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Living with Uncertainty

We all experience uncertainty from time to time. When making decisions, it's not uncommon to lack some crucial bits of information, or not to have control over various factors affecting their outcomes. This uncertainty may even lead to a feeling of having no control over the future. This may cause worrying and feelings of stress or anxiety. We may be so worried about what’s coming that our emotions and thoughts prevent us from pursuing the things that matter to us.

Let's say you had the chance to apply for a new, interesting position at work. This would be an important opportunity careerwise, but at the same time, it might bring up unpleasant thoughts like “What if I am not capable enough?” or “What if I fail in this position?” With thoughts like these, it can be more difficult to send the application. Giving uncertainty power over us can be a major problem if we do it often or during important moments in our lives. By doing so, unpleasant feelings make vital decisions on our behalf.

As psychologist Miila Paldanius wrote in the inaugural Aatos blog post, it is impossible to have control over everything. Despite our best efforts, something can always go wrong, or the outcome may end up being something we didn’t aim for.  If you wait for your feelings to make meaningful decisions for you, you'll likely be waiting for quite some time. So, instead of trying to control all the unpleasant feelings and worries, we can try to live with them. You can picture your worries as annoying neighbours. You can’t get rid of them, but you can find a way to live next to them. It’s not always easy, and the neighbours might really get on your nerves from time to time.

The first trick is to acknowledge that they are not going anywhere and neither are you. The same goes with our worries. If there is uncertainty, usually you’ll find worries. The next step is to just observe these thoughts and emotions without letting them affect our actions. How would this work in practice?

In situations where uncertainty, anxiety, or stress creep into your mind and take your energy away from the things that matter, pause for a moment. To do this, you can use the mindfulness exercise below. In mindfulness exercises, we train ourselves to be in the present moment. When you start to ruminate about the future, it can help to bring your attention back to the present moment. Meanwhile, you give yourself a chance to make more meaningful choices by taking a slightly more objective stance regarding your thoughts and emotions.

Here's the exercise:

  1. Sit comfortably in your chair.
  2. After reading these instructions, close your eyes and take ten deep, slow breaths; exhale slowly, and then let the air gently flow back to your lungs.
  3. Notice how your belly rises and falls while you are breathing. Pause to do this for a while.
  4. Bring your attention to the air flow inside your nostrils. How does it feel?
  5. If your thoughts start to wander, note them, and then gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  6. Keep going a couple of minutes.

How did it feel? You may find yourself a bit more relaxed or focused. The next time you feel it’s hard to stay focused, you can use this exercise to redirect your attention back to the present and take a step away from your worries.

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