Five key aspects to learn how to manage it
Uncertainty is a constant in our lives, in our history. If we live in an impermanent world like ours, which is constantly changing, then uncertainty is necessarily a travelling companion.
Without a doubt, it is uncomfortable, because it pushes us and pushes us until it manages to place us outside of our comfort zone. Although we try to relegate it to a secondary role, today it insists on being the main role; in the same way that it has been during wars, attacks, financial crises, political changes, migrations, fires, tsunamis, racism, genocides…
We write the word uncertainty in either uppercase or lowercase, depending on how close we feel to it. When using lowercase, we narrate the insecurity that a person travelling by boat may feel (she or he would probably do it using font size 36 and in bold). But we use capital letters when we perceive that it jeopardises ours, as well as our comfort or even our routine.
Learning to accept and live with uncertainty places us on a new level, in a state where we are able to open ourselves to new probabilities. Accepting uncertainty is not resignation, but understanding that denying it or fighting it has tremendous wear and tear, as well as a short journey. Instead, integrating it as another aspect of our life opens us to a world of possibilities.
Having understood the deep meaning of uncertainty, it is common for us to wonder how to manage it, how to transform it from a threat to an ally.
Everyone has their own recipe to navigate through these things. This is my particular way that I will share with you, in case it may be of use to you.
Five key aspects to manage uncertainty
Uncertainty is a huge term, unapproachable in its entirety. To facilitate its management, I propose an approach according to five fundamental aspects that I will detail below.
- Identify emotions. I find it interesting to begin by discerning the impact it has on oneself. To do this, it is necessary to be able to answer questions such as: What emotions does uncertainty cause me? Rage, fear, anger? Among them, I suggest choosing the one that manifests itself most intensely. Next, it is necessary to try to locate it in some area of the body. Maybe placing it on the neck, stomach or head.
If it is felt on the neck, for example, it is pertinent to ask yourself: What is it that I am not able to verbalise? It is important to find the answer because the emotions that we manage to express tend to dissolve.
If, on the contrary, the emotion is placed in the stomach, questions such as ‘What would I need to digest this emotion?’ can give us clues to detect skills that we need to develop.
2. Change the focus of attention. For evolutionary survival, our brains are programmed to focus on the negative. This fact has a very positive aspect, as it helps us to be alert of any danger. But on the other side, it can block our ability to envision alternatives.
It is significant that we immediately store negative experiences in our long-term memory since we need to recreate positive experiences for between five to twenty seconds so that we can record them in our minds.
Thus, our focus of attention in an uncertain environment is going to focus on the negative on a regular basis.
If we want to decode the positive aspects, the new opportunities and possibilities offered by a changing and uncertain context, we are going to have to train our mind to change our gaze, because if we let it wander freely, it will automatically focus on the negative aspects.
Let’s say, for example, that we have lost our job. Automatically, our attention is focused on what we have lost, on the scarcity that this situation will entail, on how unfair it may seem to us, etc.
The exercise here would be that, without neglecting the impact of unemployment, our attention should also focus on the possibilities offered by this new situation, such as having more free time, the wealth of preparing myself to face a new challenge, or else to be able to abandon old routines that rule our lives.
3. Create a routine. Reducing the feeling of distress while facing uncertainty has a lot to do with demonstrating ourselves that we will be able to manage the different circumstances that we will be faced with.
In other words, fixing our attention on the process, on what depends on us, beyond focusing all of our energy on a result that we can hardly foresee.
Thinking about the different scenarios in which our current situation can derive into and establishing management guidelines for each of them can drastically reduce anxiety levels.
An analogy could be the way we prepare a trip to an unknown destination. If we plan to do it by car, we start by reviewing routes, programming the GPS, buying maps. Putting clothes in the suitcase to protect ourselves from the cold, the rain, the heat. Preparing a first aid kit, etc.
The mere fact of conjecturing eventualities and giving them a solution greatly attenuates that feeling of unease when facing the unknown.
Additionally, it is important to remind ourselves that, if today we are able to respond to challenges that have not yet taken place, I will also have the ability to find a way to manage the challenges that will effectively take place.
4. Focus on the present. During uncertain moments, it is very easy to get carried away by longing for the good times that have already been lived, to anchor in the past to escape from now in some way.
The same thing happens if we evade the present and anticipate ourselves by living in a future that does not yet exist, either feeling the well-being of controlling what is coming or feeling the distress and blockage of uncertainty.
To focus on the present it is necessary to accept and appreciate what surrounds us, to feel in this precise moment.
This practice can help you to put multitasking aside and focus on what you are doing at each moment. Aso asking ourselves regularly, how am I? What am I feeling at this precise moment? Where does this impulse that dominates me now come from?
Planning and setting challenges is not at all incompatible with being focused on the present. The nuance is that they must be done from the present, feeling and being in this moment from where we draw or design a possibility.
5. Include more gazes. Each of us is capable of seeing, perceiving, a small portion of what we call reality or, rather, what we call reality. “The map is not the territory”, says neurolinguistic programming, referring to the fact that each one conceptualises that reality according to their own background.
This way, it is very difficult to imagine alternative realities that we do not even know exist. However, they do exist!
The way we have to widen our gaze, to give it a bigger perimeter, is precisely through the gaze of other people. Surrounding ourselves with different individuals, with life experiences that differ substantially from ours, who work in sectors that we know superficially, with roots in other continents, with creeds or hobbies far away from ours, provides us with invaluable tools.
On one hand, it is very useful to broaden our horizon, making room for realities that, until now, we have completely ignored. This mere fact can help us to qualify our feeling when facing uncertainty, as it gives us the opportunity to verify that what was uncertain for us could be an absolute certainty for others.
On the other hand, interacting with diversity can provide us with a way of approaching challenging situations from a different angle. As an example – although somewhat crude, very illustrative – I remember my first day in the jungle on one of my trips. I sat down to eat around the fire as did all of the members of the tribe. They were cooking mashed cassava in a clay pot. I asked myself “how am I going to eat if there are no dishes?” That doubt was cleared once it was served to me on a huge leaf that had been plucked from a nearby bush.
Learning to cope with uncertainty is undoubtedly a competitive advantage. Because uncertainty is something that underlies perpetually, regardless of the intensity with which it manifests.
Already at the beginning of the last century, Werner Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, asserted that uncertainty “is something intrinsic to every element”.
Thus, there is nothing left but to integrate it into our day to day as a circumstance that offers us the possibility of new experiences, as the unavoidable path towards goals that were previously unimaginable.
Once integrated, uncertainty is no longer a threat and it becomes the best engine of change and evolution.