Uncertainty Sucks. We Need to Manage It Effectively. Here’s Why.

Uncertainty is a certainty in life. Most of us hate it. However, we can learn to manage it in a way that will make it less sucky. In this article I discuss uncertainty, negative impacts of handling it poorly, ways we negatively cope with it, and how to manage it effectively.

Photo by Pim Chu

Uncertainty is unknowingness. Most of us hate it! If it were a taste, just imagine something you despise. Something that the pure smell or tase of makes you squint and want to spit. (For me that would be green olives—yuck!)

Most of life is uncertain, so it’s not productive for us to hate it. We never know what’s going to happen next and life can change (for better or for worse) at any moment. 

We don’t have to hate uncertainty. While it is uncomfortable, we can learn from it. And that’s what we are going to discuss in this article: being comfortable being uncomfortable, better yet, being comfortable in uncertainty. 

Negative Impacts of Poor Uncertainty Management

The level at which you face uncertainty directly relates to your level of satisfaction with life. Life is uncertainty. There are really only a few things that are certain, like death. Sounds grim, right? Well, other things about avoiding uncertainty aren’t pleasant either.

Uncertainty can cause hypervigilance. We get anxious and our nervous system goes into overdrive. Our conscious brain sends our subconscious brain signals that we are in danger. Our subconscious does not realize we are sitting on our couch watching a news story that has been specifically crafted to spread negativity and fear. This may trigger our body to react as if we are in physical danger. 

Negative thought loops can occur when we allow our mind to free think any doomsday or negative thought unchecked. We need to stop this from occurring because it will cause us discomfort—and because it’s unproductive and unhealthy.

We can get so caught up in uncertainty (and avoiding it) that we lose track of the present moment. Our entire life can pass by as we focus on managing negative coping mechanisms.

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

Bill Watterson

Poor uncertainty management can also cause depression, anxiety, stress and misplaced anger. We can end up closing ourselves off or getting so caught up in worriment that we lose sight of our goals. AKA it’s the opposite of living our best life.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Quick and Simple Guide to Learning What EQ Is Once and for All

How We Manage Uncertainty

To some, uncertainty can be exciting and fun! They are the ones who are taking chances and making leaps when there’s no promise of a successful landing (for Gilmore Girl watchers this would be Logan Huntzberger starting his businesses). If they try a new endeavor they may be thinking, “I need to at least try, if I mess up, I’ll figure something out!”

Others may find uncertainty to be excruciating and uncomfortable (think Emily Gilmore). They are the ones who like to have a steady routine, and get frustrated when things change. If they are faced with an unknown, or they try a new endeavor they may be thinking, “but what if its a complete flop?”

Then there are those who are in between. I personally think this is the best place to be. I love my routine, but I also love making calculated risks, and I find it exciting to sometimes not know the outcome.

Ways We Try to Negatively Manage Uncertainty

When our fear of uncertainty is stronger than our desire to face the world we may partake in growth-inhibiting coping mechanisms that hurt and hinder us from living our best life. Most of these coping mechanisms are negatively impactful, and create more suffering, or they just prolong our suffering.

Unhealthy methods of dealing with uncertainty can manifest in several ways and each individual is unique. I mention a few below. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Living in denial. Denial is refusing to accept the present moment because it’s too tough or uncomfortable to acknowledge.
  • Trying to control others. Parents may try to control their kids, partners may try to control their lovers. Bosses micromanage their employees. All in an attempt to control what they can’t, uncertainty.
  • Perfectionism. When the outcome of an event is something that can’t be controlled, some will resort to perfectionism in order to keep the mind busy and try to force a favorable outcome. 
  • Drugs or alcohol – Drugs and alcohol reduce our consciousness and therefore reduce our awareness to uncertainty.
  • Anger and tantrums. Some find it easier to be angry than to acknowledge that sometimes life is unfair and uncertain.
  • Religious or spiritual dependancy– Religion and spirituality are beneficial and can contribute to a fulfilling life. However, it’s negatively impactful when taken to an extreme, or if someone gives up trying because “God will handle it.”
  • Tarot Cards & Astrology– Again, can be fulfilling (and fun) but can also be a negative coping mechanism when too great of a dependency is placed on the cards or stars.
Uncertainty can feel like we are falling and don't know when or how we will land
Photo by Joseph Frank

How to Effectively Manage Uncertainty

I started writing ways to effectively manage uncertainty and it turned into an article itself! Click here for: 19 Ways to Effectively Handle Uncertainty So You Can Stop Worrying and Start Living: Pandemic Edition.

If you don’t have time to read the article, at least remind yourself that it’s ok to feel your feels. I know that we are taught not to do so—because then people may think we are vulnerable or weak—but it actually takes strength to acknowledge you are scared or nervous in times of uncertainty. When we stop fighting our feelings they are easier to manage.

