We are living in a world of uncertainty. It’s almost inescapable; be it fears about job security; whether we’ll be able to spend Christmas with our loved ones; scepticism about our children sitting exams next summer or concerns about Brexit. Intractable change can cause the best of us to feel stressed, worried and out-of-control. Dealing effectively with uncertainty is an essential psychological skill and one that everyone can benefit from mastering. We show you how with these 6 tips:
- Don’t Resist. There is real truth to the aphorism that what we resist persists. There is an alternative. Instead of resisting, we can practise acceptance. A big part of this is accepting how we feel about difficult circumstances (and difficult people) in our lives. For example, if we have a challenging work situation, acknowledging our feelings about it puts us in a better position to move forward. To be clear, acceptance is not the same as resignation. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that it will never get better. We don’t accept that things will stay the same forever; we only accept whatever is actually happening at the moment.
- Let go of the need to control outcomes. Feeling out of control can feel scary. Instead of worrying about the things we can’t control, a better strategy is to focus on the things we can control including, for example, how we are going to respond to the event that concerns us – we need to work out what we are going to do and then do it. Being more flexible is another strategy, this means keeping a number of possibilities in mind and not just planning for one, specific outcome. The more flexibility we have – the more adaptable we are and the better we will be at dealing with change and uncertainty. We can’t insist that we will always get what we want but what we can say is that whatever happens we know we’ll be able to cope.
- Understand ‘hindsight bias’: We have a tendency to assume that our past was stable, certain and constantly under our control. This is an illusion psychologists call “hindsight bias”. In reality, we’ve all experienced a great deal of uncertainty in our lives up until now and we’ve survived. We need to reflect on how successful we’ve been in the past in dealing with adversity and tell ourselves if we did it once we can do it again.
- Don’t believe everything you think: We have a tendency to back the worst-case scenario when faced with uncertain times. If we start to believe these scenarios, we tend to react emotionally as though the worst case is already happening in real life, rather than just in our heads. This makes us feel threatened, afraid, and unsafe when we are simply alone with our thoughts. Instead of buying into every stressful thought, we can actively imagine the best possible scenario. We can find silver linings to replace fears. This counters our natural tendency to overestimate risks and negative consequences.
- Stop looking for someone to rescue you: When we act as though we are powerless, we get trapped in narratives that leave us feeling angry, helpless, and trapped. And we start hoping other people will save us from our misery. However, these rescuers are not necessarily our “best friend”. They tend to give us permission to avoid taking responsibility for our own lives. On the other hand, emotionally supportive friends (or therapists) see us as capable of solving our own problems. They ask questions that help us focus on what we do want instead of what we don’t.
- Seize the day: Facing the unknown can be daunting but it also presents us with endless possibilities for continuous growth and development. So, try to take the bull by the horns, turn fear on its head and use it in a positive way to see opportunities, begin to think empowering thoughts, beliefs, and healthy emotions that will enable us to take the bold, constructive action needed to flourish and thrive even in times of uncertainty.