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Accepting Uncertainty: What can we do?

The inability to tolerate uncertainty is an attitude many people have towards life.

When one has this attitude, uncertainty, unpredictability, and doubt are seen as awful and unbearable experiences that must be avoided at all costs.

If you hate uncertainty, then you may perceive worrying to be useful to you. You may think that worrying is a way of preparing yourself for the worst – getting you ready for anything that might happen. Worrying might be seen as a way of attempting to predict life so that there are no nasty surprises. As such, worrying reduces your experience of uncertainty and unpredictability. And because worrying reduces your feelings of uncertainty, you will continue worrying and worrying and worrying. In other words, worrying helps you believe that you have more control and certainty in life.

In reality, has your worrying made anythingmore certain or more predictable?

Does worrying really change the outcome of what will happen?

Unfortunately, life is still as uncertain and unpredictable as it ever was, it is only your perception that you somehow have more control that has changed. But is this really true? In fact, all you have done is think of all the worst case scenarios, worked yourself up, made yourself feel really bad in the process and often paralysed yourself from taking any action.

So, ask yourself, is worrying about uncertainty really worth it? Maybe it is time to consider a different way?

There are two main strategies for learning how to accept uncertainty and thus reduce worry.

1. Challenging Intolerance of Uncertainy

Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses. See if you can come to an understanding of the disadvantages and problems of being intolerant of uncertainty.

• Is it possible to be certain about everything in life?

• What are the advantages of requiring certainty, versus the disadvantages? Or, how is needing certainty in life helpful and unhelpful?

• Do you tend to predict bad things will happen just because they are uncertain? Is this a reasonable thing to do? What is the likelihood of positive or neutral outcomes?

• How likely is it that things you predict will happen? Is it possible to live with the small chance that something negative may happen, given its likelihood is very low?

• Can you live with some of the uncertainties of life? How do you do this? And can you do this in other situations you find diffiult?

• Ask a friend how they cope with uncertainty, see if you can learn a few tips from them?

Acceptance and Mindfulness

When you are intolerant of uncertainty, your mind tends to be focused on the future. An antidote to this style of thinking is to practice becoming more present focused and accepting of your current experience. That is, more mindful. The steps to being more accepting and mindful are explained in the infosheets What is Mindfulness? and

Mindfulness & Letting Go. Three basic steps to follow are:

Being aware of what you are currently thinking and what you are feeling in your body. Use the feeling of your breath to remain present.What are you noticing when you are needing certainty?

• Acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, maybe saying “ah, so that's how it is”.

Letting go of the need for a quick fix, by saying something to help you let go of the need for certainty. Maybe “its only a need for certainty thought, just let it go”.

Being Non-judgmental, by bringing a gentle curiosity to the thoughts that drift by without judging them or trying to change them. Then return your focus to the here and now of your experience. Focus your attention fully on sounds around your or sensations in the body, or your breath, or the task at hand.

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