So how can we become more tolerant of uncertainty?
Imagine the opposite.
Let’s do a little fantasy exercise. Imagine that you have complete certainty regarding what will happen every single day for the next, say, 40 years. You now know exactly what will happen each hour of each day of your life. You cannot change it. You are a passenger in your own life. Will this be fun? The uncertainty is eliminated, but so is the joy, the human agency, all the unexpected highs and lows, the decision making, the surprises, the feeling that you are in control of your destiny, that you can change things if you choose to. So perhaps 100% certainty is not a good thing.
Now imagine the 0% certainty scenario. You don’t know anything about your future, including where you will sleep, where your next meal is coming from and who you will be with. That’s pretty stressful. So maybe 0% certainty is not a good thing either.
So, as ever, it looks like we are looking for balance somewhere in the middle. We want to have some comfort around the basic structures of future life, but with enough flexibility and space for decisions, individual judgement and creativity.
Put your driver’s hat on.
Imagine you are driving a car. You have some idea of where you are going and the route to take. But you don’t know the details. You don’t know what the traffic is going to be like. You don’t know if a particular road is going to be closed and you will need to go a different way. You don’t know if a fox is going to run out on the road and you will need to slow down. But you deal with these events as they come. You react to each of those situations using your judgement as they occur. You don’t know in advance what will happen or how you will deal with it, but you trust yourself to do it in the moment.
Thinking ahead and preparing ourselves for events that cause us worry, such as a work presentation or a social occasion, is completely normal. But we can also remind ourselves that our brain is an amazing tool which has evolved over millions of years to react quickly and appropriately, without any preparation, to what is going on right here, in the present. Don’t underestimate your cognitive capacity.
Try a behavioural experiment.
Are there any situations where you are uncertain about the outcome that you tend to avoid, for example, social engagements, or going to new places? You can start small and gradually expose yourself to more settings with an element of uncertainty. The important thing is to treat this as a scientific experiment--you cannot go wrong whatever the outcome. Afterwards you can reflect on how you felt, what you did and what happened. Did things turn out ok? If things didn’t turn out ok, were you still able to cope with the negative outcome?
Gradually embracing uncertainty through this process of exposure and habituation will allow you to build higher tolerance levels for it, increase confidence, reduce negative beliefs and shape a life you want.
Develop a healthy “anchor” structure.
It is helpful to have a broad structure around your day / week to provide a foundation to feel more in control. This can include appropriate self-care, such as eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, maintaining social relationships, doing meaningful work and helping others.
If you feel that you have the core elements in place, it can be easier to tolerate events with an uncertain outcome.
How can psychology help?
We work with clients to develop a tailored programme of exposure and CBT exercises, taking into account each client’s unique needs. Your psychologist will provide a safe space to explore worry and anxiety surrounding uncertainty and help you reflect on thoughts and behaviours which are not serving you well. We will monitor progress towards your goals, adjusting therapy if needed.
Fernwood Clinic Team
Read more article on emotional health from our blog