Turning Uncertainty into an Advantage
How are you coping with the uncertainty and turmoil many of us are facing today? Are you feeling drained by the worries of what’s going to happen? Are you struggling to cope with the new ways of working remotely?
Or maybe you’re using this time usefully to take a step back from old patterns that weren’t good for you and you’re reflecting on what you really want in the future?
My work as an executive coach and hypnotherapist is centered around helping my clients to gain self-confidence and self-belief. Today, in these times of turmoil and uncertainty, it seems even more important for me to be helping people to have confidence in their ability to overcome the obstacles they’re facing and to rebound from this situation with hope for a positive future. Which is why I’m delighted to be sharing with you, in this blog article, my personal thoughts and tips on how you can turn this period of uncertainty into an advantage.
I also want to put forward my conviction that the unknown (or we could call it uncertainty) is not our enemy. Instead, I firmly believe that the unknown offers us the possibility for hope & positive change.
How does uncertainty manifest itself?
Deepak Chopra wisely tells us:
All great changes are preceded by chaos.
We’re certainly living through chaotic times at the moment, so you may well ask how can we bring about great changes? Before answering this question further on, let’s firstly take a look at how uncertainty manifests itself in our minds and what we can do to stop negative thoughts.
If someone had told you on 1st January that in a few months’ time you would be quarantined in your home for 2 months, unable to have contact with family and friends and forced to work from home, how would you have reacted? Personally, I probably would have panicked and thought I’d have to stock up on tons of toilet paper to keep me going! Yet, we, like a large part of the world, have experienced lockdown and we’ve all survived it. And personally, I didn’t stock up on toilet paper either! In fact, I’ve used this time positively to think about what I really want to do in life, and from what I can see, many other people have done the same.
So, we can say that it’s when we imagine the terrible things that might happen to us in the future that we feel fear and anxiety. These things we imagine might stop us from sleeping at night, or they might cause panic attacks, negative stress and consistent worrying. They stop us from focusing properly and getting things done effectively. We imagine all the terrible things that can happen and they become amplified in our mind. That’s what then causes us to suffer. Yet, these things haven’t actually happened so they’re not real.
By allowing our imagination to tell us terrible things are going to happen to us, we feel afraid, anxious and panic-stricken. However, they’re only imaginary events that might happen, but then again they might not. At this present moment we don’t know what will happen. So, we could say that it’s not actually uncertainty that we fear. It’s the certainty of what our imagination tells us is going to happen that we fear, e.g. I’ll get sick, I’ll lose my job, the economy will explode.
Let’s take an example: when we listen to the news, we hear talk of a major worldwide recession. This might make us worry about redundancy, losing customers or maybe not having a role to play in our company anymore. It can make us fear for our jobs and livelihood. Yet, those terrible events haven’t happened, they’re only what our imagination is telling us might happen. What’s important to remember is that all that’s real is what’s happening in this present moment. The past is just our memory of events, which is why 2 people who lived the same event will often tell a different story of what happened. The future hasn’t happened yet, so it’s not real either. All that is real is the present moment.
What, then, can you do to stop this negative thinking? I’d advise you to not try to fight against it by telling yourself off for having negative thoughts for example. You’ll only reinforce the negativity and make it worse. Instead, you should pay attention to the moments of thinking “I’m afraid of what’s going to happen.” What thoughts are making you feel like that? What are you “certain” about that’s making you feel pain or fear right now? What story have you created in your mind? It’s important to then go on to recognise the futility and distractive nature of the thinking and go on to tell yourself these are not real events.
Here’s a short exercise to illustrate how to do this:
- Take a minute to list all the negative events that your imagination is telling you might happen in the future.
- Now, take a moment to tell yourself that these aren’t real events because they haven’t happened, they’re only imaginary.
The purpose of this exercise is to reprogramme your brain to focus on the reality of what’s happening now. Your brain will retain what you tell it. By telling it terrible things will happen, you’ll start to panic and feel anxiety. On the other hand, by telling it these events are only imaginary, your brain will remember these aren’t actually real events and it will focus more on the present moment.
When have you used your resilience in the past?
I love this quote by William Shakespeare because it reinforces how we have the ability to take control of our own destiny:
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
In order to believe in ourselves, it’s so important to connect to our inner resources, so let’s now consider when you’ve used your own resilience in the past.
Firstly, what is resilience?
It’s the strength that allows us to rebound after a failure, which makes us believe in ourselves in spite of hardships and which gives us the courage to keep going in spite of all the difficulties we’re encountering.
As we saw in the previous topic, we worry about events that might happen but they’re not real because they haven’t actually happened. What’s really important to remember is that if bad things actually do happen to us, we will be able to draw on our inner resilience to make it through the difficult period. That’s why sometimes we look back on a difficult situation we lived through and wonder how we actually got through it and maybe even came out the better for it. It’s our resilience that helps us to persevere in the face of adversity.
