On my desk I have a framed postcard of a quote from one of my favourite authors, Tove Jansson (creator of the Moomins), which reads “All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured”.  I’m not always sure I agree with this, especially over the past few years when there has been a lot of uncertainty in my life, in fact, I’ve often thought a little more certainty would be welcome!

Another quote on this topic comes from Benjamin Franklin: “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

It is certainly true, uncertainty is all around us, everyday of our lives, and it’s not something which can be classed as inherently positive or negative.  

Uncertainty is the thing which makes watching sports events exciting – what would be the point if you knew in advance which team was going to win?  Uncertainty is the reason I like reading murder mysteries and watching the latest Netflix thriller.  Uncertainty makes life interesting, exciting, intriguing and curious, it adds a sparkle to the mundane of the every day.

Uncertainty can also be very anxiety provoking as it leads us to ask ourselves the dreaded question ’what if ….”  Let’s be honest, that question never ends well does it?!  This can be particularly problematic at times in our lives when we are facing changes such as divorce, moving house or applying for jobs.  Also, at times when we are waiting for important news such as the results of medical tests or exam results.  Uncertainty fuels anxiety and its associated symptoms such as muscle tension, sleep problems and loss of appetite.

Uncertainty is something which we all experience and the key to how much it impacts us is in how we respond to it.  It’s useful to think about this in terms of a continuum.  At one end would be those who have no reaction at all to uncertainty (I’ve yet to meet this person). In the middle would be where the majority of us sit, having an average reaction.  Then, at the extreme end are those who are intolerant to uncertainty and worry excessively all the time.  People at this extreme end are usually classed as experiencing Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

A natural response to uncertainty is to try to regain a sense of control, to make things more certain.  We may find ourselves doing a lot of research, asking others for their opinion or reassurance, working extra hours, re-checking things.  There may also be times when we feel paralysed by uncertainty and feel like it’s better not to do certain activities or make decisions. Whilst these approaches may help us to feel a little better in the short-term the problem  is that they can limit our experiences in life.  Furthermore, they don’t give us a chance to sit with that feeling of uncertainty and get used to it.  Our tolerance to uncertainty is like a muscle which needs to be strengthened through exercise.  The only way to become more tolerant of uncertainty is to practice facing it.

Take some time to think about how uncertainty is showing up in your life at the moment and how you are responding to it.  Are your strategies working for you?  Would it help to face uncertainty in some little ways to help you to feel more confident with it?  

Here are some suggestions for how you might welcome uncertainty into your life … 

Take a walk around your local city heading down streets you’ve not explored before

Visit a new restaurant without reading any reviews first

Randomly pick a new recipe from your cookery book and give it a whirl

Make a decision about something without asking others for their opinion

Publish a post on social media without checking it first

Try a new club or hobby

Say yes more often to small invitations