Dealing With Uncertainty

I’ve often commented that one of the things we humans struggle with is uncertainty. The fear and anxiety we experience can be, and often is, debilitating…especially with regard to health issues and consequential decisions.

It’s the not knowing, the lack of information, that sends us into an emotional tailspin in which we feel helplessly out of control. While this is an understandable reaction, it doesn’t serve us well. We make our best decisions when we’re able to set aside emotions and perform objective analysis. Easier said than done, right?

Here are some tips for making uncertainty less daunting.

Uncertainty awareness

The vast majority of us fail to realize that we deal with uncertainty each and every day, multiple times a day. The difference between these daily uncertainties and the ones that rock our world is degree. Daily uncertainties don’t seem to have big consequences, consequently we are not intimidated by them. 

We decide, albeit subconsciously, which route to take to work. We have no idea whether we’ll encounter an accident, road work, a distracted driver. Yet, we operate with little, if any, anxiety.

We choose career paths based upon what interests us. Yet, in my experience, roughly 80% of the people I meet are doing something completely different than what they set out to do…and they’re happier as a result. Many of them aren’t working in their field of study. That’s okay. We don’t really know what’s involved in a career until we gain some experience.

Each decision we make during the course of the day has the potential of producing a result other than what we intended. Yet, we generally don’t fret over these decisions. Indeed, when the result isn’t what we anticipated, we learn, adapt and, ultimately, produce the desired result.

Dealing with uncertainty

My point is that we’re living with uncertainty each and every day. Another way of stating this is that life is a series of probabilities. Our decisions are based upon the probability of getting the desired outcome.

Fear and anxiety arise when we don’t feel that we have the information needed to effectively assess probabilities. When we find ourselves in these situations, the vast majority of us will spend countless hours anticipating the worst…in essence, dying a thousand deaths.

There is a better alternative. It’s a three-step process. Remind yourself that:

  1. You make decisions everyday where the outcome isn’t known.
  2. Your ability to learn and adapt enable you to recover from mistakes.
  3. Some decisions should be postponed until further information is attained.

The first two create conscious awareness of your ability to ultimately produce the result you desire. You’ve never failed when you’re pursuing something that is truly important to you.

The third step remind us that we can’t force good decisions. Making decisions without having sufficient information to assess probabilities is folly. As is waiting until we’re absolutely certain that our choice will produce the result we want. There is no certainty in decision making, only high probabilities.

When you acknowledge that you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, it’s much easier to be patient while awaiting the requisite information. It’s also easier to shift your attention to tasks that you can complete, decisions in which you can objectively assess the probability of success.

This simple process enables you to replace the debilitating emotions of fear and anxiety with the quiet confidence that you will, and always have, ultimately found a way to produce the result you desire.

For you

When you find yourself facing uncertainty that is eliciting fear and anxiety, reread the three-step process for converting uncertainty into productive behaviors. You’ll not only save yourself the anguish normally associated with uncertainty, you’ll enjoy confidence in your ability to remain productive while awaiting the information you need to make an informed decision. You’ll retain the sense of control over your life to which we all aspire.

For our kids

When you see your kids in anguish over the uncertainty they’re facing, ask them:

  • When you choose [daily activity] are you assured of the outcome? Or is it probable that it’s the outcome you hope for?
  • When you don’t get the desired outcome, what do you do?
  • What information would help you make a decision on this issue?
  • Can you make an informed decision without this information?
  • What can you accomplish while you’re awaiting this information?

You can dramatically simplify your kids lives, and increase their confidence as well, using these simple questions? Kids are like sponges in that they absorb information quickly…especially when it makes sense to them. Many of the lessons they absorb come from watching the adults in their lives. What better reason for you to live these messages?

Feel free to share this blog with those you feel would benefit from this message. It’s an easy way to say “I love you. I’m thinking of you.”

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share them in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link) (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, Great wisdom! Why is it that many of us seem to be seeking control making uncertainty an even bigger challenge?

    • Dale Furtwengler


      It’s a natural tendency that’s part and parcel of our human nature. It’s also a function of the magnitude of the consequences. The greater the consequences to us, the more we fear uncertainty. We can train ourselves away from these tendencies by redefining success in a way that assures that we win every time.

      In our dealings with others, offering options to others, including a no, assures that we’ll either get what we want or avoid wasting time and energy on something that wasn’t destined to work anyway. Either outcome produces a win for us.

      Similarly, with regard to opportunities, if we pursue an opportunity and it works as we hoped, we win. If it doesn’t, but we learn something that will help us in the future, we still win. As you can see, winning is NOT dependent on the outcome for the outcome is merely the next step in the process. Even when we achieve a goal, a new goal arises…indicating that it’s the next step in our journey.

      I hope this answers your question.

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