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How to be Cool with Uncertainty

As we established last week, certainty is most certainly NOT your friend.

A high need for certainty keeps us small. It creates within us limiting patterns of belief and behaviour. It makes us incurious. It makes us fearful. And when we're fearful it's because our monkey brains are in charge and our monkey brains are wired for survival, not truth. And so we avoid fear and pain. And we contract. And we become even smaller still. And over time, there’s less and less of us.

That’s not okay. I want there to be more of you. I want you to expand.

So what are our monkey brains so afraid of? Well, in Strategic Intervention coaching, we talk about 3 fears that keep us from living the life we deserve.

Fear of loss

Fear of less

Fear of never.

But really, what all of this boils down to is fear of not being enough. And therefore, not being worthy of love. And we all have this fear. You, me, Tom Hanks, everyone at the office, Putin, Justin Bieber, all of us. Deep down, we all fear that we’re not loveable.

It’s terrifying. And it’s painful. And it’s mystifying.

In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this phenomenon “The Resistance”.

He says, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, prevent us from doing our work.”

So what can you do?

Get curious my friend. And do the emotional labour.

First, you have to be aware of your fear. And you have to admit you’re afraid. It’s only when we acknowledge our fear that we can begin to do something about it. Otherwise, it’ll sneak up on you in weird and wonderful ways.

Here’s some hints that you’re denying your fear:

  • You prioritize urgent over important.

  • You feel the need to reformulate your big plan over and over without ever actually implementing

  • You feel a sudden urge to begin a project from scratch

  • You regularly zone out with Netflix, or too much wine, or Xanax or porn or Doritos or all of the above (Binging on Queer Eye is the exception. It’s impossible to watch too much Queer Eye.)

Next, you have to let yourself be vulnerable. Talk to your partner about it. Talk to your family and friends about it. Let people know where you’re struggling and ask for advice and support. You’ll be surprised at how willing they will be to step up.

Next, you must train your nervous system to get used to uncertainty. Yup, the old cliché is true, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. In the Shambhala tradition of Buddhism, this is called compassionate abiding. And you can learn how to do it.

Pema Chodron (my favourite nun) says that we can start this training by acknowledging the negative emotions (fear, shame, anger, etc) that lie at the heart of The Resistance. When we hear them in our heads, we can experience them with humour and kindness. And we should say, “There you are again, my old friend.”

The more you resist negative emotions, the stronger they become. So, befriend them. Recognize that they’re trying to protect you. They’re trying to help.

I call my fear, Mr. Fear. He looks something like this.

If you’ve seen the movie Weird Science, he’ll look familiar to you. I’ll be just minding my own business, doing my work, and suddenly, Mr. Fear will turn up and tear around my brain on his motorcycle, spinning wheelies and doing doughnuts.

I’ve learned to recognize him for what he is. He's just Mr. Fear, doin’ his thang. And I say, “Hello Mr. Fear, my old friend”. And then I wait, and sit with him, and eventually, he gets bored, or rather, I get distracted, and he goes away, and I wish him well until next time.

Finally, you need to align yourself with your core values. I’m not talking about the Should Values – the ones you get from your parents and teachers. I’m talking about the Could Values – the ones that are core to your existence as a human being. These are the values about what you could do and who you could be.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our values. And that’s a terrible shame. Because when we’re not aligned with them, we’re running away from our true nature. We’re betraying ourselves. And nothing feels worse. Cue the Netflix, wine, Xanax… etc.

What are your core values? Everyone’s are different. Here’s a list to get you started on discovering what yours might be.

Once you’re in alignment with your core values, a most amazing thing will happen. You’ll have the only form of certainty that matters. You’ll know that you’re living your life as you were meant to. That you’re fulfilling your purpose. And that even when things get shaky, you have a path. You have a way.

You have you. And you’re mighty fine.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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