“No one rushes quicker to judgment than those who warn against rushing to judgment.” Marina Hyde The Guardian April 7, 2017
An article in the Guardian newspaper by Marina Hyde “Lets Stop Pretending We Are Not Clueless About The State of the World” has inspired me to write about uncertainty. Do we know anything anymore really? Many people seem to know what is going on in the world informing themselves from the sound and word bits on television and the Internet. But do they? Living under an illusion that we “know” is, in fact, counterintuitive and irrational thinking. It promotes the delusion that we actually are in control of our lives and we know for sure what will happen next.
We talk about the “known knowns” and the “unknown unknowns” but the fact is that most of us are uncomfortable with uncertainty and to reduce our unease we make the leap to certainty by creating our own bubble of “so called” knowledge. We listen to and read material that confirms what we think we know activating the “confirmation bias”. While some of what we espouse could contain some “truth”, we often have constructed a narrative that serves our need for certainty rather than a search for the truth of the matter.
The political climate in the US is an example of the challenge to untangle the truth from rhetoric and lies and half-truths. The delusional and chaotic presidency of Donald Trump is an illustration of someone who reports he knows more than he does and admits he gets his information from the Internet and Fox news. When confronted with dealing with the repeal of Obamacare he exhorted “who knew how complicated healthcare was”. It seems that the people who voted for him wanted the certainty of a president who they thought would act simply and decisively to change and correct the issues that were important to them, be dammed for the complexity and difficulty that entails. Yes life is complex and anxiety producing but black and white solutions are not the answer. Ask the Republicans who tried to repeal Obamacare. We have to start with our attachment to certainty to become more able to weather the challenges of life.
The work I do requires me to be curious in order to help clients address and dissolve the illusions and unhelpful narratives they have constructed to reduce the uncertainty in their lives during a crisis or after a trauma or injury. I help them construct a more flexible and helpful narrative that will promote healing, allow them to gain strengths and tools, and assist them in better taking care of themselves and gain power over their lives. When I am challenged in my work I find that I can “rush to judgement” serving my need for certainty. This is why we have labels and stereotypes for others because this reduces our need to contemplate the notion that we actually do not have all the answers.
The more neuroscience discoveries are revealed the more we know about how the mind works, but it has also revealed how complex and mysterious the brain and mind are. Research and science are supposed to create more questions and not necessarily provide certainties. For example implicit memory or the unconscious or subconscious mind is much more vast than first supposed. Something like 10 billion information bits are inputted in a second where approximately16 bits of that information are conscious. This means that largely our actions are driven by our implicit memory or unconscious mind. This has implications for therapy and conscious awareness.
My clients and, in fact, most people I know, including myself, struggle with uncertainty. Many torment and ruminate about issues in their lives enduring sleepless nights, increasing their anxiety and in the process also impacting their relationships and physical health. The cognitive behavioural concepts of irrational beliefs and “what if” come to mind. A Mark Twain quote about the dire circumstances in his life, much of which never happened, comes to mind.
It really comes down to coming to peace with uncertainty and letting go of what we cannot control.
We have no control over what has happened in the past other than revising the meaning of it and we have no control over the future. Life is impermanent and change is constant. We really have no choice but to live in the present. Mindfulness training is masterful in helping reorient the mind to the present. Although our day can slide from under us and end up not unfolding how we expected, we can control how we deal with chaos and unforeseen events by adjusting our attitude. Rigidity and being certain that things should only unfold the way we want them is a recipe for frustration, anger and even disaster.
When people say, “just breathe”, they are offering a valuable tool to stop the runaway mind, calm the racing heart and focus on the present. When we come to grips and stop trying to control uncertainty in life, paradoxically we are actually more in control. Fostering resiliency, flexibility, curiosity and mindfulness is going to make us better able to meet the challenges, upsets and inevitable bumps in the road of life. Staying in the present and accepting uncertainty allows more joy, spontaneity, and love to enter and stay.
Taming angst about uncertainty usually requires introspection and letting go of controlling outcome. If you would like help living more in the present managing your life one day at time. Contact Dr. Denise at 604-562-9130 for a free 30-minute telephone consultation.