Stop predicting the future and embrace ambiguity!
(an example of) the fact of something having more than one possible meaning and therefore possibly causing confusion.
the state of being uncertain
Last week I was sitting on a plane on my way to Iceland, writing the next section of the mindfulness workbook I’m creating for a coaching client (Hi gf!).
In our previous session we had talked about how to deal with situations when you don’t know the outcome and your brain goes into overdrive thinking up every possible scenario that could happen.
Actually I lie. Thinking up every possible negative scenario that could happen.
I wanted to have a page or two focusing on ambiguity so started scribbling down ideas and ended up rabbiting on and on so here we are!
A whole blog on it! Lucky you.
Well that’s what a lot of us think.
But I’m here to defend ambiguity because it’s not the uncertain situation’s fault. It’s yours.
Let’s get into this a bit more soon but first a classic ambiguous situation to paint the picture.
This is Hannah.
Hannah has been talking to Charlie for a couple of weeks and they met up for a date a few days ago. All went well and Charlie asked whether Hannah was free on Friday for dinner.
It is now Thursday. They have been messaging all week but Charlie hasn’t mentioned dinner at all.
I know what you’re thinking… yes, guys are shit.
Regardless, Hannah has absolutely no idea whether they are meeting or not and can’t stop thinking about it.
Should she arrange to see friends or just leave the night open? She doesn’t want to look like she’s just hanging around for him (hello, she isn’t pathetic) and what if all she ends up doing is watching Graham Norton by herself with a bottle of red?
But what if he thinks they’re meeting and just hasn’t sorted the restaurant and then she’s made other plans and it looks like she doesn’t like him?
Or what if he doesn’t actually like her and is just avoiding the topic of dinner because he doesn’t actually want to meet anymore. He’s just pulling away slowly.
Or even worse, he kind of likes her but also likes another girl who he’s waiting to hear back from about dinner and Hannah is the second choice!
Oh no, that isn’t happening. She’s going to message her friends right now to arrange drinks.
But how likely even is that last option? Maybe she’ll hold off messaging her friends...
Whew Hannah, are you tired? I’m tired.
“Solving” ambiguous situations
Ambiguity is just the unknown or, a la Cambridge Dictionary, it is the state of being uncertain.
Our brains hate the unknown and love to solve a problem. An ambiguous situation is the unknown which our brains want to fill with the known or at least prepare us for what could happen.
And because the old brain is such a good problem solver, it will create 100 different possible scenarios in an attempt to figure out what the hell is going on.
All we really want is the feelings of assurance and security which comes with knowing exactly what’s going to happen.
Now if I ask Hannah what she wants right now, she might say “I need to know if we’re meeting for dinner tomorrow.”
A lot of us say
“I need to know”
No you don’t. You need all those actual life necessities like water and food.
What is knowing going to give you? It’s going to make you feel better.
It’s going to mean you stop the worrying, the scenario creation and you feel like you can take action for yourself.
Hannah can make plans and feel assured that Charlie likes her. She can stop spinning out and focus on what she should be doing right now. Like answering that email from her manager.
So basically we only ever want to achieve from knowing is to feel better about a situation.
So knowing exactly what is happening and is going to happen means that you are going to feel better?
Nothing external from you is ever going to make you feel better or feel anything at all. It is your thoughts and perceptions about a situation that create your feelings.
In the Hannah situ…
Hannah has a friend Alice who couldn’t organise a piss up at a brewery.
If she was messaging Charlie she would have no problem not knowing if they were meeting tomorrow because she doesn’t even know what day of the week it is and doesn’t plan anything more than a day in advance anyway.
They could be experiencing exactly the same thing and feeling completely different things.
It’s not the situation. It’s your thoughts and perceptions about the situation.
If you want to feel better, ask yourself how you’d feel if you did know the outcome.
Be really specific on the feelings and the actions you might be taking.
Would you be calm? Happy? Chilled? Feel in control?
