Managing Uncertainty in an Uncertain World

By Clare Burgess - Hypnotherapist -


How do you manage uncertainty? How do you react to change? How comfortable are you when you have no idea what’s happening next?

If you feel uncomfortable when there’s major change or things appear unpredictable, then you are not alone!

Some of us find it easier to tolerate uncertainty in our day to day lives but mostly uncertainty makes us feel vulnerable. People who experience anxiety or other emotional issues often have a very high intolerance to uncertainty.

If you find uncertainty uncomfortable it’s because you are human. Becoming more comfortable with uncertainty is something you can learn. This article highlights some of the many ways that might help you get started

“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” ~Tony Robbins 

1. Understand that fear of uncertainty is normal to a certain degree

You have a brain that has evolved to look for certainty and safety which is why change is usually so scary, stressful or uncomfortable for most of us. We naturally look for the familiar and live in known, repeated patterns of behaviour which give us a sense of security.

In evolutionary terms, it makes sense that our brains fear too much change or uncertainty when you think how our ancestors were designed for survival in a world where they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.

Part of our conscious awareness is also that our minds spend a lot of time calculating and projecting scenarios into the future based on the information we have and past experiences. A lack of positive experiences or very limited information causes our minds to project negative outcomes which we then experience in the present as anxiety and stress.

2. Focus on what’s in your control

When experiencing change or uncertainty, people often focus on the things outside of their control which leaves them feeling powerless or hopeless. The more you focus on what you can’t control, the more you’ll feel out of control.

A good starting point is to work out what’s within your control. It might be helpful to write down your worries or discuss then with a friend to work out which part is in your control and what your options are.

A helpful reminder for managing anxiety and stress is a version that suits you of the serenity prayer. Here’s a secular version:

“Through my efforts, I gain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. 

3. Take action…anything more than nothing each day

The more someone tries to avoid uncertainty and control everything in their life the stronger their intolerance to uncertainty becomes, which means more anxiety and emotional issues. Which is why to overcome a fear or an issue you have to face it rather than avoid it.

Worrying about something within your control can lead to a positive outcome if you act to find a solution or work out what you can do.

Worrying about an exam for example can motivate you study and prioritise your time. You can’t control what questions will be asked but you can control your focus and preparation.

Taking care of yourself to recharge your battery, having a good laugh, practicing gratitude and giving yourself some treats to look forward to can also help you gain a bigger perspective on what’s good in your life and what you can feel positive about.

4. Think about your strengths and abilities

You already know how to manage uncertainty because you do it every day. You might feel certain in one part of your life but not another…how are you certain in those moments or situations? When have you managed and coped during difficult times in the past? How did you achieve that?

When certain things are familiar to us they can feel certain and predictable. Our minds can then project a safe future outcome which means you probably don’t even notice you’re managing uncertainty every day. If you have driven a car, taken an aeroplane, tried new food, started a new job, moved house, or even gone to a new country on holiday, these are all examples of when you have managed uncertainty. So how did you do that?

I met someone the other day who was terrified at the prospect of changing jobs even though he was desperate to leave his company. One of his hobby was skydiving. By recognising how he copes regularly with the uncertainty of throwing himself out of a plane plus other ways he copes or is confident in his life, he started to see how capable he was to make the change.

5. Learn to enjoy variety, and change will become easier to manage

Everything in life is constantly changing from nature, politics, fashion to our bodies as we grow older. Change is part of life. To embrace life and live to the full involves embracing uncertainty and finding courage to accept or even welcome change.

Through change we can grow and learn. If change isn’t easy for you, then take really small steps to do something different each day or each week. Something more than nothing will make the difference in helping you learn that change is a good thing and an essential part of success and happiness.

We are what we practice so each time you practice doing something new or dare yourself to step into the unknown, you are expanding your comfort zone.

Another part of human survival has been our ability to adapt and our need to progress. Too much certainty or control in our modern lives leads to boredom and a feeling of being trapped which leads to unhappiness and stress.

We also have a need for variety which means change is as important to our emotional well-being as is feeling in control.

6. Focus on being here now…

Remember we only have this moment now as the future hasn’t happened yet and the past has gone.

Anxiety is the projection into the future, so giving yourself a break by focusing on the moment can help restore some balance.

And finally….take some deep breaths and breathe!

Clare Burgess is a Cognitive Hypnotherapist and personal development coach. She first discovered the power of hypnotherapy when she was pregnant with her second child. A positive birth experience aided by hypnotherapy and hypnobirthing inspired Clare to train as a hypnotherapist. Clare is passionate about helping people overcome anxiety issues and emotional blocks in their lives through her work. To read more about Clare click here

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