key is to take it anyway. Remember that not taking action counts as taking action. There is always a choice. Here are some actions you could take in the face of uncertainty:

  • Stick to your routine
  • Make a plan of what you want to create rather than setting unrealistic expectations
  • Ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen” (not what’s the worst that will happen)?
  • Take three deep breaths – in for 7 counts, out for 11 counts
  • Meditate for 10 mins
  • Get outside
  • Take 10 mins of exercise
  • Write down your successes (even if you feel they are small wins)

Help someone else

Helping someone else takes your mind off your own life and focuses on them. If you wanted to help someone today, perhaps you could share your experiences of how you deal with uncertainty or a time when you have been successful in the face of change. Maybe you could share your favourite action which you take to help you feel better/more in control/less anxious.



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