“Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” ~Bob Goff
Let me tell you something important. It’s a rule of life, a law of nature if you will. This law is not only a psychological truth, but it’s also biological, chemical, cultural, maybe even metaphysical
What I’m about to say is not comfortable, but it’s necessary. People who truly understand this principle are resilient and adaptive. Those of us who choose to reject or ignore it become rigid and fearful—and you deserve to be resilient.
The principle is this: uncertainty is inevitable.
You know this already, I’m sure. But you might not have accepted it.
I have learned this fact the hard way. No matter how stable and in control I may have felt throughout my life, I have never once been certain of the next moment.
See, we all have vague ideas about the future, but they are never certain predictions. I’ve never predicted the moment I would contract an illness, nor the moment a loved one would pass on, nor even the next thought that would pop into my head.
I have lived through mental health issues and chronic pain issues, and by embracing the uncertainty I’ve become more resilient and loving. I didn’t predict that. I’ve also had to continue facing challenging emotions I thought I’d long since left behind. I didn’t predict that.
Somewhere along the way, despite a story that I could no longer keep working with my persistent pain, I managed to continue to work and get a master’s degree in neuroscience. Didn’t manage to predict that either.
Wind back the clock five years or so and the uncertainty used to stress me out, and at times it was crippling. Not so much anymore, fortunately. Now the only thing I truly expect is that my expectations are inaccurate.
I guess you might call it developing resilience, but resilience is somewhat of a buzz word, and it wasn’t as interesting as that. It was simply that in time I slowly, clumsily, came to a healthier understanding of the way my mind worked.
At the core of this understanding was a new perspective; I saw that uncertainty in itself didn’t cause me stress, it was my response to it. My need for control. My incessant attempt to box reality into the stories in my mind.
Take, for example a football player who has a story that he is an athlete. Nothing more, nothing less. If he breaks a leg and can no longer play, he hasn’t just broken a bone, he’s shattered his identity.
Right now, millions of us have had our identities challenged by changes to our lifestyle. Without an adaptive story that can respond to the moment, we face the same stresses and anxieties that I had for many years.
So how do we challenge our anxieties about the future? We create new stories that help us develop resilience and ride the wave of uncertainty.
These stories will come in the form of affirmations. You can repeat them every day—and act of them—until they become beliefs that you carry into all areas of your life.
It’s important to note that these affirmations I’m about to share with you are tools to experiment with. Treat them like a set of clothes that you might use for different activities. Don’t be scared to let go of old ideas when they no longer serve you.
An anxious monkey mind will try to wear a swimsuit to bed and a tuxedo to shower. A resilient mind is willing to get dressed for the occasion, every day of the week.
Remember that any fears or anxieties you have around the coronavirus are entirely justified, particularly if you or your loved ones are sick, stressed, or dealing with significant life changes.
Your intention to become more resilient in the face of uncertainty is noble, because you’re not only helping yourself stay calm, you’re helping those around you. You may not win any awards or receive accolades, but you can (and should) still be proud of yourself.
Here are 5 Affirmations to Find Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty
1. I am approaching each day with childlike curiosity.
Because children are more of a clean slate than adults, they don’t have as many rigid ideas about how the world should be. This means they are ideally positioned to deal with uncertainty. They take each moment as it comes, staying open to whatever the days ahead might bring. And instead of dwelling on the worst that could happen, they make the best of what happens.
We can embody this childlike curiosity and use it to our advantage. When we approach both comfort and discomfort with an open-minded voice in our head that says, “That’s interesting, what’s going to happen next?” we don’t get stuck in chasing the stories of our unmet preferences about what should be happening.
2. I have confidence/faith in something greater than my momentary fears.
We fear uncertainty because our brains think that certainty keeps us safe. What we often fail to recognize is that we’ve been responding to the uncertainty of the next moment our entire lives. Most of the time we just haven’t noticed it.
You didn’t wake yourself up this morning, nor did tell your heart to beat all day yesterday, and if a car suddenly speeds toward you, you don’t tell your body to jump out of the way. There’s a biological, cultural, and social intelligence that helps us meet all challenges (and that includes the intelligence to read this article!). It’s going to keep helping us move through life and respond to challenges whether we resist it or not.
3. Stillness is my therapy.
Silence is an acquired taste. At first, all this stillness can be overwhelming. But over time our minds resonate with the environment, so the more we slow down the calmer we become, and the more we appreciate the slowing down.
A busy mind has thousands of unnecessary thoughts a day, and this drains vital energy that our brains could be using for other things. A tired mind is more likely to fall victim to cognitive distortions—things we think that aren’t actually true. Intuitively we know this because when we’re exhausted, we tend to lose our temper, show less compassion, and think and say things we don’t really mean.
When we are able to spend more time resting in silence, balancing our nervous system so we’re not stuck in fight-or-flight mode, that’s when we can most effectively respond to life’s challenges.
4. My goals are always flexible.
Goal setting is a huge industry. It’s also an attitude that we teach our kids from a very young age. This isn’t without good reason; goalsetting works because it gives us structure and direction, which helps to keep our minds focused and motivated by future rewards.
However, the point of goals is to help guide you toward something that is desirable in relation to your environment and circumstances. If either you or your environment or circumstances change, the goal should be able to change too!
Right now, the global situation has shifted dramatically, so don’t torture yourself by trying to meet the same goals you had before this pandemic broke out.
This might mean setting new goals that make sense within our current reality, based on what you reasonably accomplish given your limitations and mental state. Or it might mean setting no goals at all and simply living in the moment in this surreal pause from life as we knew it.
5. I am not my thoughts.
You’re probably tired of hearing this one, but it remains true and relevant, nonetheless. If you’ve noticed an increase in your anxious thoughts in response to changes in your work situation or the obsessive media coverage, it’s an invitation to keep recognizing that these thoughts are a response to the environment. Thousands of thoughts come up every day, but if we can reduce the energy and attention we give them, they won’t stick around for as long.
How have you managed to deal with the uncertainty over COVID-19? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!
About Benjamin Fishel
Benjamin Fishel is an author, trainee-therapist, and the creator of the popular blog Project Monkey Mind. He holds an MSc. in Applied Neuroscience and is on a mission to help people use personalised meditations to improve their mental health. To learn how to calm your mind (once and for all!) using brain science and spirituality, follow him on Facebook and grab his FREE cheatsheet 7 Psychological Hacks for Depression & Anxiety (in 5 minutes or less).
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