Steven Topper, LCPC

On 1.3.2020, an esteemed colleague Sydney Gideon, LSW wrote a blog on the pitfalls of uncertainty. In it, Gideon describes how uncertainty can lead to self-sabotage through limiting beliefs about ourselves and offered strategies to help mitigate these beliefs. In response, it could be helpful to explore how leaning in to uncertainty may actually be beneficial for us in the long run, and how allowing for ambiguity to exist in our lives may offer directions toward richer, more meaningful lives.

As Gideon describes, our displeasure with uncertainty leads us on a fact-finding mission. We see this all across our lives: finding a new job, picking a restaurant, or what TV show to binge next. We are motivated to gather information and this is typically time well spent. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a required trait for survival. Imagine two early hominids: one gathers information from their environment to make the best decision, the other mires in ambiguity. It’s clear that the information gatherer is going to survive and thrive with far more frequency. And so those traits have been passed down to us and they make us effective businesspeople, law-abiders, and food-eaters. However, this desire for certainty may come at a cost. What happens when we cannot have it?

Often we become rigid in our behaviors in an attempt to gain control of the situation. We look to gather more information in any way possible- even when there isn’t any. That could be late-night internet searching, checking Yelp over and over, or even ruminating. Ruminating is a strategy we use to feel like we are making sense of our lives, though it often costs us pain and confusion in the moment. A favorite quote of mine shines light on this process, “We go on thinking things make sense long after we’ve learned they don’t.” It’s not the fact-finding that gets us in trouble, it’s having to fact find and having to get rid of uncertainty that traps us. In moments of great ambiguity, we may be able to tap into something deeper and more visceral, leading to altogether unexpected outcomes.

What happens when, instead of doing everything in our power to mitigate and avoid uncertainty, we instead find room for it? What happens to us when we appreciate the complexity of a situation in its entirety instead of working hard to make sense? More specifically, allowing for feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or disorientation may give us helpful information about ourselves and our world. This allowing is a mindfulness act as it happens in the present moment. It’s also an act of acceptance, for we live in a world filled with incredible complexity. As we move into those places, especially where there isn’t a “right or wrong” decision to be had, we are freed up to make a decision that aligns with our values. Taking us away from inaction, self-sabotage, and rumination, acceptance of uncertainty brings us closer to ourselves by empowering us to make meaningful choices within ambiguity. With acceptance of situations exactly as they are, and present moment awareness of our own experience, we can honor the wild complexity of ourselves and the world in new, exciting ways. Embracing uncertainty may be scary, and through that fear may lie liberation. 

If you or something you know has been struggling with confidence or uncertainty it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled Chicago therapists today!