How To manage uncertainty

It’s been difficult for many of us over the last year. So many changes here in the UK. At times it felt like change was the new normal, in fact, change was the constant. As restrictions are lifted there are more shifting sands, because there’s yet more uncertainty with the delta variant on the increase.

To live with things when they feel uncertain, uncomfortable or when life is not going according to plan can be very unsettling and anxiety provoking. Sometimes we can feel a strong frustration or have a niggling feeling that something isn’t right, but we just can’t put our finger on it. The ability to wait until things become clearer can be difficult and feel downright impossible at times.

In psychoanalytic terms this period of instability and indecision is called the ‘not-knowing’ stance.  When we are in the ‘not-knowing’ we yearn for an answer, for something to shift so that we can move on to whatever is next. This includes so many situations:

  • maybe we are waiting to visit loved ones we haven’t seen for months
  • for a job application to come to fruition
  • to finally have a date with someone we’ve been communicating with for ages
  • to work out where and how to have a much-needed holiday

So how do we manage being in this really difficult ‘not-knowing’ phase?

Well, we can go on autopilot and manage it the way we usually do:

  • carry on as normal and avoid it
  • continue as we are and wait for change to happen
  • compare ourselves to others and feel resentful
  • make a knee jerk decision immediately, which will end this uncomfortable period and take us into the next
  • feel frustrated and bitter and concentrate on the negativity of our situation

Or we can do something different…

We can try not to judge the situation we are in. Just accept it for what it is. We are where we are. Then we can figure out something to do about it if that’s possible.

We can actively resist the autopilot response we may have internalised over the years. So, when we catch ourselves behaving in our usual unhealthy patterns, for example in a critical or resentful way, we need to stop ourselves and think of a more useful behaviour that we can choose instead.

We can recognise the situation we are in and remain open minded. Taking time to make ourselves fully aware of our situation and what is going on is the starting point. Then we can consider it thoughtfully, looking at it from all angles and preferably with someone else for an objective point of view.

Then we may be able to work out what is causing the situation which will help us think of a course of action we can take.

The upheavals of the last year have brought up many issues which were previously buried, in: relationships, values, job satisfaction and our living environment. It will be good if we can give ourselves the time to stick with the unsatisfying situation whilst we explore these issues in greater depth rather than make knee jerk decisions about them.

Sitting in the ‘not-knowing’ can be challenging. We live in a society which is very immediate. Technology and social media have increased our expectancy of things happening instantaneously. People expect answers immediately and cannot wait for responses. This makes delayed gratification harder to wait for. So being in a situation which isn’t clear or is confusing becomes increasingly difficult to bear.

Unfortunately, our current state of being is uncertain. Globally we are in a state of flux, and this filters down through governments, organisations, schools, businesses and families. Holding onto the fact that we are all in the same boat and it’s perfectly normal and ok to be anxious about experiencing the not knowing can help.

If we are able to hang on and stick with being in this not-knowing state, we can benefit from:

  • becoming more comfortable with ambiguity
  • trusting our intuition
  • being open to new ideas and outcomes

Knowing that we are in a difficult place allows us to make the most of it.  As John Lennon sang:

 “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”


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