Resilience: Dealing With Uncertainty

by Ben Richardson
7th April 2021    

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” John Allen Paulos

Given that life is inherently uncertain, to thrive you need to learn to cope with uncertainty.

Dealing with uncertainty is a key part of learning to be more resilient and looking after your mental health.

What is Uncertainty?

Uncertainty is not knowing what will happen.

It doesn’t refer to situations where you know that there are a number of different outcomes, and often have a good idea of how likely each is – for example, tossing a coin.

It refers to situations where there are more unknowns and so you don’t even know what the outcomes might be. It describes a situation where you lack the knowledge to be confident assessing an outcome.

How Is Uncertainty Different To Risk?

Risk refers to future events that may or may not happen, some of which would lead to a negative outcome.

Risk is a potential loss that can often be predicted or estimated in advance.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, is when future events are completely unknown. It can not be measured or calculated.

Making decisions under conditions of high uncertainty is very difficult, and many people find it almost impossible.

Risk and uncertainty differ in the degree of control and predictability that you have.

Risk can be measured and controlled.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, can not. When the possible outcomes are not known in advance, it is impossible to estimate how likely they might be.

Tossing a fair coin and wanting to get heads is a good example of the difference between risk and uncertainty.

There is no uncertainty in this situation. You know that the odds of getting tails (bad) is 50:50. That is just the way that tossing a coin works.  You can’t know in advance if it will come up heads or tails, so there is a known risk of getting tails.

 

 

RISK UNCERTAINTY
Known variables Unknown variables
Can be measured Can not be measured
Decision making possible Decision making very difficult
Can be controlled Can’t be controlled

 

Risk Management

Given that risk can be predicted it can be managed. Risk management is the action organizations and

individuals take to deal with risks.

The key steps in risk management are:

1.      Identifying the risk: use research and available data to identify risks.

2.      Assessing the probability: risks need to be analyzed to determine their severity and the range of

their effect.

3.     Cost-benefit analysis: evaluate the negative and positive sides of your possible routes forward.

4.      Choosing a response: decide how to respond to the risk.

5.      Evaluating results: What are the effects of your decisions?

6.      Ongoing monitoring: keep monitoring risk events to encounter changing circumstances.

For a more comprehensive take on risk and uncertainty, you can check out this article.

 

How Does Uncertainty Affect Mental Health?

Your mental health, simply put, just refers to how you feel or your emotional state.

Do you generally feel positive, enthusiastic and happy? If so your mental health is good.

Do you generally feel anxious, negative and / or lethargic? If so then your mental health probably needs some work.

Uncertainty removes our ability to plan for the future. It makes us feel that we are unable to rely on experience to make new decisions.

This inability to make informed decisions can deeply impact our mental health. Intolerance to uncertainty is a hallmark of anxiety-type conditions.

Human beings want to be in control of their lives. When uncertainty rises above a certain range, people begin to feel increasingly as if they have lost control of their lives which can be frightening.

Our mind is not designed to keep us happy and comfortable. It is designed to keep us alive. This means that it is automatically spends a lot of forecasting, planning and ‘worrying’ about the future. If you take this away, then you mind will go into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

According to a study by the researcher R. Nicholas Carleton, intolerance of uncertainty refers to the difficulty in enduring not knowing. This intolerance can cause a range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses.

Many people find that uncertainty can lead them to a vicous circle of worrying about the future, which makes them less likely to take action. This in turn makes them even more worried and anxious and so even less likely to take action.

They go round this cycle a number of times getting steadily more worried as time progresses.

Often this can be exacerbated by the impact that anxiety has on your sleep. Again this is a vicious cycle.

You are worried and so you sleep less well. Poor sleep has been shown to increase anxiety, and so you become more anxious as a result, which only serves to make the problem worse and worse.

This is backed up by research that suggests that the four biggest impacts of uncertainty are:

·        anxiety disorders

·        depression

·        eating disorders

·        sleep issues

 

Depression and anxiety disorders are also associated with a feeling of lack of agency and so reduce the likelihood that you will take action.

This is why learning how to deal with uncertainty is a key part of becoming resilient. Keeping moving forward is key.