I’d like to share with you a personal experience of when I connected to my inner resilience.
My personal example
When I hit 40, I had a mid-life crisis and my world was basically turned upside down. I got divorced, I had a clash with my business partner and I moved house – 3 of the main causes of stress and anxiety, by the way! These events led to me living a life of total uncertainty, both professionally and personally, not having any idea of how I’d be able to cope and provide a comfortable home for my 2 teenage children. I was also worried about what, I realise today, to be minor details like how to fill in my tax form, as I’d never even done that before!
Yet, in the long term those events led to me gaining my freedom to do things differently. I’d become bored with working as an English trainer and I discovered a new vocation in coaching. I also set up my own business, which I’d never have believed I could have done before. Today, I can truly say I love my work, it’s a real vocation, and I love my life. And I also discovered that filling in my tax form was one of the easiest things I had to do!
In these times of uncertainty, it’s important to reassure ourselves that if any of the bad things we’re imagining do actually happen, we’ll have the inner resources to deal with them at that time. So, following my own advice, I asked myself what helped me to get through that challenging period of uncertainty and to come out of it for the better? I came up with this list:
- Support of my family and friends
- Being coached
- And last, but certainly not least, trust in my inner voice (my intuition) that was telling me that “better days would return” (to quote the Queen!)
You can do this exercise to reflect on your own experiences with uncertainty and how you used your resilience to pull through:
- Think about one particular time in the past when you experienced uncertainty, professionally or personally. It was a time when you had no control over the situation, but it all worked out in the end.
- List everything that helped you to pull through that difficult period. (e.g. support of family and friends, a coach/psychotherapist, doing sport, yoga, meditation, religious belief, spirituality, leisure activities etc.)
- Now, go back to your previous list of current negative imaginings and ask yourself how the resources you just noted can help you to cope if ever those events do become real.
The purpose of this exercise is to show you that you have more inner resources than you imagine and that your past experiences have helped you to build up the resilience that you can use in the future if you need to.
What are you able to control today?
I find this quote by Marcus Aurelius particularly inspiring:
Give me patience, to reconcile with what I am not able to change.
Give me strength to change what I can.
And give me wisdom to distinguish one from another.
I believe that now more than ever, we need to learn how to accept a situation that we don’t have any control over and to draw on our inner strength to bring about the transformations that will be positive for us.
With this in mind, let’s consider the question: what are you able to control today?
There are so many things at the moment that are out of our control, which makes us uncomfortable because it’s human nature to want to have everything under control.
Yet, we can ask ourselves, is control not actually an illusion? We thought we were controlling our lives by having the power to buy nice things, travel, go out to nice restaurants, etc. etc. But today, with lockdown or other restrictions on our freedom, we have little or no control of what’s going to happen next. Which just goes to show how fragile our control over events actually is.
This lack of control, of things not going as we want them to, can create unhappiness and frustration. As I just said, it’s human nature to want to experience the security of being in our comfort zone. However, staying in our comfort zone doesn’t allow us to grow and discover the hidden resources that can bring about positive transformations in our life.
Usually, we’re able to go to the office and interact with colleagues. We can also go out and socialize, go to restaurants with family and friends, go to the cinema, theatre, etc. But these can be distractions from the outside world that are stopping us from connecting to our inner selves. Being stuck at home, we’re faced with ourselves, maybe feeling powerless and imprisoned. But we also have more time to think about what we really want from life and to do some introspection. Which leads us to consider this question:
Does true power and freedom not lie within ourselves?
We may not be able to change the events that are happening to us today, but we can change how we respond to them. That’s the control that we do have. By taking this time to focus on what’s really important for us, we can find ways of being more creative and productive in the future.
People who make it through difficult times have more resilience because they’ve learned that there’s no point in trying to force their lives into turning out a certain way. They accept what is and work with it, rather than against it. They don’t need to have a guarantee to succeed, they’re prepared to take the risk of jumping into the unknown. They know that it might be scary to jump into the unknown, but it’s also opening up the possibility for new and more wonderful things to happen. A period of uncertainty like we’re living through at the moment can be the opportunity for us to connect to our creativity. This can lead to us finding new ways of living that are in greater harmony to our true self.
Concrete example from my practice of transition coaching
I’ll share with you the example of one of my clients – let’s call him John – who I coached after he was made redundant. John had been working for the same company for 22 years when it merged with another firm, leading to job cuts. When he started the coaching sessions, he was anxious about finding a new job as he was in his early 50s and everyone kept telling him that in France employers won’t hire anyone over the age of 50. During the coaching, we worked on his passions and he told me how he was a real foodie and he’d always dreamed of setting up his own restaurant. Financially, it would be tight, but he had received a redundancy package and his wife was more than happy to go back to work full time to help to make ends meet. So, he set up his restaurant, which became a great success. Of course, today, he’s in a challenging period again with the repercussions of lockdown but he’s now looking into possibilities of offering catering services.
