This is a guest post from Carolyn Rubenstein of A Beautiful Ripple Effect.
One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –André Gide
In life, we face uncertainty all the time, from our morning traffic commute, uncertain if we will make it to the meeting on time, to the greater uncertainties that accompany important life events. Uncertainty commonly is associated with doubt, a lack of confidence, risk, and the unknown.
For most individuals, the unknown is extremely uncomfortable. We crave structure and knowledge, a sense of control within our personal universe. When that control begins to dissolve, we face the challenge of letting go of the need to know in order to find peace within the process.
Accept the uncertainty of the circumstance. Recognize that you can’t change the past or predict the future. While such acceptance is difficult, it is essential in order to move forward. Remember that whatever you resist persists. And resistance typically is experienced as intense pain and struggle. Try utilizing this mantra, “I have no idea what is going to happen – and that’s okay.”
Manifest awareness. While you are most likely ready to retreat to your comfort zone of blissful ignorance, you want to bring awareness to what you are experiencing. You have no control when you suppress the discomfort. How can you change what you are not aware of? You can’t. Awareness provides liberating moments of stillness, which connect you to your powerful inner self. And in these moments, you feel lighter as a sense of relief washes over you.
Establish your locus of control. If you cannot control the circumstances, it’s easy to feel as if everything is unraveling on its own, leaving you as merely a witness of your own life. But you are far more powerful than you realize. Your greatest area of control is your thoughts. Circumstances can trigger thoughts (often irrational, self-limiting thoughts) and thoughts in turn determine how we feel. As such, we have the power to change how we feel by challenging our thoughts.
Challenge Painful Thoughts. Bring awareness into the moment and observe your thoughts without judgment. Then, write down thoughts or beliefs on a piece of paper. The simple act of separating yourself from your thoughts is empowering. It allows you to recognize that 1) you are not your thoughts and 2) you have the power to change your thoughts. Focus on one thought at a time. You want to challenge any thought that causes you to feel something negative. Brooke Castillo, author of Self Coaching 101, created a simple four-step technique to quickly challenge a thought. Below each step is an example from my personal practice of this technique.
1) Write down the painful thought.
- I should be doing more.
2) Write down the feeling the thought causes you to feel.
- I feel overwhelmed, ashamed, and guilty.
3) Write down a slightly better feeling thought that you know is true.
- I can take one small step. That’s all I need to do now.
4) Write down the feeling the new thought causes you to feel.
- I feel relieved, empowered, and optimistic.
Connect Compassionately with Yourself. Amidst uncertainty, we often resist acceptance of the situation by placing blame upon ourselves. Quickly, we become powerless victims who deserve the worst possible outcome our imaginations can create. Rather than feed our judgmental self-talk, it is important to focus on what underlies such judgments – our unmet needs. When we shift our focus from blame and self-punishment to compassion and self-love, we are able to take actions that support our well-being and personal growth.
The most powerful way to begin connecting more compassionately with yourself is through your use of language.
Simply notice what you are telling yourself. Are you communicating with compassion? Replace words that generate feelings of guilt or shame (e.g., should, have to) with words that express freedom and choice (e.g., can, choose to).
Regardless of what life may throw your way, you always have a choice. And that choice boils down to whether or not you let something beyond your control define how you think, what you feel, and what you do. Yes, easier said than done, but impossible? No. While it may be more difficult to challenge your mindset, akin to swimming upstream, it’s important to recognize that what may seem easier (i.e., letting the current direct you) actually is not the direction you want to go.
Be gentle with yourself, but by all means, be you. To gain hope and reconnect with your core of peace, you must emerge from the shadows, one tiny step at a time.
Carolyn Rubenstein has spent most of her life working with kids with cancer. She started Carolyn's Compassionate Children, a non-profit that provides scholarship and support to childhood cancer survivors. She is an author, media spokesperson, and founder of the blog A Beautiful Ripple Effect.