My last blog post – Lessons in Uncertainty – touched a nerve with a lot of people. It seems many of you can relate to the stress that uncertainty can create.
Since I wrote it, I received and replied to so many comments, emails and other responses, and have thought a lot more about the stress that uncertainty creates. I realized there were three particular things that have been especially helpful to me in coping with uncertainty in the moment, and want to share those with you.
Life is full of uncertainty – yet it feels more real or intense at certain times.
In business there are many opportunities for stressful feelings of uncertainty to surface. You might feel insecure in your job, maybe you worry that your boss doesn’t like you or you’ve heard rumors about layoffs. You might not know where your next client is coming from, or how you’re going to meet your sales target, or how a new project is going be received. The list is endless.
Close to my heart right now, of course, is the business of caregiving – being responsible for the care of a loved one who is ailing in some way and no longer able to take care of him or herself. If there’s any situation that’s fraught with uncertainty, it’s that. Things change all the time. That’s pretty much the only thing you can be certain of!
The three key ideas that I’m finding especially helpful when dealing with the stress of uncertainty are:
I aim to accept, without judgement, how I’m feeling in any given moment. Acknowledging that it is hard, that I’m feeling upset, distracted, angry, confused, inadequate, is important. Whatever it is that I’m feeling, it is OK. This is not always easy, for sure, but it is key.
Acceptance means in that moment I don’t have to change anything – there’s nothing I have to improve or do better. That in itself, paradoxically, can be the mindset shift that helps the most. We have so many ideas about what we “should” or “should not” be feeling, which only end up layering one stress on top of another. We can end up worrying about worrying about worrying about worrying…
Some thoughts that help me remember to accept myself however and whatever I am feeling in the moment are:
“There’s nothing I have to change,” “I am free to feel what I feel,” “I am free to feel all my emotions,” “I am free to be me,” and “I am free to be myself.”
I bring my attention to my support. I notice that I do have support – literally, physically. The ground is under me. If I’m sitting, the chair is right there supporting me.
When we’re stressed – and maybe especially when we feel like we don’t know what’s going on and every possible scenario is going through our mind – we get very “in our heads.” Noticing that the ground is there helps bring me to the present in a helpful way. I feel more grounded – in reality perhaps, as well as literally!
And when I’m more present and am aware of my physical support, that sometimes also helps me become aware of other types of support I have – the support of friends and family, for instance.
My favorite thought to help me remember my support in the moment is:
“I am free to accept the support of the ground.”
I have a choice in any given moment to pay attention to the ease that’s already there – in my body, in my surroundings, in my life. In any moment I can choose to “scan for easiness,” in the words of my friend and Alexander Technique colleague, Laura Donnelly, and something shifts. When you get curious about ease, you get more ease. (Conversely, when you focus on tension, you get more tension!) And when you feel more at ease in yourself, your connection with the situation – in this case the stress of uncertainty – changes. My reaction to the uncertainty shifts. In that one moment, everything can change, and I can feel more comfortable with the situation.
My favorite thoughts to help me shift my attention toward ease are:
“I am free to notice ease,” and “Where do I notice ease right now?”
These three things, acceptance, support, and ease (not necessarily in that order), won’t magically change your circumstances.
BUT…they help shift how you feel about those circumstances. And when you feel calmer and less stressed, it’s easier to deal with anything!
How do you cope with the stress of uncertainty? Did you try out these ideas? What did you discover?
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please comment in the space below.
And to my surprise and delight, that was the moment when I became freer, easier, and more comfortable during my walk yesterday morning.
I’ve been suffering with a minor foot injury for past couple of weeks and it can sometimes be painful when I walk on it. It’s doing LOADS better now, after receiving help at the Alexander Technique International Congress in Chicago last week. (Thanks, in particular, to John Macy, AT teacher and PT extraordinaire!)
During my walk yesterday, however, I was aware of the sensitive spot each time my foot touched the ground, and it affected the way I was walking. And not just the way I walked – it was putting stress and tension into my whole body.
Let me be more specific about this. The way I was reacting to the pain was putting stress on my body. And, even more than that, the way I was reacting to the possibility of pain was putting strain on my body. It was my anticipation of something that might or might not happen that was tensing me up, which in turn meant that pain was more likely.
I decided this was a good opportunity to use my Alexander Technique skills and explore some different ways of thinking to see if I could help myself.
I played with a few ideas but nothing I tried seemed very helpful. I also realized I was very much attached to the outcome I wanted – to walk without pain or discomfort.
Thankfully I decided to try a different tack.
That’s when I thought to myself, “I’m not walking!” *
Of course, I was walking. My intent, however, was to give myself the message that I didn’t have to “manage” my walking. I could leave it to my body-mind to figure out the details, and I could “get out of my own way.”
When we have – or have the possibility of – pain or discomfort, we can often get very careful, and try to manage all the details, in this particular instance, of how my foot landed on the ground. This is completely understandable. There is, however, a tension that accompanies this type of carefulness that is typically not helpful.
So, I was very clear with myself as I explored this “self-direction,” that this was an exploration, an experiment. I did not know what the outcome would be. I let go of my attachment, my desire, for the result I craved. Instead, I allowed myself to wonder, to simply be curious, about what would happen when I thought “I am not walking.”
And for the next few steps my walking did indeed get easier, more comfortable, and what little pain I had pretty much disappeared. Specifically, I found myself noticing that the way my body was balancing itself as I walked had subtly altered, that the amount of pressure going into my feet had reduced, that the parts of my foot that touched the ground as I walked had changed, and that generally I had less tension in my body.
It was like magic.
Not trying to manage how I was walking AND letting go of any attachment I had to the outcome I wanted were the key.
The real win for me, however, was to simply be in process, doing the experiment and noticing what happens whatever the outcome turned out to be.
The irony is, of course, that this actually made it more likely that the thought would indeed be helpful.
This principle has implications in many areas of our lives, from exercising, to working at our computer, to trying to get our point across at a meeting.
Our attachment to our desired result puts stress into our whole system – body and mind. When we can remain in a state of curiosity, in the process without attachment to outcome, stress is reduced, and very often the outcome we desire is, paradoxically, more likely.
This principle is an important part of what I teach my clients. It is an important skill everyone can learn and is always an ongoing practice. It’s human nature to want to get results.
Of course, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have goals. Goals are very important.
What I am saying is that approaching your goals, big or small, is better served by paying attention to the journey, to the how, to the process itself.
Why don’t you experiment with the idea that helped me next time you are walking across the room, or to your car? Just wonder to yourself what will happen when you think, “I’m not walking” while you are walking!
Or try the same idea with a different activity like typing at the computer (“I’m not typing”) or speaking (“I’m not speaking”) or even try out “I’m not sitting” right now as you sit reading this.
What do you discover?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
* I originally came across this idea from the excellent book, How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live by Missy Vineyard.