Even with my day breezing right along . . . I can get twitchy.
- Waiting at a stoplight.
- Anticipating an important call or email.
- Fussing in the kitchen after dinner (instead of relaxing).
I’m guessing you can relate. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t label these ordinary, everyday moments as uncomfortable. We’re just doing what we do.
Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, says, “We have absolutely no tolerance for uncertainty.” Nailed it!
However, if you do pause to notice your responses—while waiting for that call or sitting in traffic or even when sitting on the front porch — you might notice a revving inside yourself. Like your internal motor hasn’t down-shifted or shut off.
Of course, if you distract yourself with a task or a text or have that glass of wine, you might not notice the revving at all.
Noticing our restlessness or revving or boredom isn’t bad. It’s what Pema’s pointing to — a kind of agitation and unease that goes with simply being alive.
What this revving and restlessness and even boredom reveals our nearly constant desire to pin down a permanent point of reference, of certainty—one that doesn’t exist.
And, if we’re subtly organizing our day-to-day life trying to pin down certainty, imagine our body’s reaction to urgent, external agitations—like the effects of the pandemic, working remotely, and now looking to some sort of hybrid as we anticipate returning to work.
Uncertainty at Work
The impact of grappling with uncertainty seems to ratchet up when faced with the prospect of returning to work in a post-COVID world.
What does the future of work look like anyway?
This time of incredible unsettlement is being called:
The Big Shift.
The Great Resignation.
The Big Shakeout.
All these monikers speak to a shift currently underway regarding our values, specifically our values about life–how we want to live it–and work–and its place in our lives.
It’s interesting to note that in the regard to work practices around the globe, the U.S. is an outlier. We live in the most overworked developed nation in the world.
With that kind of commitment, or crazy attempt to pin down certainty, it’s no surprise that that job uncertainty takes a more significant toll on our health than actually losing our job.
Or that simply anticipating that something might be difficult can bring about resistance, refusal, or paralyzing fear.
Numerous questions surface in conversations about work today.
- Will we shift to an entirely remote workforce? Likely not.
- Will we all be back in offices again. Likely not.
- Does anyone have a definitive answer? Nope!
Sound familiar? You’ve likely heard them, discussed them, wondered if and how it’ll all impact you or your loved ones, too.
Of course, it isn’t simply just about the state of work, but about if we’re willing to linger longer in the discomfort and uncertainty to experience the full gamut of feelings that comprise what it means to be humans, grappling to live out our values–at home and at work.
If COVID’s taught us anything, it’s reinforced the fine point that Pema’s been talking about for years: we have little tolerance for not knowing and uncertainty — and so it takes its toll.
Can we accept that simple truth? It might be more effective not to attempt to create certainty at all.
As John Allen Paulos, the mathematician cited above said, “Knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
What to do with feelings of uncertainty?
- Embrace your resistance to uncertainty—practice acceptance & permission. Research has shown that acceptance is the surprising secret to happiness. Rather than resist reality, opening to acceptance begins to settle our nervous systems. Embracing resistance, accepting what is, allows you to transform it into life-giving permission to choose your own best response.
- Don’t believe everything you think—those thoughts of yours that argue for the worst-case scenario—they’re simply that, just thoughts. Not truth. They don’t carry any protective factor — in truth, they rob you of the present moment. It’s helpful to repeat, “It’s only a thought.”
- Mind your mind and your attention—When gripped by uncertainty, instead of allowing your mind to catastrophize or avoid or both, bring your attention to your breath to stop ruminating on details or ‘figuring out’ a situation in vain attempt to pin down certainty.
- Certainty isn’t the opposite of uncertainty – it’s presence. Opening to what the moment brings–whatever that it–can create a more settled spirit, a bit more space for the unknown.
- Check-in with yourself by attuning to the small ways you might be revved up or restless (like me in the kitchen at night), especially if why you’re twitchy isn’t obvious to you. Notice what emotions you’re feeling, and where in your body you feel those emotions. Be curious.
- Invest in tending to yourself--the best resource you have for dealing with uncertainty is you. Choose to not deplete that resource, to damage your most valuable asset.