Gifts of Uncertainty: Use Discomfort to Progress

Gifts of Uncertainty: Use Discomfort to Progress

What will emerge from your actions?  Will you become a beautiful butterfly or ???

© Photo by Andrew Winter

Gifts of Uncertainty: Use Discomfort to Progress

© 2021 by Ruth Schimel PhD, Career & Life Management Consultant, Author 

Normal life is often naturally messy.  Predictable and unpredictable forces interact and influence change in many dynamic and valuable situations.  As a result, your life can often feel unsettled and sometimes risk-riddled.  You can’t even assume that what you do will have the desired effects.  Use this article to find gifts of new possibilities in uncertainty and organize choices to offset some discomfort with accessible, practical action.

In fact, when you assume uncertainty is natural to much of life’s significant processes and situations, some of the discomfort fades.   Anxiety and fear of the unknown may even be muted, especially as you deal incrementally or at least notice what’s beneath the surface of the important issues.   Uncertainty Doesn’t Have to Mean Anxiety by therapist Esther Perel:

Explore where natural uncertainty exists to elicit its benefits and opportunities. Distinguishing between what can be addressed and what’s beyond your influence also helps.

The three areas below are provided to support such thinking, focus, and reality testing.  They are yourself, your relationships, and your environment in descending order of what you can influence.  Since they are significant and rich areas that relate to much of your life, use the examples in each one for inspiration, to encourage exploration, and to choose at least one specific beneficial action as a reality test.

Your body provides information to clarify uncertainty. 

How aware are you of the range of physical hints from your body?  For example, I recently noticed goose pimples and salivation (not about food, either!) are reactions I often have to something beautiful.

What are typical clues and cues you get from your body and what do they tell you?    

Both positive and negative physical hints of stress or interest show directions and suggestions for action.  Or they may be inconclusive such as that in-between sense of ambiguity or ambivalence that reflects uncertainty.  Perhaps ask yourself how you would clarify such uncertainty.  If not yet knowable, stay alert for future insights and information. 

Indicators of bad stress can be intrusive, unhealthy, or at least distracting.  Yet many related hints provide directions for learning, choices, and action.  They include pain, fatigue, and insomnia.  Other hints are urges to overeat and to drink too much.  External challenges to concentration, such as constant smartphone, email, and social media use are additional examples.

What are your challenges to concentration?  Which one do you want to address and how specifically will you manage it better now?

As you know, quick fixes for any significant, longstanding issue are not likely solutions, even if they exist.  But modifying unuseful habits with small steps for better outcomes are choices you probably do have.    

In contrast, good or creative stress makes you feel stimulated, excited, or uplifted,   as my goose pimples and salivation told me. If you are not used to such hints, you may feel a little unsure especially since the boundaries between good or creative stress and bad stress are sometimes subtle.   So, stay alert for what gives you positive stress to keep activating growth, pleasure, and possible profit.

Take a few minutes now to name one or two of your own sources of good stress and one source of negative stress you will address.

Your body is more full of complex uncertainties than imaginable by many people.  One process is called homeostasis: a property of cells, tissues, and organisms that supports the maintenance and regulation of the stability and constancy needed to function properly.  That certainty is a natural state maintained by the constant adjustment of biochemical and physiological pathways.  Most of these endless accommodations are not obvious ─ until the problematic ones surface or you just feel better.

Another marvelous complexity is the relatively recently appreciated regulator,  the microbiome or brain in your gut.   That’s full of bacteria that help digest food, regulate your immune system, and protect against more threatening bacteria; it also produces vitamins such as many in the B series and K for blood coagulation.  You probably don’t sense these homeostatic activities, until something goes amiss from indigestion to disease, but a general feeling of wellbeing often accompanies their effectiveness.

How will you enjoy, care for, and support your amazing body as a gift to yourself?

The people in your relationships are also dynamic.

If your own body is constantly in motion within, you can imagine the complexities present among many people in your relationships and how they affect your interaction.  Whether connections are personal, professional, or both, everyone else is also in motion.  They are dealing with challenges and opportunities that tend to draw them closer to you or create distance, as time flies and their circumstances shift.  In other words, change or at least variations in your relationships and attitudes toward others are natural, if not immediately conscious or expressed.

Part of the gifts for growth in such shifts are awaiting within others and yourself.  Imagine if everything remained the same and predictable, how would you feel?  Where would the stimulation, fun, and worthwhile challenge be?  However uncertain such dynamism is, then, the variety provides opportunities for positive influence and learning as well as improved enjoyment and meaning in your and others’ lives.

Though you can’t change another person, you can influence a situation by modifying your own behavior.   Use the following questions to help frame how you choose to relate to another person, whatever the context.  As appropriate, make changes, additions, and deletions.

  • What does the person mean to you?
  • How much time and energy do you want to invest in or give to the person?
  • What are your expectations from the person?
  • How will you express what you would want for (and from) the person?
  • What values do you share and want to demonstrate explicitly?

As the process of your relationships ebbs and flows, periodically assess the importance and worth of the relationships you value.  That could make room for deeper or better commitment or for other connections that appeal as this one wanes.  Use your intuition, experience, and intelligence to make productive choices about how you will deal with whatever uncertainty is natural to the relationships you care about.  Ideally, that’s where there is mutual benefit and demonstrated, empathetic caring.

For a March 23 Wall Street Journal article suggesting keys to dealing with chronic uncertainty in your personal and professional life, see

Your environment is more dynamic, complex, and even less accessible.

Becoming aware of the aspects of your environment you can and want to influence will help release you from some of the discomfort of uncertainty.  But typically the more significant and complex the matter, the more important to adjust your expectations about what you can do and affect.

Nevertheless, there are matters you can investigate and discuss with others to identify specific commitments and actions that make sense for you.  They can include major matters such as cybersecurity, political disruptions, climate weirding, community issues, and workplace dynamics.  Other examples you may want to augment are changing technology, Covid variants, and domestic terrorism.

Rather than decry situations over which you have little or no control, a choice for you is to identify one area or more that is promising, interesting, and valuable to influence.  Then do some due diligence, learning further about the realities.  Perhaps join with others for greater impact.   

Significance, opportunity, and gifts in uncertainty

In sum, uncertainty is a reminder of the realities of being alive and engaged, for better and worse.  How you respond to it holds hints about what you can and want to influence to benefit yourself and others.  See it as an occasionally perverse gift that suggests action opportunities for yourself, especially with people you respect and enjoy.  Perhaps the experiences in the following link from the arts will also provide succor for your process:–sJEl422nIxsdI

Getting a totally predictable, secure life is not only unlikely and possibly boring but ultimately avoids adventure and growth.  As Mr. Spock said in a Star Trek episode: “Having is not so pleasing as wanting.”   So, engage with your next adventure at a speed and depth that make sense to you.  That can replace a transitory yearning you may have for predictable comfort.   More valuable and productive are the joys and gifts of being effective, authentic, and connected with a life of purpose and meaning, supported by healthy relationships and experiences.

Ruth Schimel Ph.D. is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon.  She guides clients in animating their strengths and making visions for current and future work viable. Get the bonus first chapter of her seventh book, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future and benefit from Ruth’s invitation to a free consultation on her website.

This article was originally featured on Your Tango and has been republished here in the author’s original text with permission.

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