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

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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.