RELATED ARTICLE: You’re Not Failing at Mindfulness. 5 Real-Life Examples of Mindfulness to Help You Get Started

Moving Forward With Uncertainty

How we manage uncertainty directly impacts our mental and physical health. The more we face uncertainty head on, the more resilient we will become. While some people are more comfortable and secure with uncertainty there are those who hate it and try to control as much as they can.

No matter where uncertainty lands on your like—dislike scale, a lot of what is going on in the world today is becoming the unavoidable elephant in the room that is reminding us of life’s uncertainty.

You don’t need to be a big risk taker, and go jump off a literal cliff, but you do need to work on managing uncertainty if you want to live your best life. The first steps are: 1) acknowledging the discomfort surrounding uncertainty, and 2) being aware of our personal negative coping mechanisms and how they negatively affect us.

Published by Lyndsey Getty

Hiya, I’m Lyndsey and I'm following my dream of being a writer! Just a few months ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to share my writing. But I gained confidence by utilizing the very things I write about, EQ, betterment, philosophy and psychology.

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2 thoughts on “Uncertainty Sucks. We Need to Manage It Effectively. Here’s Why.

  1. This is a nice article that opens doors so readers can bring their Shadows (things we don’t want to see or share) to the light of knowing — about our own not-knowing. Thank you, Lyndsey (and I personally agree with you about green olives). Life is uncertainty: true. Saying this stuff out loud often brings knowing (in this case, of self), which is a piece of control/power/command and likely a degree of, yes, certainty. It’s likely to attract more certainty. Saying this stuff out loud also often brings literal emotional lightness as well.

    Shadow thrives in hiding, in the uncertainty we don’t want to face. In my men’s group last week, we ended the meeting with a round about “uncertainty,” not led or suggested by me. Clearly, this is a topical topic.

    My personal emotional experience of uncertainty usually flits or jams between excitement and fear. This is such a wide and deep topic; I could write chapters. On a men’s retreat I attended years ago, we were put in direct contact with our fears of uncertainty, like being blindfolded outdoors and walking into muddy cold water with a slippery floor. Later, in safety near a warm fire, we talked with new awareness, in groups, about how we deal with things we cannot control. Is Shadow driving the bus? Are we being responsible for our wellbeing? Fear is not inherently bad — no emotion is — it simply has a message for us. Uncertainty is not inherently bad either. How we respond to it (or not) — and our responses to that — can get us into or out of trouble.

    Using our fear of uncertainty to push through barriers we placed previously empowers us and brings our journeys out of the Shadows of the past and more into the possibilities available to us now and in the future (which includes reframing the past). Feeling our fears and moving through them is an important step in coping with uncertainty. Purposely using the power that is in the fear is a next-level move.

    Here’s an example. If I am running out of money, and uncertain from where my next paycheck will emerge, I can say, “This sucks and I’m a victim” (maybe not even consciously!) and watch YouTube all day, allowing the situation to become more fearful tomorrow, fulfilling the prophesies I created or agreed to, tacitly or otherwise. Or I can say, “If I spend my day not looking for work I am more likely to go broke. To avoid that pain and bring some control and certainty to my day, I’m going to apply for ten jobs and then watch YouTube for fifteen minutes.” By doing this, inside inevitable uncertainty, I am using my fear to make things better, and possibly change the course of events. I’m sending a message to the Universe that I want a way to change my joblessness, rewarding my efforts, taking control, providing pathways out of the suckiness, taking care of myself, and keeping Shadow out of the driver’s seat. This all helps to make it easier next time, maybe even starting a new pattern. I may be in uncertainty outside myself, but if I commit to doing something about the situation and then do it, I reaffirm that I can create certainty.

    I may not get what I want by applying for a specific job, requesting a hug, voting, visiting my doctor, giving a gift, answering the phone, buying a lottery ticket, or saying yes. Things change all the time. I do my best to consciously welcome uncertainty. It’s better than pretending that everything sucks or everything is grand. There are plenty of things beyond my control. What I can control is how I respond to them. Uncertainty can be wonderful, like going somewhere new, improvising, taking a risk, asking for something I want, and more. Who gets to choose whether the uncertainty sucks or is wonderful or neutral? I do! Certainly. That’s not someone else’s work, pain, pleasure, responsibility, growth, or reward.

    When I do something to achieve a specific outcome, I may be setting myself up for disappointment. Yet this is part of life and the human experience. When I let go of the outcome and authentically embrace not-knowing, I am more likely to be in the flow of inevitable uncertainty by driving the bus.

    1. Hey Rob! Thanks for the response. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! The men’s retreat you went on sounds amazing BTW. I love how everyone sat around and discussed how they were feeling about the day’s events. It’s so much fun to reflect. And you’re right, it’s so important to talk about feelings. I can tell you’re definitely benefiting from it.

      I like that you mentioned the uncertainty of asking for something you want. I used to rarely if ever ask for things because I was nervous I would get rejected. Now, I see rejection as a good thing because it means that I asked, and I’m always happy I did!

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