Embracing Uncertainty

6 October 2022

Most of us are very content in our ‘comfort zone’. At risk of stating the obvious, it’s an easy place to be. When we’ve successfully completed a task, we’re able to draw on that experience and knowledge, so we’re confident and relaxed addressing similar ones in the future.

There are good reasons, though, to challenge ourselves; to embrace change and try something new. Life is more engaging and interesting, but also by staying in our comfort zones we can begin to fear failure and the unknown. This fear can take a serious emotional toll and lead us to avoid the uncertainty that comes with any change.

Not only is change constant, it’s also unavoidable. We’re often afraid of change, especially when it comes unexpectedly, and everything we’re used to shifts. The truth is that it’s not something we can hide from. The best way to handle change is not to run from it but to be prepared for it. Knowing and accepting that change will happen can bring hope during challenging times and increase our resilience when facing them. Whatever the change, it's the way we embrace it which impacts how we’re able to live with it.

Many of us fear change. We’re taught routine from an early age, and familiarity makes us feel content, but when routines are interrupted, we can feel threatened. We fear change because the outcomes are unknown and when we don’t know, we make up possible scenarios and create worry. We use worrying as a strategy, a means of coping and to help us prepare for the worst. This gives us a sense of control. Then because worrying reduces our uncertainty we continue to worry. But realistically maybe we should be asking ourselves ‘has worrying ever made anything more certain or predictable?’. ‘Has it ever influenced what will happen?’.

Trying something new becomes a risk because the outcome might be negative, or we might fail. At best the outcome is uncertain. This can lead us to remaining stuck, even when change is the better decision. The fear of change can often colour our judgement.

We’re also conditioned to like being in control. It’s evolutionary. So, the fear of change is an outcome of both nature and nurture. At some point in our lives though, everything was once an unknown and it takes courage to move into the unknown.

Even though we know that change and uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life, when we feel uncertain our mind often tells us to curl up in bed and stay there. However, avoidance will never give us those moments of joy and pride at accomplishing new things, the personal growth of overcoming a challenge, the adrenaline rush of a new experience and the opportunities that arise when meeting new people.

Embracing uncertainty helps prepare us to handle whatever comes our way. It helps builds our confidence to face new situations, whether good or bad and we feel more secure. It means accepting a lack of control and acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, which is essential for learning and growth. If we can accept this, we’re more at ease with our futures.

So, what can we do to cope with uncertainty? Focus on controlling those things that are under our control and take action on these. This allows us a level of autonomy. Recognise that we accept a lot of uncertainty already, for example when we cross a street or get in a car. We already accept the chances of something happening even though they are small.

Concentrate on what is happening now and be connected in the present rather than on what may happen. This can disrupt those negative assumptions and catastrophic predictions. It can also be helpful to reduce anxiety and stress levels through incorporating relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through good diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep.

Recognise that what we always control are our thoughts, attitudes, actions and reactions. If these are the things we control, welcome them and make them positive. We can challenge our need for certainty by asking:

  • Can I ever really achieve certainty?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of demanding certainty?
  • Do I anticipate bad things when I’m uncertain?
  • Could good things just as likely happen?
  • What is the probability of my prediction being correct?
  • Are there times I can tolerate uncertainty? What do I do then?
  • How do others tolerate uncertainty? Can I learn from them?

When we can learn to embrace uncertainty and accept the unknown, we reduce our fears of the outcomes.




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