In John’s example, his redundancy actually led to him being freed from previous constraints that had limited his personal fulfillment. Having his world turned upside down meant he was more open to new doors opening up and it led to making his dream become reality. Also, because he has already lived through a difficult period, he knows today that he has the resilience to make it through this one too.
I’d like to invite you to now take the time to think about everything that you have the power to control today. And list everything, professional and personal.
(Some ideas: take the time to do an online training course on a subject that’s always interested you, do some online sport sessions to get fit, learn to cook, play games with your children, meditate each morning, or simply daydream about something you’d love to do in the future. Or maybe you’ll take the decision to be coached to have support in reinventing yourself.)
The purpose of this exercise is to help you to strengthen your resilience and to better connect to your inner resources. There are a lot of things that are out of your control today but there are also lots of things you can control. If you go looking for them, you can also find possibilities for you to open up new doors and bring about positive transformations in your life.
Strengthening our resilience through the expression of gratitude
Eckhart Tolle, offering us hope, says:
If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear.
If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness,
alertness and creativity.
As we’ve already seen, the refusal to accept the uncertainty of our situation leads to us feeling fear and anxiety. Yet, as Eckhart Tolle says, by accepting it we become more alive and creative. We’ve also seen how important it is to connect to our inner resilience in order to better accept the uncertainty of our current situation and to keep hope in the future. We’re going to now look at how we can strengthen our resilience through the expression of gratitude.
Our resilience is strengthened when we express gratitude for what we already have. It means recognising that our life may not be as we’d like it to be, but it could be worse. It means appreciating the good things that we do have.
Concrete example from my practice of coaching for self-confidence
I’d like to share with you the example of another client I coached – let’s call her Alice – to help her to pull through a period when she was being psychologically harassed at work. She was close to having a burn out, not sleeping at night and living under permanent stress. This caused her to be swept up in the vicious cycle of seeing everything negatively.
One of the tools I used with Alice was to build up her resilience to the situation through the expression of gratitude. I invited her to list every morning and every evening 5 things she felt gratitude for. Sometimes, it was big things like feeling gratitude for her supportive husband, sometimes it was the joy of watching her children playing and laughing in the garden, or simply listening to the birds singing. When we feel gratitude for what we have, we can more easily brush aside our worries and fears. We connect to the present moment, where we can experience serenity.
The coaching process helped Alice to regain her self-confidence by seeing life more positively, breaking the vicious cycle of negativity. Her expression of gratitude for the good things she had in her life helped her to build up her resilience. She found the strength to leave the company where she was being ill-treated and she had enough self-confidence to find a new and better job.
During our sessions, I suggested to Alice that she pay attention to any negative thoughts she had, recognize the futility of them and then come back into the present moment. To do this, I taught her some self-hypnosis and positive visualisation exercises that helped her to relax and let go of the pressure.
I’m now going to share with you a simple positive visualisation exercise that I use in my sessions. It’ll help you to focus on connecting to gratitude. You can do this exercise by yourself at any moment when you feel anxious or stressed.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Or leave them open if you prefer, focusing on one spot.
Place your hands on your thighs, palms placed upwards. Observe your breathing, without judgement, and very gradually let it slow down.
Now, scan each part of your body to let it relax, from your feet to your legs, to your stomach, to your chest, shoulders, arms hand. Then relax the back of your neck, your throat and each part of your face, up to your head.
Now, bring your attention to your hands – you might feel them tingling, which means the energy is circulating. If you don’t feel anything, that’s ok too. Slowly, let your hands join together and feel the energy circulating in both hands.
Then bring your hands to your heart and place them there, one on top of the other. Feel your breathing calm and regular. Feel the energy of love circulating around your heart. Now, in your mind, list 3 things you feel grateful to have in your life today. They’re the first three things that come into your mind. You can visualise these three things, maybe they’re an image, words, music or anything else.
When you’re ready, gently bring your hands back onto your thighs and place them palms downwards.
Then, when you’re ready, open your eyes and bring your attention back to the present moment.
My personal message to you
To conclude, I’ve talked about the negative effects of not being in our comfort zone. I’ve also given examples to show you how to strengthen your resilience in order to transform these times of uncertainty into an advantage.
I’d like to now end with my own message to you:
Embrace uncertainty. Be curious about what’s coming next. A new chapter in your life is being written.
And never forget this: as human beings, we have an incredible and powerful capacity to reinvent ourselves.
This blog post is also available as a spoken version on YouTube and on Anchor: