How to Cope in Times of Uncertainty: 6 Steps to Change

Never before have many of us known such uncertainty about tomorrow – let alone the year ahead (unless you are someone who has stared death in the face such as someone with a terminal diagnosis or life changing accident).

Right now you may feel uncertain about the future. Perhaps you generally feel drained by the situation that is defining 2020, your clothes are too tight, you hate your job but feel like you have no choice but to carry on, or perhaps you’re on furlough and worried about getting laid off. You have work to get through, chores to get done, kids mithering for a snack, you’re constantly monitoring the news and social media HOPING for some good news and you feel totally and completely overwhelmed. Maybe emotions you are feeling are overwhelm, anxiety, frustration, anger, resentment or maybe even fear ( if so check out my blog to Transform Fear in to Personal Power)

If one things for sure – 2020 is The Year of Anything Can Happen aka The Year of Uncertainty.

How Much Can We Take?

I once heard someone say the quality of your life depends upon how much uncertainty you can handle.

Uncertainty happens when what feels normal, certain, usual – is disrupted – and replaced by a situation where you don’t know what will happen or how you will be able to cope, because the very nature of the situation is unfamiliar to you.

I had my first real taste of this when I became a mum! Then again when I realised one of our children had autism. I went from having a vision in my head of what I thought my future would look like to total and utter overwhelm and uncertainty because it was all new and familiar. Now, 6 years on, being a mum is totally the norm and autism is something we embrace and learn from. It’s been a gift for us.

The fact is, in life, change comes. Whether it’s welcome, wanted or not. Ironically, the only certain in life, is change.

Certainty on the other hand is the emotion that makes us feel ‘safe’ to proceed with action. To crack on. Feelings that you are safe, secure, confident, assured, prepared, familiar, in control happen when you are certain. Not a huge amount of this flying around at the moment.

However the good thing is, we can influence our feelings. Most people think feelings just happen – and they do (to an extent). But we absolutely have control to redirect and change them, by being able to control our focus, our thoughts and attention; in addition to how we use our body (to change our state via exercise).

We need a variety of emotions to experience the richness of life. You can’t be just happy or sad all the time. That’s not being human. But it becomes a problem when the majority of you time is spent feeling negative emotions that are stopping you from taking the action you need to, in order to live a more fulfilled existence.

1. Create Choices not Dilemmas

Change is like the ocean. Sometimes calm and slow, sometimes rapid, violent or fast. The waves always keep coming though. So the decision is not how you try to control external change. That’s like trying to stop waves. Impossible.

There’s a common saying ‘sink or swim’ but I always like to consider more that two options. Two options poses a dilemma. More than two options give you a choice.

The choices are instead, you turn your back on the waves and pretend you can’t see them (but you’ve heard the saying never turn your back on the tide?). You let the tide wash over you and surrender to the result. You try to swim – you can swim with the current or against it. Or you learn how to surf or maybe even better, go full on ‘Noah’ and build an arc. The key to dealing with uncertainty is finding as many options as you can to move forward towards your vision IN SPITE of the uncertainty that surrounds you.

It’s always far easier to look the other way, or distract yourself, hoping events will unfold in a way you want them to. But while that certainly requires much less effort i.e. turning your back to the tide; it puts you in a very disempowering stance and means you don’t make vital decisions about the outcome you want in your own life.

Its safe to say 2020 has pushed many if our limits in terms of uncertainty in ways we could have never imagined.

The key to dealing with uncertainty is stepping back from the situation, analysing it, getting perspective and understanding your options – rather than being an its mercy. When you understand something, and therefore understand your options, you have the power to make a better choice. 

2. Get Perspective ~ Step Outside Yourself

I’m going to keep this simple.

Often in life we analyse situations through one perspective only – our own. Sometimes it can be really beneficial to look at things from someone else’s perspective in order to understand your own position from a more detached and objective place.

When I am feeling stressed, overwhelmed and very uncertain I have found that actually turning my focus outwards to other people, instead of feeling sorry for myself, really helps me to appreciate my position more.

So, in this instance, I will make a recommendation for one of the most inspirational books I have ever come across by a beautiful guy called Henry Fraser, The Little Big Things.

