Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Taming the Uncertainty Monster

Building tolerance for uncertainty in an uncertain world

Let's face it. Your future is uncertain.

No matter how advanced your predictive data, how well you've planned, or how much you've paid your psychic, you can't be 100% certain of what's to come. Love it or hate it, surprise is inevitable.

Part of your brain finds this exhilarating, and the other part finds it horrifying.

Part of you has evolved to explore those mysterious dark caves, and the other part survived because it stayed away from them.

These days, we face significantly fewer caves, but there are more metaphorical caves than ever before. Everything from your career to your geographic location is likely to change more often than it did for your grandparents. And your options for next steps don't just look like a fork in the road but a millipede in the road.

We don't have to poke around every cave, but we must face at least a few of them to thrive in the midst of all this uncertainty. So how do we tame that Uncertainty Monster inside of us, roaring its threats and holding us back for exploring the great unknown?

Surprisingly, there isn't much research on developing tolerance for uncertainty, but there is research that shows us what leads to less tolerance and more need for certainty: fear, stress, and insecure attachment in our relationships.

Perhaps the trick to finding the courage and curiosity to enter more caves is to strive for the opposite: a sense of safety and security in ourselves and our relationships.

As our world continues to change faster and the options in our lives sprawl out wider, I suspect that tolerance for uncertainty will not come from controlling and predicting the outside world. Instead, we'll need to find a source of security that we can carry with us everywhere we go. This way, like toddlers willing to explore new territory if a trusted parent is nearby, we'll be able to step away from our confining comfort zones and go surprise spelunking.

What do you think? If fear, stress, and insecurity lead to a need for certainty? What can create a tolerance for uncertainty?