There is something particularly seductive about the notion that we create our own reality. The problem lies in the distinction between objective reality—the facts—and what we believe to be true that might have no basis in fact at all.
For many of us, what we think of as “reality” or “the truth” is far less solid than we think. The explanations we make up to fill in what we don’t know make our realities highly subjective.
Objectivity relies on knowing the facts, but the facts we might actually know when stress hits are often quite limited, and the neurochemistry of the fight, flight or freeze response is extremely powerful. When you’re under its influence you’re far more likely to rush to judgment and do something impulsive, rather than to slow down and think things through so you can make choices that serve your best interests in the long run. This can make objectivity feel very illusive.
So, how do we locate the reliable ground we need to be objective when there are crucial facts we just can’t know in the moment? The short answer is: yes, but it can only be found if we wait for the facts to emerge instead of jumping to conclusions. If you wait for the facts to emerge, you not only avoid saying and doing things you later regret, you will give your reality a fighting chance at being on solid ground that will support you in making solid decisions that lead to constructive outcomes.
When you’re standing on the ground of objective reality, the only thing under your feet should be the facts you actually know, along with acknowledgement of what you don’t know. Making these distinctions can be a very tricky business because our brains abhor the uncertainty caused by not knowing and will not hesitate to fill in what we don’t know with speculation, projections and worst-case scenarios.
For this reason, it’s vital to overcome the brain’s resistance to uncertainty and embrace it with an open heart.
In the exercise that follows, I invite you to cultivate your willingness to be present with uncertainty and accept the presence of all you don’t know, just for now.
1. I am uncertain about…
To get at what facts you do know, you’ll first need to face the uncertainties causing you to imagine worst-case outcomes. Consider your anxieties and fears, and the things beyond your control that you may be trying to prepare yourself for. For example, I am uncertain about:
…how bad the pandemic will get this fall into winter.
…how much the climate will change in the relative future.
…the outcome of a scheduled medical procedure.
Write down whatever topic you are most anxious about right now, whatever it is that keeps you up at night. Whatever it may be, write it down.
2. The facts are…
The goal here is to get your feet firmly on the ground of objective reality. Use numbers when appropriate and avoid stating emotions or projections. The facts are always the starting point for making any sustainable change.
…that COVID cases have currently plateaued in my area.
…that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the last 22 years.
…that my hip pain makes it difficult to walk and my procedure is scheduled on November 17th.
…my investment account lost $____ last month.
3. I feel fear because…
This sentence can be a little tricky because I’m asking you NOT to speculate. For example, if you’re terrified your son won’t be able to afford his mortgage because it’s unclear when he’ll be able to go back to work, what I want you to write down would be something like this: It’s uncertain how my son will be impacted by the closure of the restaurant where he works.
State your fear of uncertainty out loud to yourself as you write it down here.
…it’s uncertain if the pandemic will still get worse.
…it’s uncertain how climate change will affect my children and grandchildren.
…the outcome of any medical procedure is uncertain.
4. I accept the uncertainty.
Now that you’ve faced your fear of uncertainty by identifying it, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I accept this uncertainty in my life, just for now.” Next, I want you to observe how you feel in your body. Can you notice any change?
Are you a little less tense? A little more at ease?
Maybe even slightly less afraid?
I’ve shared a variation of this exercise over the years, and I’m sharing it again now because it is so powerful. It provides a way to be more honest with yourself and more fact-based. It also reminds you to come back to the moment. For me, the critical element is the piece about accepting the uncertainty just for now.
If you’re really triggered, you might have to repeat the sentence a thousand times a day. But it really helps.
Now that you’ve seen how to use these four sentence starters as a tool for embracing uncertainty just for now, you’ll be able to start dealing with uncertainty in a more self-empowering, constructive way that grounds you in objective reality and helps you resist the temptation to use your imagination to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
Use this exercise any time anxiety hits. It’s such a simple, powerful way to get back into the now-moment where your life is actually happening. If you’re willing to have the future be what it is—uncertain—then you can be anchored here, in the now-moment, where life is unfolding, the facts are emerging, and your best choices are presenting themselves.
Take good care : )