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On Wishing Life Was Certain



Uncertainty describes what is uncertain, unknown; it is about not being sure about something.

People who worry excessively react strongly to uncertainty; they seem to be intolerant or allergic to uncertainty. Even a small ‘dose’ of uncertainty causes strong reactions. Intolerance of uncertainty can be described as the difficulty of accepting the fact that it is not completely impossible that a negative event might happen despite its low probability. People who can’t tolerate uncertainty tend to procrastinate and avoid attempting to solve their problems. They seek out certainty, conclusive evidence and a “perfect solution”. They are often unwilling to adopt an experimental, trial and error, approach by testing out imperfect solutions until they find something that works.

How do you react when you encounter uncertain situations?

  • Perhaps you are intolerant of uncertainty in regard to your health, not knowing if you have an underlying sinister illness and interpreting the signs of the resulting anxiety as 'proof' that you are ill?

  • Do you struggle to tolerate uncertainty in your career or your finances?

  • Perhaps you struggle with the uncertainty of not knowing for definite that your family got to work safely today and you call them to check they arrived safely?

  • Perhaps you procrastinate a lot?

  • Maybe you always want to do things yourself rather than delegating to others?

  • Have you found yourself repeatedly checking things to make sure you did them?

  • Perhaps you always order the same food in the restaurant every time you go to be certain you will enjoy your meal?

  • Have you spent far too much time reading reviews on Trip Advisor in order to be certain that your holiday destination will be everything you hope for?

  • Perhaps you put your house on the market, only to decide not to sell it later on?

  • Do you keep asking your partner whether you locked up when you left the house because you can't specifically recall doing it?

  • Perhaps you have stopped your children staying over at their friend's house without genuine concern?

Many people can relate to the above situations, but people with anxiety may be involved with these on a daily basis.

In an uncertain situation, someone who struggles tolerating the uncertainty of life will worry excessively and will ask more “what if…” type questions. This kind of questioning makes it much easier to see potential negative aspects of the situation, however unlikely they may be, which therefore leads to worry.

Those intolerant of uncertainty often misjudge the probability of a negative event occurring. They have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood that a negative event will happen and overestimate how awful the consequences that may result from the situation. The recent snowy days helps me to illustrate an example. A person may imagine that they will be in a car accident every time snow falls and they predict the car will skid, overturn, burst into flames and everyone will die. A more realistic view might be that whilst there are increased accidents in snowy weather, it rarely happens to any one person and it could well result in a minor bump or skidding onto the hard shoulder without injury.

The initial response when faced with uncertainty might be to try and eliminate or avoid it. For example, responses such as asking others for reassurance, thinking about things repeatedly, making lists and over-informing yourself with information are all ways of trying to increase your certainty. Often, behaviours such as avoidance of certain activities are common too. Do these steps taken to feel more certain turn out to be an effective way to worry less? The answer to this question is no. Any relief is very short lived, worries quickly return and further ways to reassure yourself are sought.Those with chronic worry often waste considerable time and energy in futile and repetitive attempts to find a “perfect solution” that sadly doesn't exist.

In summary, trying to increase your certainty only serves to decrease your tolerance of the unknown and increases your worry. It is therefore important to correct problems of worry by increasing a person's ability to tolerate uncertainty.

Take the time to identify your own reactions toward uncertainty. Once you have identified your reactions, you will be ready to practice tolerating uncertainty by gradually exposing yourself to uncertainty. You should act as though you are already tolerant of uncertainty or as someone you know would act. You may feel slightly anxious about this as you are not yet used to tolerating uncertainty but it is entirely normal to feel this way when starting a new behaviour and that this anxiety will gradually disappear. The more you do this, the more motivated you will be to continue.

We have only one certainty in life, none of us are getting out of here alive. So let's learn to tolerate the unknown a bit more so instead of wasting time in our heads predicting the worst we can make the very best of whatever time we have here on earth.

'Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase' - Martin Luther Kind Jr.


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