By Bruno Boksic
The pandemic hit, the Great Resignation is happening, nobody knows if the current market hiccups are just that or an early sign of the bear market. There’s a lot going on that would make anyone nervous and uncertain about the future that’s to come.
But there have been problems, struggles, and challenges in the past as well and people dealt with them. So, in this article, we will learn the ins and outs, tips and tricks, advice, and wisdom from the past that can teach us how to overcome the fear of uncertainty.
So, here are the nine ways to overcome the fear of uncertainty effectively.
1. Find the Inner Locus of Control
There are two perspectives that you can have on life: the inner or the outer locus of control.
With the outer locus of control, you give up control over the events of your life to externalities, such as the government, other people, the economy, or the politicians.
But with the inner locus of control, you’re the person who is in control of the things that happen in your life. You take responsibility for your actions, and you start to take control over your life.
The people who look at life through the lens of the inner locus of control suppress fear far more easily than those who don’t.
2. Learn How to Let Go of Things You Can’t Control
There’s an adage from the AA that goes, “God, give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
If you want to deal with the fear of uncertainty, you will need to distinguish between the things that you can and can’t control, and let go of the things you can’t control.
The things you’re not responsible for and should let go of are:
- Other people’s opinions about yourself
- Other people’s actions and responsibilities
- The economy
- The weather
- The future
3. Learn How to Let Go of Things You Can Control
Just because you can control something, doesn’t mean you should control something.
With the four levels of consciousness, you start from the person who doesn’t have any control of your life’s environment. Then, you slowly start taking over control and you realize that you have agency—that you can change things if you just apply yourself. Then it starts to take over you.
You start taking control of more and more things in your life (and in others) because you start believing that nothing will be done if you don’t have your finger in it. You felt the impact of taking control, and now it feels ridiculous to give someone else a part of that control.
But that’s exactly what you need to do. Just because you can change something doesn’t mean you should.
This is where you have to learn how to let go of the things where you could make an impact and focus on a single issue. Because a person who chases multiple hares doesn’t catch a single one.
4. Use the Stockdale Paradox
Stockdale paradox is named after Jim Stockdale, a U.S. vice admiral who got locked up in Vietnam during the war. There, he witnessed how his fellow P.O.W lost all motivation to be saved during their imprisonment.
He saw two kinds of people:
- Those who believed they would be saved by a certain date and were oblivious to the current state of those camps
- Those who believed that they will never be saved and who looked at the horrible daily things in the camp as their future
The former lost faith when the date came and they weren’t saved. So, Stockdale coined the paradox that helped him survive for years in the camp until he got rescued:
“You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
5. Realize That Plans Are Worthless, But Planning Is Everything
When you hear the sentence “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” from one of the most decorated U.S. army officers, the leader of the D-Day invasion, and a former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, you know it has merit.
What this means is that you need to start preparing for the future, but that when that future comes, all those plans will be changed. You won’t be able to predict the future, but the preparation that you will make for that future will make all the difference.
It’s like you starting a business and planning how it will become profitable. The plan will give you a direction, but you will pivot your strategy and your products depending on the circumstances that will occur within the years.
But the merit is in the planning part where you will maybe learn new skills that will be useful in the future, no matter what it is. When you learn how to think critically or how to adhere to data-driven decision-making, you will be able to use to skills no matter what the future holds.
If you want to overcome the fear of uncertainty, you should plan for the future. But make sure that when the future happens, you adapt to it.
6. Use the Worm’s and the Eagle’s Perspectives
The worm can only see a few inches in front of himself while the eagle can see miles ahead. The worm can see all the little details like the leaves, puddles, and trees, while the eagle can see the mountains, forests, and seas.
In life, you need to learn to see the world from both perspectives.
With the eagle perspective, you look at the bigger picture—where the path is going to take you in life, what you’ll do in ten years, will you still have a career, and will the current relationship still be good in years to come.
With the worm perspective, you focus on the first steps ahead of you. You plan out your daily routines and habits.
As Will Smith would say in Will, you aren’t making a wall, you’re just laying the best possible bricks day by day.
Fear of uncertainty can happen because you lost sense of one or the other perspective. If you’re fearful for overall trends that are happening around you, that means that you need to get back to your eagle perspective and see the big picture. What changed and how will you adapt to it?
If you’re fearful that you’re not reaching your goals effectively, that means that you need to get back to the worm perspective and change your daily habits and routines. The habits will need to lead you to achieve your goals and dreams, not the other way around.
7. Go Across the Threshold to Prevent “What Ifs”
One more way to overcome the fear of uncertainty is to go all-in on something. Did you think that Frodo went halfway to Mordor to drop the ring and suddenly had a “what if I go back?” No, because he crossed the threshold.
That’s a term coined by Joseph Campbell, described in his book, A Hero With A Thousand Faces, where he mentions the hero’s journey. The hero, early on his journey, crosses a threshold from which he can’t come back and he has to keep moving forward.
So, when you’re uncertain about things in the future, it can mean that you’re still leaving yourself time to back down. If you want to run a half-marathon, book the time, date, and place, and pay the fee. That will be the threshold that will make you start preparing for it because you went all in.
To prevent thinking in “what if” terms, go all-in on a single thing, and your mind will stop asking “what if?”.
If you limit your options, your mind will convince you that you made the right decision. And don’t think that it means to have less freedom—less variety doesn’t mean less freedom.
8. Understand That the Media Isn’t Your Friend
A hundred years ago, a village only 40 miles away from you could have burned down completely and you wouldn’t know about it. Today, you know about every single flooding, fire, earthquake that’s happening in the entire world, where most of that information doesn’t have any impact on your day-to-day interactions.
Hans Rosling said, “If you want to understand the world, don’t use media.” We think that the world is worse than it is because all we see in the media are images of catastrophes instead of good things.
One example is suicide. There was so much news about the growing rate of suicides all over the world, but the truth is that suicide rates have dropped by 25% in the last twenty years. Also, according to Gapminder, less than 6% of plastic waste ends up in the ocean.
Media can greatly influence your fear for the future and make you uncertain about a lot of things, but you need to realize that most of them are simply noise.
9. Be Kind to Yourself Because You Will Fail
All of the ways to overcome the fear of uncertainty work, but that doesn’t mean that all of them will work for you 100% of the time. Sometimes, there will be times when you will fail and still worry about it.
The important thing is to remember to be kind to yourself because there will be times when you will stumble, but that only means that you need to keep pushing forward.
It’s like starting to go to the gym. There will be a time when you’ll miss out on going to the gym, but that doesn’t mean that you will stop going altogether. No, a single miss is a single miss, and you will be better the next day.
So, remember to be kind to yourself because you will stumble, but that only means that you will rise stronger.
We covered the nine ways to get over the fear of uncertainty:
- Find the inner locus of control.
- Learn how to let go of things you can’t control.
- Learn how to let go of things you can control.
- Use the Stockdale paradox.
- Realize that planning is essential, but plans are worthless.
- Use the worm’s and the eagle’s perspectives.
- Go all-in on something by “crossing the threshold.”
- Understand that the media is painting a faulty picture.
- Remember to be kind to yourself when you stumble.
If you follow these ways, you will surely overcome the fear of uncertainty.
*Bruno Boksic is Lifehack’s Habit Expert. Bruno’s a former head of HR of a global organization, and the founder of Growthabit.com, a non-fiction book summary company.
*This article first appeared on the lifehack.org website