5 Steps to Dealing with Uncertainty
What a trip these past few weeks have been, haven’t they?
Or if you’re into traveling, I guess “lack of a trip” would be a better term.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how freaked out or worried are you about this situation?(In case you’re reading this in the future. This post was written during “the 2020 coronavirus pandemic“. )
You may not be shooting people to steal their toilet paper yet. But let’s admit that for most of us, there have been at least some worries on our mind at times. Ranging from financial problems to simply seeing all the parties you looked forward to get canceled.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all currently in a state of uncertainty about the future. Nobody really knows what things will be like 1 week, 1 month or 1 year from now. And that realization is affecting us all to different degrees.
• You may feel mild or severe forms of fear, stress or anxiety.
• You may feel a bit more lonely or cut off from friends.
• Maybe you panicked and stocked up on canned foods like the apocalypse was near..
Or maybe…. you feel none of those things and spend your days in a state of blissful denial, enjoying the comfort of your home.
Any of those are normal reactions. And whatever you feel now, it’s possible that in the coming months, you’ll feel the others at some point as well.
Uncertainty is here to stay for a while. So we better get good at living with it.
How will we do that?
I’m glad you asked 😉 Let’s kick off this post with some good old-fashioned “5 Steps”. Because people on the internet like it that way.
Step 1: Accept What You’re Feeling
It’s easy to believe that this situation is not affecting you in any way.
For example, my life in general continues to be pretty awesome. I’m “locked up” in a house with an intelligent, fun and gorgeous woman whose company I never get tired of. I work online. My social life is canceled, so I have been using the time to get a lot of creative work done.
Still, I felt stressed last week. I purely blamed it on work at first. But I’m sure to some degree I was simply ignoring my feelings about the uncertainty of these times. I’m used to setting a goal, planning and then going for what I want. I don’t think the plan of playing acoustic shows in bars every week is going to happen soon. I also don’t think the band I play in will do a lot of festivals. I just didn’t want to admit that bothered me a bit.
Similarly, I’ve seen other people escape their true feelings about this situation by projecting their anger on 5G, Bill Gates or the shortcomings of their government.
While this situation has surely affected (or taken) many lives, for a lot of us it’s not really that bad yet. So we may think we don’t have the right to freak out about this a little bit. Because other people have it worse.
Still, it’s a normal response. We went through a major change in lifestyle from one day to the other and we don’t know what will come after.
This sort of sudden can cause a grief response. We mourn the loss of our previous reality. If you look at the 5 stages of grief, you actually see all of them happening around you right now:
Denial: “This is great. A few weeks of chilling at home. Free vacation, then back to normal.”
Anger: “The government doesn’t give me enough money!!!! It’s all a lie to trick us into accepting 5G!!!! Other people don’t respect the social distancing norms!!!!”
Bargaining: “Let me just buy 80 rolls of toilet paper in case I get apocalyptic diarrhea.”
Depression: “What use is there in doing anything but staying in bed and watching TV? These 4 walls are my only friends and I can’t stand them.”
Acceptance: “Alright. A lot of things are going to be very different for an undefined period of time. How can we adapt to this situation and structure our lives based on the new reality.”
Keep in mind that the stages of grief don’t always go into that order. You may shift back and forth between them all in random intervals. But the main trap is staying in denial for too long.
When we feel things we don’t like (like anger or depression), we often want to ignore those feelings. Or we just go through our routines and fill our lives with busyness so that we remain unaware of them. But this actually makes the feelings stronger.
So the first thing to do is making space for any feelings you may be feeling (without telling yourself that you are supposed to feel something you don’t). Add some silence to your life. Do some nothing. Meditate. Go for a walk. Observe what is going on inside of you. Can you sense some sadness in your gut? Some restlessness? Perhaps some acid reflux from yesterday’s spaghetti?
Whatever your emotional reaction to this uncertainty is: create space for the feelings to exist. As if you would do when taking time to grieve someone’s death. There may not be much. Maybe all you feel is a mild hint of disappointment that Easter mass was canceled. That’s okay. Just make sure you took the time to listen to yourself.
And if you don’t like what you feel, realize that millions of people are feeling it right now. Few expected 2020 to start this way. But it’s here. We feel it. And in some odd way, that feeling is giving us all something to connect about.
Step 2: Confront the Fact That This Uncertainty Has Always Been Here
Suddenly so many things feel different.
When will we see our friends again?
What will the economy be like 6 months from now?
What about your job or savings? Will it suffice?
Could it be that tomorrow one of my family members gets sick?
The truth is that before COVID-19, none of these things were certain either. Certainty is always an illusion.
On any given day, you could die. Your friends could die. We could get sick, the economy could crash. Different levels of uncertainties, but these things can always happen. I’s one of the basic facts of life that the future is uncertain. We just don’t like to face it.
And now we’re in lockdown, just waiting a bit until “things go back to normal”.
But the truth is that there never was a normal. The world is always changing in big and small ways. In slow and fast ways. Just think how different things were technologically speaking 10 years ago.
And amidst all that change, we battle uncertainty by creating a lifestyle that gives us a sense of stability and the illusion of a nice warm blanket of security.
But now COVID came, pulled that blanket away and threw some cold water in our faces. Which is good, because it brings you closer to the truth about reality. Death and disease are part of it. Unpredictable events are part of it. They are also part of what makes life beautiful.
