Graham Tomlinson - The power of uncertainty

Graham Tomlinson discusses how allowing more uncertainty into our lives can improve the way we deal with other people and challenging situations

It is one of our most natural instincts as human beings – the desire we feel for certainty. We see it in all sorts of different situations. We feel it when we try to plan ahead, and we see it in our relationships with other people. It is all too easy for us to fall into a pattern of always seeking reassurance and safety, and to constantly try and predict and secure the future. This is, as most of us know from experience, an almost impossible task. 

So, what is the answer? In my experience, it can sometimes help to try and embrace the uncertainty. It can be difficult – even frightening sometimes – but it can also be liberating. But what do I mean by this, and what are the benefits you might see from living a more ‘uncertain’ life?

Seeing life as it really is

The first point to make is that when we begin to appreciate and allow uncertainty into our lives we are also beginning a process of seeing life as it actually is. The world is an uncertain place – other people, the financial markets, politics, the weather, the crowd you're about to stand up in front of and present to – they're all unpredictable, and it is hard to be completely sure about how they will behave.

When we try to impose certainty on our lives, it is often the case that what we're actually doing is trying to make the world fit with our own particular version of how we want the world to be. So, for example, you might want the audience you are about to address to be quietly respectful, or to ask you questions that are within your comfort zone. That's the version of the future you're hoping for, as you stand waiting to go on stage. The tension and anxiety you feel comes from the gap between the certainty of that imagined scenario, and the uncertainty of the real life one that is about to happen to you. When we drop our craving for certainty and embrace whatever life has to throw at us, as it happens, things become a lot more manageable.

Putting ourselves at the centre of everything

We all do this to different degrees, of course. Most of us – consciously or unconsciously – will make ourselves the leading character in every story we tell ourselves. We see everything that happens only as it relates to ourselves – rather than stepping back and appreciating that in reality the situation we are dealing with might be happening for reasons that actually have nothing to do with us. 

For example, you might be annoyed by the way that a work colleague responds in an off-hand manner to an email that took you a long time to compose. The story you might tell yourself is that they don't appreciate the effort you've put in, or don't take you seriously as a professional. This story ignores the million and one other reasons they might have had to reply in such a way - perhaps they even sent you a quick, seemingly offhand reply because they actually plan to come and see you to discuss the matter properly, in person, later on. 

So, what does this have to do with uncertainty? Well, again it is all about the way we try to impose the certainty of our own world view on every other situation. 

Most of us have a very firm sense of our own selves – from the things we like and don't like to our ways of doing things and of interacting with other people. This sense of self is our greatest certainty and is overwhelmingly powerful – so we find it incredibly difficult to see any situation we are a part of without putting ourselves at the heart of it. In our certain world, we are at the centre of everything – in the uncertain one, things happen for a million other different reasons, with or without our influence. 

So, when we are finally able to embrace more uncertainty in our lives, it in turn transforms our perspective from the individual to something far more universal, helping us to improve how we recognise different perspectives and the feelings and motivations of other people. 

It's tough to do but abandoning certainty and embracing a little uncertainty can completely change the way we interact with the world around us for the better.

About Graham Tomlinson’s blog

Graham Tomlinson blogs regularly on his website and has designed the perfect platform for sharing mindfulness & self-improvement tips with as many people as possible.