Rather than trying to mitigate the discomfort of unknowing, what if we focus on the areas of our life we can control?
Many of us struggle with ambiguity. It’s human nature to yearn for security and safety, but when faced with uncertain circumstances, we feel anything but secure.
During the past several months, one certainty prevails: we’re not really sure about what tomorrow will bring. In January, could any of us have predicted that we’d be working from home in two months? Or that social distancing would become the norm? Did we ever suspect we’d know so much about Coronavirus?
When the news is deeply concerning and we’re receiving mixed messages from all sides, it can be confusing and disorienting. It may leave us with the sense that we’re untethered and don’t have control over our lives.
If we feel powerless or out-of-control, the good news is we’re never truly powerless. We always have the ability to do work and to have an influence on others. We might face new circumstances and unfamiliar situations, but we still have power over how we choose to react.
When we were children, most of us hated when mom or dad would answer a request with, “We’ll see.” Sometimes, the idea of “we’ll see” feels worse than a flat-out no. Most of us probably pushed the point at least a few times to force a negative answer rather than waiting in limbo.
Even as adults, the idea of “wait and see” is tough. We’ve become accustomed to instant answers. If we don’t know something, we can simply Google it and find the information. We don’t have to wait weeks for purchases when we shop online because we have Amazon Prime. We don’t need to wait a week for the next show in a series because we can simply stream it on Netflix. All of this instant gratification is the antidote to “wait and see.”
The discomfort of ambiguity comes from our longing to predict and reach conclusions. Humans are acutely aware of their circumstances. We imagine and anticipate constantly. We play out entire scenarios before they happen (sometimes resulting in our own self-fulfilling prophecies coming true).
We tell ourselves people at work aren’t going to listen to us, so we walk into a meeting with our defenses up in full force. We imagine that a new connection won’t want to go on a date, so we don’t ask or we approach the question sheepishly. When it doesn’t happen, we think our prophecy came true, proving how right we were about our mistaken beliefs.
Prediction isn’t always helpful, but it gives us a sense of control over our circumstances. Our brains are predictive organs. We’re assessing new situations and assuming what will happen next.
But right now, we’re in very unpredictable times. We’ve never been in a global pandemic
So, how do we deal before? Much of the information headed our way is new and hard to interpret. We don’t have any idea what tomorrow will bring. Experts can’t even predict how the outbreak will resolve or turn out.
Neuroscience tells us our brains make up predictions to deal with unfamiliar situations. We’re seeking answers because they give us a sense of security and control, but unfortunately, right now, there are no clear answers to be had.
When we can’t predict the next scenario, it’s uncomfortable. When we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, it’s unsettling.
We must recognize that just because we’re uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean something is wrong. It might be upsetting, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become paralyzed by uncertainty.
So when we think, “I don’t know what’s happening.” Remind ourselves that it’s okay. No matter what comes our way, we can handle it. Set your intention to get through and not just survive but to thrive. We’ve handled every moment in our lives up to this point, and we will continue to move forward.
With our students at Wright Graduate University, we talk about the concept of self-efficacy.
It’s not about erasing our feelings or beating ourselves up for feeling scared or uncertain. Fear is a perfectly normal, healthy emotion that we all experience. There’s nothing wrong with our fear, but we should remind ourselves that we don’t need to let the fear of the unknown prevent us from going forward.
There’s no reason to crumble in the face of fear. Allow yourself to feel it, acknowledge it (as we like to say, “name it to tame it”), and then continue. Yes, we may feel scared, but we can keep going.
Unless we’re directly involved in frontline work, there’s likely not much we can do about the Coronavirus outbreak. Rather than focusing on questions about when we’ll get a vaccine or worries about the numbers and spread of the virus, we can focus on the areas of our lives we can control.
For example, if your job situation feels uncertain, focus on the ways you can build your resume right now. There are plenty of classes you could take (explore Wright Now for some courses to help you make the next step on your career path). You can reach out to friends and professional connections. Ask a friend to do a mock interview over Zoom and give you pointers.
Similarly, if you’re feeling disconnected socially, consider the ways you can still connect with others. Send a friend a letter or card. Start a group where you share what you’re reading, watching, or listening to right now. Participate in a Podcast exchange and discussion. Hold a virtual dinner party or happy hour over Facetime.
If you’re unsure about getting outside and staying safe, consider spending time in your yard or your balcony. Take a nature walk in a peaceful area or go for a drive.
Whatever we decide to do right now may require a safe, cautious approach. Rather than focusing on the unknowns and restrictions, focus on the actions we can still take. There’s no risk in dancing, listening to music, gardening in the yard, or learning something new. We are never powerless.
When we’re struggling to find our sense of self-efficacy, it may be helpful to review all the times we’ve faced challenges in the past and made it through. We may perceive our scars and traumas as painful wounds, but we can also examine them as powerful lessons.
When we feel like the headlines on the news and the comments are social media are too much to bear, we can find ways to distance ourselves. Stay informed, but don’t bombard yourself with all the stress and terror that you can’t control. Instead, focus on the lessons you can extract.
We can work to become more comfortable with not knowing. We can’t predict the future because we don’t know what’s to come. That’s true any time, not just during a virus outbreak. The unknown doesn’t mean something’s wrong. It means we have to focus on drawing our security from our sense of being rather than our sense of knowing.
In many ways, the gift of Coronavirus has been a chance to step back, to “fast” from our regular lives and activities. Many of us have longed to pause, but never felt like circumstances were right. Now we’re able to take a break and just “be.”
As we move forward, we’ll look at rebuilding. We’ll sort through what really matters and emerge with newfound priorities and purpose. We’ll design our lives so we don’t just go back to what we were doing before—so we can emerge as something even better.
Dealing with the ambiguity of Coronavirus may seem like a lot to process right now, but we can realize that life is often ambiguous. Instead of focusing on the areas we can’t predict or control, let’s focus on how to become the best version of ourselves.