If I’m having a bad day, and feeling uncertain, I think of Henry every time and ask myself ‘what would Henry do?’

It’s definitely worth a read. It may just change your perspective.

3. Vision ~ Know What You Want.

Take learning to drive a car.

The first time anyone does it, they are completely uncertain. It’s new, it’s daunting, and you have no idea what you are doing. After a while it becomes very ‘normal’ but it’s one of those things that can feel daunting.

Imagine three scenarios for one woman.

Anne has always been terrified of driving a car. She is married with two young kids.

Scenario 1. Anne doesn’t want to learn to drive because of her fear, so she has chosen to live in a town within walking distance of her job (which she took only because it was local), kid’s school (which she hates, but chose only because it was within walking distance) and the shops. Anne makes most decisions in a way that ensures she never has to face the fear of learning to drive. Her husband drives at the weekend when they take the kids out and about, and also works locally so if they ever needed a car in an emergency, she can call him at work. The fear of driving is so great she has made ‘certain’ that she can have what she wants without having to step outside of her comfort zone. BUT she is terrified that if her husband ever left her he would take her ability to take the kids out and about – with him. Anne is worried that her kids won’t get the education they need and hates getting up every morning to face her job. She is all the time focussing her energy on avoiding making any decisions that might put her outside her comfort zone, but this isn’t making her happy. She’s being carried along by the tide.

Scenario 2. Anne hates her job. It makes her miserable and her boss bullies her. BUT it is in walking distance. She has seen another job she would love, and keeps re-reading the job description over and over again. She’s the perfect candidate – but she needs a driving license and car for the position. The job would give them more money as a family and IF she did learn to drive it would certainly give her a bit more independence and freedom and the chance to do after school clubs with the kids. However she can’t be certain that they new job would make her happy. It would be a risk, and on top of the fear she faces of driving, it’s not enough to move her to action. She is swimming against the current, knowing things aren’t working, but refusing to change direction.

Scenario 3. Anne has spent a lot of time figuring out why she feels so unfulfilled and worked out what she wants from life in terms of her daily life, the emotions she wants to feel daily, her career, dreams, how she wants to be as a mum – she has defined who she wants to be and what she wants from her life. In doing this work, she figured out her dream career and that oddly, she always had a supressed dream of driving the Great Ocean Road in a convertible Thelma and Louise style. This work on herself has led Anne to now associate driving as freedom, choice and adventure. Now she’s planning the designs for a boat.

Which Anne is more likely to walk through the fear and learn to drive?

In life you need the carrot and the stick. Taking action is all about push and pull motivation, and comes down to two questions to focus on when you are in a position of uncertainty.

  • What will it cost you if you DON’T take action or change?
  • What will you gain if you DO take action?

But this only works if you know what you want in the first place. If you live life moment to moment, being carried along by the tide, happy to drift and accept whatever comes your way, then you might have a tough time dealing with a storm, and find yourself lost and adrift.

Oppositely if you are a person who knows the direction they wish to go, you have the vision and motivation to plan your journey, and build the boat! IN SPITE OF uncertainty and fear.

4. Acceptance ~ The Only Certain in Life, is Change.

People believe the opposite of uncertainty is certainty.  But that’s not true.  When it comes to life the opposite of uncertainty is PRESENCE.

Because the only certain thing is THIS MOMENT.  Now.  

Ironically as much as you need to think about what you want in future, the key to dealing with uncertainty is also learning to appreciate what you have in the present moment.

Presence is something I have been working on (and am still working on!) since the age of 14 when I discovered meditation through Jack Black’s Mindstore. I still use his Mindstore app to this day.

Being present or some call it ‘mindfulness’ involves being fully present and aware of the current moment. I take time to do this every evening as it does not come naturally to me at all! I try to start my day with it too (although I often find a child gets up disturbing my process! Must try harder!)

 When our attention is focussed on the present, there is less room for the mind to wander, worry, catastrophise or procrastinate. Meditation helps you to breathe more intentionally and that has so many benefits on the body when it comes to improving immunity, health and stress levels – this alone is the single most important thing you can do during time of uncertainty. Breathe and just be.

