Letting Go in the Face of Uncertainty

When something suddenly changes, we feel disoriented and threatened.

Posted Dec 14, 2020

Riho Kroll on Unsplash
Source: Riho Kroll on Unsplash

“This is not how I expected my life to turn out,” said everyone who has ever gone through a divorce.

Most people enter a marriage with a level of certainty.

Even if you have some doubts about the relationship, you generally think that the marriage will last a long time.

But, as this year has certainly shown us, nothing is for certain. In fact, the only thing for certain is that life is unpredictable and ever-changing. Despite constant reminders of this truth, we still feel overwhelmed when things take a turn we did not expect. This is because as human beings, we want to ensure our emotional and physical safety. Knowing what is around the corner increases the likelihood that we will be safe. When something suddenly changes, we feel disoriented and threatened.

Some of you might get stuck in this disorientation and threat response. Have you noticed you are sleeping more, ignoring texts from friends or snapping unusually quickly? These are all signs that your body is struggling to adapt to this new change in your environment.

This makes sense. Our nervous systems take time to adjust to new situations. So many of my clients report that they are “bad at transitions.” I always remind them that all humans struggle with transitions because it is hard to let go of what we were used to as expected.

I recently spoke to my colleague Jill Sherer Murray, the author of Big Wild Love: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go, about the struggle we all have to accept the unknown.

She reminded me that, “in the face of so much uncertainty, people feel paralyzed. The fact that we live in an uncertain world is one of the joys and horrors of life that anything can happen at any time. What I see a lot of people do in response is hold on to what’s been lost or could have been, fear taking action, and try to control.”

Jill explains that, “a better approach is to let go—untether ourselves from how we’d envisioned things would happen, and allow the headwinds of uncertainty to propel us forward.”

But, how do we do that?

Jill shares three tips on how to move through uncertainty:

Check your beliefs. Whether uncertainty works for or against us comes down to what we believe about ourselves. If we believe that we can achieve what we want and deserve it, we’ll find a way to go after it. So, if you believe you deserve true love, but just did not find it with your ex, then you can make an action plan. To get a better sense of your beliefs and strengths, fill in the blanks: “I believe I can [achieve desired result] because I have [powerful assets that will lead to change].”

Open yourself up to epiphany. This is the “aha” moment that wakes you up to reality. In my divorce, it had me acknowledge two things: First, I’d never have the long marriage I thought I was going to have. And second, that I was actually not that satisfied in my marriage. I did not even know myself well before I said "I do." You can invite an epiphany by getting into a state of listening. For me, I hear best when I am meditating. Research suggests that this is where we’re most likely to make insightful connections with ourselves and the world around us. Journaling is another nice way to illicit an epiphany and its message.

Make a plan. That means going back to your original goal and recalibrating your strategy based on your epiphany’s message, knowing that there are several ways to get to an outcome. It’s about effective problem-solving. Jill explained that she did this when her book tour was canceled because of COVID-19. “I wanted to get my books into the hands of as many people who needed them and being at in-person events was just one way to do it.” If uncertainty makes you feel unsure of your goal and how to get there, write down what you think you want, what you don’t want, and what you have now to help you get there. “Focusing on what you can control will help you feel confident that you can get back in the game. “

At the end of our talk, Jill shared that “uncertainty doesn’t have to be a buzzkill. To the contrary, it can offer you all sorts of ideas you might not have come to otherwise. Letting go of what was, to reimagine what could be, is a great way to get back in the driver’s seat. And set yourself up for success, no matter what.”