Dealing with uncertainty

We don’t like it… It’s uncomfortable, stressful, and it worries us. What is “it?”

Uncertainty

So much in our world is about planning, counting, making sure we know what is happening next. We like to think we can predict the future – either with sophisticated techniques, advanced statistics or psychic powers. But, honestly, have things often (ever?) turned out the way you thought they will? Personally, they haven’t for me. To be clear, I am not putting down any type of forecast or planning. As a former researcher in economics, this is actually what I spent most of my days doing. Trying to predict the future helps making lots of progress in our society and lives. However, there is a (few) shadow(s) to it: our hunger to know beforehand, our need for control, fear, and greed.

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As I grew up I wanted to study law, business or economics, mostly fantasizing about the promised security of getting a “good job” and social success. I graduated with two master degrees in business right during the subprime crisis and stayed unemployed for 7 months. I ended enrolling into a PhD program, which I would have never imagined. Seven years later, here I am: a fulfilled self-employed life & career coach and yoga teacher – something I could have imagined even less, and pretty far away from what I had planned.

Almost every day, we face all types of decisions and directions we need to make, from mundane to life-changing. In other words we constantly – and luckily in different degrees – face uncertainty. My intention with this post is to inspire and help you get more clarity when dealing with uncertain situations or big decisions.

We all need to make decisions, prioritize, and choose certain directions in disfavor of others. Yet we cannot know precisely what the outcome of our decisions will be – although we like fantasizing we can.

 

The illusion of being certain

When I want to know how things are going to be next, I easily drift off, imagining hypothetical situations that remain confined to what my little mind can imagine. Sometimes, I would also come up with some (arguably) logical reasons or theories about what to expect. Doing so, not only do I waste energy with inner dramas and unpredictable predictions, but I also distract myself from my own fear, eagerness to control, and my lack of trust that things are going to turn out just the way I exactly need them to be.

Recently, in a podcast I heard Andrew Harvey talked about how “hope” can get us stuck in stories about the future. It hit a string in me, because I like to “hope” positive things about the future. While remaining positive is undeniably useful, too much focus on hope takes us away from the present moment. Yet our experience in the present moment is the only thing we can be certain of. So let’s try to use the present moment experience to deal with uncertainty and get hints about the future 🙂

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Start close in

The truth is, although we might get some helpful advice, only ourselves can determine what the right next step is, because we are the person who knows ourselves best. But how do we determine what the right next step is? Poet David Whyte, whose works has brought creativity and soul to the workplace, writes:

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

 ~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems (extract)

 

Here come a few steps that I hope can guide you towards your next step.

  1. Slowing down
  2. Listening and attending
  3. Allowing fear and shame
  4. Opening up to our intuition

 

Slowing down

“Starting close in” implies slowing down. When slowing down, for instance following our breath for a few minutes, we become more attuned to the present moment, and gradually we can recognize that, naturally, we cannot know how things will turn out. Breathing in, “I am here”, breathing out, “I don’t know, and that’s OK.”

 

Listening and attending

After acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, we can start paying attention to what’s going on in our bodies: “listening” to our sensations, getting curious about our feelings… When slowing down and turning our attention inwards in that way, we naturally become more sensitive to signals from our “guts” – also commonly called “intuition”.

At first, we might want to interpret any signal: “I feel contraction in my stomach, so this must mean I should not go further with that project.” Instead, simply attend to whatever you notice. If you become aware of uncomfortable sensations, try to stay with them without the agenda to make them go or interpret them. Remember they are simple bodily sensations, no explicit or immediate danger, so nothing else than discomfort will happen. When we attend to uncomfortable sensations with no agenda, they naturally and rapidly subside.

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Allowing fear & shame

I have noticed that very often, as sensations of contraction or tension arise when I think of a particular decision I need to make, fear or shame is underneath (see also an earlier post on shame). Fear of failure, shame of being judged or criticized etc. is very common, not only for entrepreneurs but for anyone who undertakes any kind of project.

Instead of distracting ourselves, telling ourselves stories or finding logical arguments to reassure ourselves, we can choose to simply stay with the bodily sensations related to fear or shame. Shame and fear always arise for good reasons: At some point in our life (typically childhood), they aimed at protecting us and ensuring our safety. But such strategies are now limiting and not serving us anymore. This is where we need to do the work as responsible adults. As we become familiar with shame- and fear-related sensations, we can more easily recognize them, allow and accept them, so that eventually they dissipate and stop running our actions.

 

Opening up to our intuition

As we move from living a life where actions are based on fear or shame-avoidance to a life where decisions come from a resourced place, we naturally align with what we value the most: our life purpose, our mission, or/and a “happy” life.

Once we become able to recognize fear or shame-based thinking, it becomes easier to listen to our intuition or guts feeling. As I see it, intuition is not about envisioning or predicting the future. Rather, like animals sensing the rain or a predator before it comes, we are wired to perceive danger and react accordingly to survive.

On a less dramatic scale, our intuition allows us to “feel” what it is right for us; the next step in the most suitable direction. Slowing down, we begin to notice the signals from our own body as we bring a particular decision or issue to our mind. A crucial key here is to keep an open mind and a readiness to be surprised: We may not always like the information we get, and it might not make sense according to what our mind currently knows.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

 ~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems (extract)

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Practice… for clarity

It’s time to put all that into practice. Take about 10 min for yourself and retreat into a room where you cannot be disturbed, putting your devices away. Take a comfortable seat, preferably on a chair with your back supported.

  1. Slowing down: Close your eyes and begin to notice your breathing, the air coming in and out of your nose. Let your feet be heavy and rooted towards the floor. Relax your shoulders, let your chest be soft and open, and receive the support from the chair.
  2. Listening and attending: Bring a particular decision you need to make or a current unsolved issue to your mind. Stay connected to your body – feet, hips, belly, chest, and back. Begin to notice what sensations arise, where they arise, and their quality – tension, expansion, contraction, etc. Whatever you notice, breathe and stay with it.
  3. Allowing fear and shame: Take a moment to identify what thoughts, stories or pictures come up. Does anything related to fear (of failure, of missing out…) or shame (being ridiculed, disappointed others, etc.) arise? Take a few breaths to simply allow the sensations related to fear or shame. Imagining you can talk to the shame or fear, internally repeat to yourself: “I see you, you’re welcome here”.
  4. Opening up to our intuition: Now, try simply to ask your body for guidance about your first step with the particular question. Be willing to receive any sign – including no sign at all. Take a few minutes to let whatever signals, sensation, images, words or inner voices settle down and get as clear as possible. For clarity, rest your awareness onto anything that emerges, and follow it mindfully. Wait until you feel complete. Then open your eyes, and spend a few minutes writing notes about your experiences.

 

Your agency, in integrity

It is then up to you as to how and when (and if) you turn this intuitive hints into action. Use your own agency and determination, your choice of manifesting thoughts and decisions into reality, while respecting the values that are most important to you – i.e. staying in integrity.

 

I hope this post and suggestion of practice will help you in your journeys. Please feel free to leave a comment underneath, on the Facebook page or send me an email.

If you want to fine tune your ability to make the right decisions and get on track with your life direction, I will be more than happy to chat with you and see how HeartWise can help. Contact me here or visit heartwiseconsulting.com.

May you share your gifts and the person you truly are with the world.

SarahFresco_Cedric_Yoga2_highlunge

Cedric

Founder, HeartWise Co.

Heart-centered Coaching: heartwiseconsulting.com & Heart-centered Yoga: heartwiseyoga.com

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Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

 ~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems (extract)

 

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