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Accepting Uncertainty

In the early part of my career, I worked for a large YMCA association in North Carolina that was big on staff development. One of our properties was a large, gorgeous campground in the Appalachian Mountains that we were allowed to use whenever we wanted. I am kicking myself for not taking advantage of it during that time. Two or three times each year, as a company, we would spend a day working with various staff doing team-building exercises, and listening to presentations by outside speakers. Think trust falls and honesty circles. Needless to say, I didn’t always find these get-togethers productive. In all seriousness, the purpose of all of these retreats was to build cohesion and become a better organization. Looking back, however, I wish I had taken these opportunities for what they were, opportunities to learn (and get out of work for a day).

One particular speaker still stands out to me to this day. His topic was change. More specifically, how change is inevitable. While I do still think he was grossly overpaid, there was something to his topic that has remained with me all of these years. Simply, change is certain, and we need to get comfortable with it, even become friends with it, if we are going to be the best version of ourselves.

In a recent article, writer Kira Neuman of the U.C. Berkley’s “Greater Good” Newsletter discusses strategies for coping with change that can help us be resilient when faced with uncertainty. While most people like the thought of being in control, the reality is that control is almost always an illusion and that we need to think in terms of mental agility or the ability to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Neuman writes that our brains are wired to be “future-predicting machines” and that it is our nature to want to avoid uncertainty. Some people, however, take the need to control things too far and are, thus, unable to deal with the reality of a chaining world. They hate surprises, get frustrated easily when things do not go as planned, and are almost paralyzed with indecision for fear that they make the wrong choice.

Cited from the book Switchcraft: The Hidden Power of Mental Agility by Elaine Fox, Neuman writes that people that have trouble with change and uncertainty tend to be worriers. She goes on to write that worrying gives some people a small sense of control as worrying is doing something and something is better than nothing from their perspective. Instead of worrying, however, Fox recommends being psychologically flexible. People that are more flexible have an easier time adapting to changing situations, have a high sense of well-being, and worry less. Fox also finds that people that are more flexible might even find change exciting.

Everyone adapts to stress in different ways and to varying degrees. The key is in finding what works for you. Change is certain in life, and we ultimately all have a choice when it comes to things we cannot control. We can either become overwhelmed because things are not going exactly to plan, or we can go with the flow and adjust to our circumstances and focus on the things that we can control.