“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos
In three weeks, we are opening our dream facility, we are giving an adorable Shiba Inu puppy a forever home, and I am launching ‘With Love From the Trench Kitchen’ at the 2015 Arnold Sports Festival. My world is a towering stack of mights right now. Though I’m dealing with a lot more change than usual, the reality is that most days start and end with uncertainty.
The renovations might get done in time. The staff might perform their job as good or better than Neil and I. Our puppy might scratch our hardwood floors, and she might eat my most expensive pumps. Everyone might hate the cookbook. I might look homely and out of place at the expo and allow insecurity to ruin my experience.
I might balance everything well; I might feel overwhelmed. Even when you think you’ve curled into a cozy cocoon of predictability, anything could change in a heartbeat.
The only constant in life is that it will involve change; and try as you may to control the future, sometimes all you can do is trust that whatever happens, you can adapt and make the best of it.
Since I am straddling familiarity and the unknown, waiting to form some type of expectations for my future, I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with uncertainty well. Though I’ve written before about embracing an uncertain future, I have a few more ideas to add to the mix:
1. Replace expectations with plans.
When you form expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can guide your tomorrow, but you can’t control the exact outcome. If you expect the worst, you’ll probably feel too negative and closed-minded to notice and seize opportunities. If you expect the best, you’ll create a vision that’s hard to live up to.
Instead of expecting the future to give you something specific, focus on what you’ll do to create what you want to experience.
I might look like a homely wall flower at the Arnold and not relate to any of my ON teammates, or I might arrive and meet a group full of yogis who enjoy baking and dirty jokes. None of that is in my hands right now. What is in my hands is what I plan—what I will actively do when I get there to meet friends, find balance, and feel comfortable being me.
2. Prepare for different possibilities.
The most difficult part of uncertainty, at least for me, is the inability to plan and feel in control. For example the gym; until we know what the gym is going to look / feel like, we can’t plan where people will sit for seminars, what additional classes we need to implement, or what events we could consider hosting. But I can plan for the possibilities.
3. Become a feeling observer.
It isn’t the uncertainty that bothers me; it’s my tendency to get lost in my feelings about it.
The second I start indulging fear, I get lost in a cycle of reactionary thoughts. “The gym might not get done in time” leads to “How will I optimally serve everyone?” Before you know it, I’ve somehow traveled all the way to “What if I become a recluse, start overeating, and develop restless leg syndrome from sitting too much—alone—in my office?”
Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration. The point is that speculation leads to feelings, which can lead to more speculation and then more feelings. It helps me to stop the cycle by recognizing the feeling—in that case, fear—and the reminding myself: I can’t possibly predict the future, but I can help create it by fostering positive feelings about the possibilities.
4. Get confident about your coping and adapting skills.
This isn’t the same as “expect the worst.” It’s more about assuring yourself that you can handle any difficulty that might come.
In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie K. Norem discusses the concept of defensive pessimism—when you consider the worst so you can plan how you’d handle it. This has actually shown to help people manage anxiety.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” With respect to the cookbook, the worst case scenario would be if I had never proposed the idea to ON and I continued to post recipes to social media in a totally unorganized random fashion. I wouldn’t like it, but I could handle it. I could collect all of the recipes I’ve posted and make a book on blurb and sell it locally. I could deal, which makes the uncertainty a little less scary.
5. Utilize stress reduction techniques preemptively.
If you’re dealing with uncertainty, you probably have stress in your body, even if it’s not at the forefront of your thoughts in this exact moment. Over time, that body stress affects blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle tension, cholesterol level, breathing rate, and every organ in your body.
Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your day, ideally meditation, even if just five to ten minutes daily. Finding your center will help you feel better prepared to tackle whatever comes your way.
6. Focus on what you can control.
Oftentimes, we overlook the little things we can do to make life easier while obsessing about the big things we can’t do.
For example, every single time I post a recipe to social media I hear this “When will your cookbook be available?” “Hurry up with that cookbook” “Cookbook do you even?”… etc. etc. Publishing a book is no joke. Especially when you are publishing a book with the most influential, number one related supplement company in the world. Many times I wanted to pull the plug.
Then suddenly, it dawned on me: quitting now just isn’t an option, but I can make this limbo period more bearable if I stop complaining and focus on the finished product.
7. Practice mindfulness.
When you obsess about a tomorrow you can’t control, you’re too busy judging what hasn’t happened yet to fully experience what’s happening right now. Instead of noticing and appreciating the beauty in the moment, you get trapped in a fear-driven thought cycle about the potential for discomfort down the line.
While meditation is the best way to become more mindful, it isn’t the only approach. Sometimes it helps me to take an inventory of what’s good in today. So I can’t yet plan for tomorrow—that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That means I can spend today doing other things, like writing, cooking, training, relaxing with the monkey, and connecting with people I love.
If ever you think you’ve created a controllable, predictable life for yourself, you can rest assured that’s an illusion. Nothing stays the same forever.
The uncertainty can keep you up at night, obsessing over ways to protect yourself from anything that might go wrong. Or it can motivate you to practice acceptance, live in the moment, and embrace the adventure of living.
What’s coming tomorrow might not be easy—or it might fulfill you in ways you didn’t know to imagine. What’s certain is that it will come and when it gets here, you’ll respond to it, learn from it, and move into another tomorrow full of endless possibilities.
Today I’m focusing on my possibilities, not my fear, and suddenly I feel a lot better.
With Love From the Trench Kitchen,