Living with uncertainty

Liggy Webb continues her series on resilience with help on managing uncertainty

“I don’t know where I am going, but I promise it won’t be boring”, David Bowie

In this complex and changing world it seems that we have to deal with an increasing amount of ambiguity and uncertainty. With all the added complexity that change brings, it can be challenging to navigate some of the many decisions that we are faced with on a daily basis.

You could say that if life was predictable it would be quite dull and boring, however, there are times that I am sure we would all prefer the safety net of predictability. The reality, though, is that we cannot always choose what happens to us and you never really know what is around the corner. The best part of being human is that we can choose how we respond.

Uncertainty can create stress. Feeling in control of your life is empowering. It is our attitude that we control, however, not our life circumstances.

Economic volatility means that it is unrealistic to imagine that jobs are for life and illness can strike at any time to even those who live perfectly healthy lifestyles. You can also be affected by circumstances that occur in the lives of those around you. Even with the best-laid plans in the world your life’s direction can change in a nanosecond.

Dealing with uncertainty is the new business imperative and your ability to manage this positively and constructively is becoming an increasingly important skill in the workplace. This is because uncertainty can create stress it is also important for your own well being to create strategies to help you cope.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you.

Manage your inner control freak

Let’s face it we all like to be in control, however, in some situations we have to put our trust in others hands. For example, if we found out that we were going to be made redundant or we were diagnosed with an illness we would need to accept that we could not just wave a magic wand and make the situation go away. In this situation it may be that we have to focus on the trees rather than the forest and think of the little things we can do to make life easier rather than obsessing about the bigger picture and overwhelming ourselves.  We put our bodies under immense stress if we focus on things we simply cannot control and it is a fruitless exercise.

Let go of the complete picture

Sometimes in life we simply cannot have all the information straight away. In an uncertain world you will never have all the information you need for absolute certainty. Sometimes all you can do is make the best decision based on the knowledge available to you at the time.

Make a decision

Decision-making on occasions can be an agonising process, especially if you have a very analytical mind and you feel that you do not have all the information you need. Ambiguity on some occasions may mean that you do not necessarily make the right decision. However do noy let that put you off, sometimes even a wrong decision is better than no decision, and besides, a mistake sometimes is simply a learning opportunity in disguise.

Be agile

Agility is all about your ability to be flexible and adapt as more information comes to light. Keeping an open mind and fine-tuning the course you are following, just like a precision guided missile, can help you to be more accurate in reaching a more successful destination.

Be confident in yourself

Part of dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty is having the confidence in being able to handle what you can’t control. Confident people will take a positive stand, listen to others, ask for help and are not afraid to be wrong sometimes. They also avoid putting others down and own their own mistakes. Having these qualities will help you to adapt and respond more successfully.

Avoid crystal ball gazing

Sometimes a fertile imagination can be our own worst enemy and we can get lost in our own feelings. If we are not careful we take out the imaginary crystal ball and foresee catastrophe. We then indulge ourselves in a whole raft of ‘what ifs.’ Speculation leads to feelings and feelings lead to more speculation and then we become lost in an overwhelming whirlpool of fear. Sometimes you need to be able to detach yourself from your situation and consciously observe your emotions and reactions and gently guide yourself into a calmer space. You cannot possibly predict the future; you can however feel less anxious by fostering positive thoughts about the possibilities.

Learn stress reduction techniques

When you are dealing with ambiguity you are bound to feel a level of stress. Over time the body’s stress levels affect blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle tension, cholesterol levels, breathing rate and every organ in the body. It is really important to research ways to relieve stress during times of uncertainty.

Practise mindfulness

When you are obsessing about tomorrow you are too busy judging what has not happened to fully experience what is happening right now. Appreciating the beauty and magic of the here and now you will release you from being trapped in a fear driven thought cycle. The practice of mindfulness, which is about being present and fully experiencing the moment, is very powerful. I can certainly say first-hand it is possibly the most effective technique when it comes to dealing with uncertainty.

In summary

With so much change in the world, learning to cope with uncertainty is an excellent life skill to cultivate. It is also worth bearing this in mind…

“Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating”, Carl von Clausewitz


About the author

Liggy Webb is an author, presenter and managing director at The Learning Architect. You can follow Liggy @liggyw, email or visit



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