One of the reasons your existence is such a beautiful thing because it’s fragile, yet continues to persist. Beautiful moments like dancing all night surrounded by 500 strangers, or having a barbecue with your friends should always be treasured and never taken for granted no matter how frequently they happen. Corona didn’t change any of that. It just reminded us of the truth.
Step 3: Use the Experience to Grow Stronger
What do your reactions to this reveal about you? If you feel afraid or worried at all, what can it teach you? What are the specific things that worry you?
• Is it being alone?
• Is it running out of money?
• Is it not having food?
• Is it realizing you don’t like your family or roommates?
What can that knowledge teach you? Is there a way for you to use this situation to become more confident and trust yourself more?
Can you use it to…
• Learn to be okay on your own?
• Discover you can live with a lot less than you’re used to?
• Learn to serve people / make money in creative ways?
• Discover the benefits of fasting?
• Repair the broken or damaged relationships you ignored up until now?
Or how about this: Imagine that everything went wrong. The absolute worst case scenario being real right now, this day. No money, no friends, no food. Then what would you do? Would you just lay down and die?
Probably not. I bet you’d discover that you were a lot stronger and more resourceful than you gave yourself credit for (as happened when I was homeless for a short time).
When you get confronted with the truth about the uncertainty of life, it can be a great opportunity to find some actual certainty in your own character. Because this is something of which you are certain. As long as you live, you’ll always be able to count on yourself. You’re just not often in a situation in which it really matters.
How about exploring these facts? Can you use this “retreat” from the world as an opportunity to get to know and trust yourself a bit more?
Can you discover some of the things you were holding on to in an effort to avoid self-reliance?
Were you clinging to your job because you weren’t sure if you’d be able to survive without it?
Were you clinging to your friends or certain activities outside the house because you weren’t confident of your ability to be happy alone?
Can you see that clinging to these things also stood in the way of you becoming more confident in your own ability to handle the basic uncertainties of life?
Did you cling to a certain routine or strategy in the past because you believed it would lead you to security or success in life?
Did things affect you in a bad way right now? What can you learn from them to make your life strategy more robust? Can you use this time already to try out some new strategies?
Can this situation teach you the flexibility to re-assess your actions on a constant basis? To adapt to whatever life presents you? Until instead of just trusting the plan, you trust your own decision making. You trust that you can always change your plan, change your habits, change your identity.
Unpredictable situations, while sometimes stressful, can train your character in a way that makes you more free. If you let them 😉
Step 4: Change Your Relationship with Life
It’s interesting that we want life to behave in a certain predictable way.
It’s interesting that it’s unpredictability that makes us react in these ways.
Have you ever fallen in love? Do you remember how it would keep you up at night?
How it felt like torture wondering how your crush would respond to your messages?
How you started anxiously wondering if this would become something serious that altered the course of your life forever, or remain just a brief episode that perhaps hurt you a bit?
Wasn’t that awesome?
All that uncertainty was extremely exciting.
This is what life is doing to us right now. Maybe not in the prettiest way. But you get the point 😉
Just like falling in love, we don’t know what will happen. Will our lives be radically different forever?
Will we look back in 6 months thinking “wow, we surely let it get to our head for a brief period there”?
Can you allow yourself, in spite of all the disease, death and financial disaster, to feel that this is also very exciting?
Maybe even arousing in some way?
Could you fall in love with this basic uncertainty of life?
Can you accept life’s unpredictable moods as part of her beauty and instead of complaining about it, proceed to make love to her anyway?
I know this part is a bit poetic and less actionable, but I invite you to ponder this idea and observe if it can deepen your appreciation for life and your capacity for happiness.
If you now wonder why it’s exactly the unpredictability of life that deserves so much love. Then read on to Step 5…
Step 5: Reverse the Paradigm
So we know now that life is always uncertain. You never know what may happen. Perhaps you die tomorrow.
Would you like that to be different?
If uncertainty is causing you some anxiety or worries, it can be tempting to think you’d want things to be more predictable.
But if we had absolute certainty all the time, we’d probably be a lot more anxious.
In one episode of Rick and Morty, objects called “death crystals” give Morty absolute certainty of the end result of his actions. With every move he makes, he can see exactly what the end of his life will look like.
As result, he becomes insanely anxious and a violent control freak. Think about it: If you had exact certainty about how life works, that would mean you’d have to do the perfect thing every single second.
No matter how tired you were, there would be immense pressure on you because you’d know the exact outcome of every single of your possible actions. What if someday you fuck up just one single step? A lifetime is full of days. The chance that you drink too much tequila and slip up some day is very high. The pressure could make you completely neurotic.
Luckily, your good friend uncertainty is there to protect you from that 😉
Uncertainty is here to bring you peace. You don’t always know precisely how to act and that’s okay.
Saving money is clearly a better plan than swimming with sharks while you’re bleeding. But somewhere in between we’re all just wondering and figuring things out as we go. You can do every thing “right” all your life but eat the wrong Pangolin in Wuhan one day and end up in the hospital.
So just do your best, forgive yourself any “mistakes” you make and enjoy the ride.
After all, movies are way more thrilling when you don’t know the ending yet 😉