How Do Resilient People Deal With Uncertainty?

Resilience is what helps us to thrive amidst difficult circumstances whether they are a set back (psychological, personal or professional) or just uncertainty.

Resilience is all about adaptability and flexibility in the face of adversity and stress. It is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Characteristics of Resilient People

Resilient people respond to uncertainty and problems differently to more psychologically ‘fragile’ people.

There is lots of clinical evidence that they have lower levels of stress (see this article for more tips on managing stress) and focus more on the present moment in response to challenge.

They are

·        Self-aware

·        Realistic

·        Have self-control

·        Problem Solvers

·        Flexible

·        Empathetic

·        Confident

The 7 Ways Resilient People Deal with Uncertainty?

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is normal to feel you lack control over

many aspects of your life. Amidst this uncertainty, it is more important than

ever to learn about how resilient people deal with uncertainty.

Resilient people use their skills to deal with ambiguity without letting it affect

them. Here are the 7 ways resilient people use to bounce back in uncertain

times.

1.      Develop a sense of purpose

2.      Maintain a positive attitude

3.      Stay connected

4.      Focus on what you can control

5.      Embrace change

6.      Strengthen your self-management

7.      Be physically active

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

1.      Develop a sense of purpose:

With the disruption in our daily activities resulting from the current situation of COVID-19, developing a sense of purpose will keep our thoughts in the present moment rather than spinning off worrying about what might be.

Having a purpose helps you even when things go wrong. A sense of purpose allows you to put unfavorable events, like sickness or accidents, in perspective, refocus on the meaningful things to you, and move ahead and enjoy life.

2.      Maintain a positive attitude:

Positive attitudes can not always change the outcomes of events, but they increase your resilience. Having a positive attitude means being able to view adverse events as only temporary setbacks.

Optimism and hopeful thinking are characteristics of resilient people. They see a chance for improvement in every stressful situation.

Resilient people find an opportunity in every difficulty. That is how they thrive and bounce back.

3.      Stay connected:

Human beings are social creatures. We rely on cooperation to survive in life.

Social distancing makes this desire for connection more challenging but not impossible. Virtual platforms are beneficial in the current circumstances to stay connected with our loved ones.

Asking for help and offering help to others can both boost your resilience.

4.      Focus on what you can control:

Resilient people are aware of how they feel, think, and respond in different situations. They realize what they can control and do not focus on what is out of their control.

Setting small daily goals, such as daily exercise, helps you stay grounded and more focused. As Laura Knouse, associate professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, says, “Goals and activities that generate a sense of accomplishment, mastery, difference-making, or positive emotions such as joy are especially good choices, but it can still feel good to accomplish even seemingly mundane tasks.”

5.      Embrace change:

“The only constant in life is change” Heraclitus.

We face change every day. There will always be change. Accepting change and tolerating its disrupting effects is what resilient people do.

We resist change because we are addicted to our habits. We fear to change our habits because of uncertainty, but life is all about embracing change and fighting uncertainty.

Change is a positive development that has several benefits.

The most important of which are

·        Personal growth

·        New business opportunities

·        Flexibility

·        Innovation

6.       Strengthen your self-management:

Knowing your strong points and weaknesses is a characteristic of resilience.

Work-life balance and effective time management techniques prevent burnout, which is a source of pressure for many individuals.

Resilient people accept responsibility for their actions. They are the managers of their own life.

7.      Be physically active:

Exercise boosts resilience.

Physical activity positively affects blood circulation and reduces several health risks.

It also improves memory, mood, and sleep routine.

A daily exercise routine, especially in times of uncertainty can be a great way to stay resilient.

 

Building resilience is not just about bouncing back and getting on your feet after

falling, it is about being more equipped with these ways in the face of difficult

situations. Resilient people are prepared for challenges and uncertainties.

Conclusion

Resilient people are aware of uncertainties in their lives, their emotional reactions to them, and their mental health effects.

They realize the importance of maintaining their mental health in the face of changes and challenges.

Resilience helps us control our responses to distressful situations resulting from uncertainty by being open, flexible, and willing to adapt to change.

Yes dealing with uncertainty is difficult and scary but with the right approach, it can be overcome.