Sweet as. You can feel those emotions whenever you want.
You can choose to feel them just by changing your thoughts about the situation.
I know lots of you will be thinking
“Cool story bro but when my brain spins out, I can’t do anything about it. You think I want to be losing my shit and working myself up into an anxious frenzy? I can’t stop it when it starts let alone choose my feelings”
Ah yes you can. Who is the actual boss here? You are not your thoughts and your thoughts are not always the truth.
You can take control, it’s just learning how and loads of practice.
Top tips for accepting and embracing ambiguity
Make the choice to be ok with not knowing.
Ok so it’s pretty clear that you don’t need to know. You just want to so you feel better.
Now it’s time to learn to be ok with not knowing and we can start by making the conscious decision to accept the ambiguity.
This immediately eliminates the “problem” for our mind to solve.
Honestly, this will be a fight. You have to continuously practice turning your mind to thoughts such as “I’m ok with not knowing what will happen”.
Within a few seconds, your brain will most probably be off thinking of another possible scenario.
Check it! Guide it back to the thoughts you want to be having. The thoughts that will create the emotions you’ve decided you want.
2. Be real with yourself
Step back and take an honest look at your thoughts.
Your brain is a liar remember, and is often in unhelpful thought patterns that are well practised at catastrophising, overthinking and predicting in the negative.
You know when you’re being ridiculous and spinning out so call yourself out! Actively see your thoughts for what they are and note how silly they are.
Do this kindly though, no beating yourself up. This is just your habits and your mind hasn’t been kept in check before. You are training an old dog new tricks.
3. Be clear on what the truth is
A very important thing to always keep in mind is that no scenario or worry that you ever have will come true exactly how you are imagining it.
The only truth is the past and now.
I mean, sometimes our past isn’t even the truth because we remember it wrong!
Regardless, nothing you imagine or worry about is the truth. So it is very much a waste of your time and energy plus it makes you feel like shit!
Literally say to yourself:
“this is never going to be true and I’m wasting my time”
4. Ask a different question.
Give you problem solving brain something else to focus on. Ask it a different question and I bet you it can’t help but solve it.
How do I want to feel about this situation?
How can I make myself feel better about this?
What are three positive scenarios I can think of that could happen?
5. Have a positive outlook
Uncertainty and ambiguity do not need to be negative or scary things. They can also be exciting or full of opportunities.
You need to back yourself and know that no matter what happens, you will be fine and you would have learnt something.
If you are assured and confident in yourself then you will know that even if the outcome is negative, it doesn’t reflect on you as a person, you will keep moving onwards and upwards in life and you’ve had the gift of learning something about yourself and the world.
This helps so much with accepting that you aren’t going to know what will happen until it happens and that you can experience it then. Not in a million different ways in your head before it actually happens.
Read my blog on cultivating positive thoughts for more on this x
6. Just ask!
Guys, there are so many situations that don’t need to be ambiguous if you just ask!
Hannah could have avoided all that mental stress by just messaging Charlie and asking him whether they were meeting for dinner or not. Ambiguity gone.
Lots of the reasons why we don’t ask are wrapped up in our self-worth and fear. We don’t want to look silly or put ourselves out there or, in Hannah’s case, get rejected.
But our fear is sourced from the negative possibilities that we are creating in our own heads. Last week’s blog on self-doubt shows how it’s mainly our thoughts that create our fear and the blocks that come with it.
So think about the positive outcomes, be brave and just ask.
To wrap up
Ambiguity is something we deal with every day. You don’t know how busy your commute is going to be, how many emails you’ll get today or whether your fave gym hottie will be on the squat rack tonight.
I mean really, you are absolutely smashing this being ok with ambiguity thing!
It is just certain situations we think we need to know about that we give our worry to. And you can smash being ok with those as well.
Ambiguity is always going to be there and all we are ever doing is walking forward into it.
The future will forever be ambiguous and that’s the exciting thing about it!