Read what happened to me when I just let go of control and learned to just be.

If you would like to know more about meditation, there are lots of programmes and experts out there, but my favourites are Jack Black, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle.

Make meditation part of your daily routine. As part of this make time for gratitude. It’s far too easy to catastrophise when life feels uncertain. But focussing on the present moment, and literally saying ‘thank you’ for all the people and wonderful things you have in your life, like enough food to eat, a comfortable bed to sleep in – really helps you to realise just how lucky you are.

I would highly recommend watching The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I can honestly say, it changed my life.

Meditation, mindfulness and gratitude practices help to put you in a more productive state.

And when you are in a more productive state (as opposed to stressed out, drained or worried) AND you know what you want, you are highly likely to take some productive, satisfying action as a result.

5. Focus ~ Get Out of Overwhelm

You feel uncertain about the future, drained, overwhelmed, worried, anxious and depressed.

So much so, that even when you have a moment to take a breath and relax, you end up obsessing over how best to use that time (and then ironically get nothing done, because you haven’t been able to make an effective decision on what to do with your limited time!)

Then you feel angry, frustrated, guilty, annoyed and quite frankly furious with yourself for being so ineffective and pathetic!

Then you go back to depression, low mood, low energy. It’s a vicious circle. But much of it comes from asking the wrong question. The worst question you can ask yourself when you are feeling like this is ‘what should I DO?’

That just creates more overwhelm. Plus you either don’t know the answer OR you know the answer, but you can’t be arsed or are scared of doing the thing you know you need to do. Arrgh more overwhelm.

So, rather than asking what do I do?

Ask who do I want to be?

Nicola Fulstow, The Best Self Project

Just switching that question is very powerful.

Design your life around this question – who do I want to be?  It’s such a powerful question when compared with ‘what do I do?’

I’m all about results – I set my mind to something and usually find a way if it’s important to me, but achieving goals are fleeting.  They feel good momentarily and then it wears off.  But if your purpose is driven by the type of person who you want to live your life as, you savour your life more, and make better decisions.

The truth is, the more you define who you want to be, the less you are affected by what other people think of you.

Asking who do I want to be, creates your true North that you can always come home to, no matter what’s happening around you.

Nicola Fulstow, The Best Self Project

And that is a seriously empowering position when it comes to making the right decisions for you in times of uncertainty.

6. Plan ~ Invest in Yourself

 I don’t mean a shopping spree here, although that’s definitely a lot of feel good fun once in a while!  I’m talking about designing your week in a way that allows you to grow in to the person you want to be.

If you’re anything like me, on a Sunday you are faced with a meal plan and food shop for the week, uniforms, homework, bags, packed lunches, appointments, meetings, work for clients or the team, incoming emails, family and friends I want to connect with, workout sessions to plan … sound familiar?

But as much as I note all these things I have to plan, the first things I plan are my own workouts and nutrition, and lately I also plan the time to write a blog as well, as it feels very important to me right now.  

These things create my foundation – energy and vitality. To be the type of mum, wife, daughter, sister, friend, writer, neighbour and member of community I want to be; I need energy.   So I plan to make that happen above all else.

Sometimes the plan goes wrong (often actually!) as I have a lot of plates to juggle, but I try and go with the flow and come up with Plan B, C etc, and my focus is always to get energy. For example if I miss a training session or bootcamp for reasons beyond my control, I don’t get angry anymore ( I used to!). Instead I focus on what I CAN DO – I get my kit ready for the following morning, get a workout ready to go, and set my alarm for 5am. 

Sometimes I even decide to take a day off work and hang with the kids, miss a workout, or splurge on a pizza, or an early night – because I feel like my energy needs it. Sometimes you need different things at different times of the month (if you are anything like me!) That’s ok.

This is the beauty of truly understanding where you want to go, who you want to be and what you need to get there. You give yourself permission to live life on your terms no matter what uncertainty surrounds you.

If you are feeling like you need help at the moment, and would like to get un-lost and find direction, get out of overwhelm and live a more fulfilling life – essentially you get your mojo back, contact me on 07787 821124 or Contact me here for a free 1 hour discovery phone consultation.

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