“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos
In three weeks, my boyfriend and I might move from the Bay area to LA, or we might move in here with roommates if he decides not pursue a film career.
I am starting a new work-from-home writing gig to pay my bills while I write my book. It might be something I can do in under two days a week, or it may require more time. It may provide enough money, or I might need to get some other work to supplement.
If we move, I might enjoy LA; I might not. I might balance everything well; I might feel overwhelmed. I might make new friends easily in my new area; it might take me a while to find like-minded people.
My world is a towering stack of mights right now. Though I’m dealing with a lot more change than usual, the reality is that most days start and end with uncertainty.
Even when you think you’ve curled into a cozy cocoon of predictability, anything could change in a heartbeat.
The only constant in life is that it will involve change, and try as you may to control the future, sometimes all you can do is trust that whatever happens, you can adapt and make the best of it.
Since I am straddling familiarity and the unknown, waiting to form some type of expectations for my future, I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with uncertainty well. Though I’ve written before about embracing an uncertain future, I have a few more ideas to add to the mix:
1. Replace expectations with plans.
When you form expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can guide your tomorrow, but you can’t control the exact outcome. If you expect the worst, you’ll probably feel too negative and closed-minded to notice and seize opportunities. If you expect the best, you’ll create a vision that’s hard to live up to.
Instead of expecting the future to give you something specific, focus on what you’ll do to create what you want to experience.
I might be lonely in LA, or I might move into an apartment building full of yogis who enjoy Scrabble. None of that is in my hands right now. What is in my hands is what I plan—what I will actively do when I get there to meet friends, find balance, and live the life I want.
2. Prepare for different possibilities.
The most difficult part of uncertainty, at least for me, is the inability to plan and feel in control. Until I know where I am going to live, I can’t plan what neighborhood I’d like to live in, where I’ll practice yoga, or what events I’ll attend to meet people. But I can plan for the possibilities.
I can make a list for what I would do if I were to move to LA versus what I’d do if I stay local. Obviously the latter doesn’t require much change, so all I really need is one plan and the flexibility to embrace it if necessary.
3. Become a feeling observer.
It isn’t the uncertainty that bothers me; it’s my tendency to get lost in my feelings about it.
The second I start indulging fear, I get lost in a cycle of reactionary thoughts. “I might be lonely” leads to “How will I meet people?” Before you know it, I’ve somehow traveled all the way to “What if I become a recluse, start overeating, and develop restless leg syndrome from sitting too much—alone—on my couch?”
Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration. The point is that speculation leads to feelings, which can lead to more speculation and then more feelings. It helps me to stop the cycle by recognizing the feeling—in that case, fear—and the reminding myself: I can’t possibly predict the future, but I can help create it by fostering positive feelings about the possibilities.
4. Get confident about your coping and adapting skills.
This isn’t the same as “expect the worst.” It’s more about assuring yourself that you can handle any difficulty that might come.
In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie K. Norem discusses the concept of defensive pessimism—when you consider the worst so you can plan how you’d handle it. This has actually shown to help people manage anxiety.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” In my case, the worst would be if my boyfriend didn’t make a decision at all and we stayed in our current living situation (overcrowded and cluttered). I wouldn’t like it, but I could handle it. I could write at the library. I could take the opportunity to downsize my stuff. I could deal, which makes the uncertainty a little less scary.
5. Utilize stress reduction techniques preemptively.
If you’re dealing with uncertainty, you probably have stress in your body, even if it’s not at the forefront of your thoughts in this exact moment. Over time, that body stress affects blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle tension, cholesterol level, breathing rate, and every organ in your body.
Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your day, ideally meditation, even if just five to ten minutes daily. Finding your center will help you feel better prepared to tackle whatever comes your way.
6. Focus on what you can control.
Oftentimes, we overlook the little things we can do to make life easier while obsessing about the big things we can’t do.
For example, my boyfriend and I are cramped in a small space with little storage. My clothes are in bags spaced throughout the room, like some kind of luggage booby trap. At times I’ve gotten really frustrated with the chaos, since I feel like I don’t know where anything is, and I’ve complained about wanting to move now.
Then suddenly, it dawned on me: moving now just isn’t an option, but I can make this living situation more bearable if I stop complaining and focus on a short-term solution. So I asked my boyfriend to help me organize the space and keep it that way, and now I feel a lot less scattered.
7. Practice mindfulness.
When you obsess about a tomorrow you can’t control, you’re too busy judging what hasn’t happened yet to fully experience what’s happening right now. Instead of noticing and appreciating the beauty in the moment, you get trapped in a fear-driven thought cycle about the potential for discomfort down the line.
While meditation is the best way to become more mindful, it isn’t the only approach. Sometimes it helps me to take an inventory of what’s good in today. So I can’t yet plan for tomorrow—that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That means I can spend today doing other things, like writing, reading, relaxing in the sun, and connecting with people I love.
If ever you think you’ve created a controllable, predictable life for yourself, you can rest assured that’s an illusion. Nothing stays the same forever.
The uncertainty can keep you up at night, obsessing over ways to protect yourself from anything that might go wrong. Or it can motivate you to practice acceptance, live in the moment, and embrace the adventure of living.
What’s coming tomorrow might not be easy—or it might fulfill you in ways you didn’t know to imagine. What’s certain is that it will come and when it gets here, you’ll respond to it, learn from it, and move into another tomorrow full of endless possibilities.
Today I’m focusing on my possibilities, not my fear, and suddenly I feel a lot better.