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  • Michael Philp

The folly of certainty

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

"Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one" - Voltaire

The above quote has been attributed to French philosopher Voltaire. That quote has resonated with me this week at Grove Psychology for a few reasons, firstly in the clients that have been plagued by anxiety related to uncertainty and as Grove Psychology approaches it's 2nd birthday - but more on that later.

Lately, I have had a number of clients at Grove Psychology talk to me about their worries, and how much it has impacted on their lives. In particular, they spoke about the "what-ifs". What if it's the wrong decision? What if something goes wrong? What if I fail? And so on. There can be an endless list of what-ifs. They all relate to not knowing the outcome of a decision. For some people, not knowing and not being in control is incredibly uncomfortable and they go to great lengths to avoid it. In fact, some people are so fearful of uncertainty that they become stuck, unable to progress in their lives because they cannot determine the future outcome of decision, and so make no decision. Inevitably, this non-decision results in unhappiness and so they go in a continual cycle of anxiety and unhappiness.

More and more we are coming to realise that our brains are hard-wired to be on alert for fear. And we are typically anxious when we are uncertain about our decisions or the outcomes. So unfortunately, our brains are misfiring when it comes to feeling uncertain and giving our body a signal to expect danger - we feel uncomfortable, our stomach gets upset, we worry. Typically, the way people tend to cope with uncertainty is to try and create certainty or control; or to avoid situations that create uncertainty. Someone who desires to be in complete control is the type of person who plans their whole day, has difficulty being spontaneous, writes endless lists, becomes anxious when schedules don't go to plan, and in extreme cases can become extremely regimented. For those who avoid uncertainty, they often make no decisions, or don't put them selves into situations that would lead to uncertainty. They may have desires to do things, but never act on these desires because of the high amount of anxiety that it produces.

How to cope with uncertainty?

Here is my top 3 tips for coping with uncertainty:

1. Meditation -

The best tip for coping with uncertainty is learning how to turn off our natural reaction to uncertainty. Meditation, particularly mindfulness, and learning how to breathe calmly is great for this.

2. Acceptance -

Practice acceptance and being kind to yourself. Acknowledge that it is ok to feel this way, it is expected. If you are facing a difficult choice, you are allowed to feel nervous. But, you can still move forward even with this uncomfortable feeling.

3. Control what you can control

Is there something that needs doing? Do it.

Do you need more information before you can make a decision? Find out.

If you can't do anything - learn to let go and manage the feelings that come with that.

How does this relate to Grove Psychology's birthday?

On April 4th we turn 2! A fantastic achievement for any business, but I can tell you it has not come without a high degree of uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings. Living in certainty can often mean missing out. The world is uncertain, we cannot always predict how things will turn out. If we can learn to manage our feelings with uncertainty, then we can be exposed to more possibilities.

I'd love to know your view! Comment below!

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