What We’re All Getting Wrong About our Freak-Outs

You know how this is an uncertain time? And how lots of people and articles and bloggers (including me) have been talking about how scary uncertainty is?

So…we all had it all wrong.

Let me show you what I mean.

The other day I had one of those freak-out moments, when the uncertainty around this pandemic – and just life in general – felt so scary. So many bad things could happen.

  • My business could dry up completely, leaving me unable to pay my rent
  • A beloved family member or friend could get sick, maybe even die
  • We could all find ourselves having to shelter in place for the next ten years. Ten years!

And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t the uncertainty that terrified me at all.

It was all of those super-scary scenarios – the ones I believed in the moment with certainty – that terrified me.

I bet yours do, too.

I’d actually heard this lesson from the extraordinary Sharon Salzberg a few weeks before. But it wasn’t until I was experiencing those scary scenarios for myself that it hit home.

There’s no doubt that uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. It makes us feel like we don’t have solid ground under our feet. Like we’re out of control. Powerless.

We think it’s this uncertainty that’s causing us to feel so freaked out. To feel so scared and jumpy.

The thing is, it’s not the uncertainty that’s the problem. In fact, if we just let ourselves feel the discomfort and let it pass through us (perhaps utilizing the 30-second rule we discussed recently), we would be okay.

Not certain, but okay.

But NOOOOOO…that’s not how we roll.

The second we get that groundless feeling, we let our minds go to town. We think that scenario-planning (which is very often catastrophizing), will somehow help us get that coveted solid ground.

And when that doesn’t work, we go to the news, to politicians, to our families and friends. We hope they have the answers so we can know for sure what will happen.

The problem? If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown us, it’s that we don’t know anything for sure.

Don’t believe me? Talk to the high school seniors who knew they’d be going to prom…to the travelers who knew they’d be heading overseas…to the business owners who knew they’d always be able to make payroll.

Turns out, they didn’t know. None of us do.

But because we’re human and we crave the myth of certainty, we scramble to create futures in our minds. We’re desperate to do it.

And then we freak out. Not because of the uncertainty. But because of the scenarios and speculations we believe with certainty. The images of ourselves and our loved ones, sick and poor and isolated forever.

A better option is: a) embrace uncertainty as a fact and b) get used to saying the following three words…

I. Don’t. Know.

These three words can liberate us, free us from those scenarios and speculations and worries. The ones we create about this pandemic. The ones we create about everything else in our lives.

And the truth is, these three words are more accurate than any of it.

I say it again. None of us knows for sure what the future will hold. We need to accept that.

To be clear, accepting uncertainty does not mean we lay back and do nothing. Instead, we assess our situations and take steps that make the most sense in the moment. And we accept that the future might look different than we think.

It also means we stop trying to fix the discomfort of uncertainty by imagining all kinds of scenarios in our minds, then believing they are facts. We don’t hang on so tightly to speculations by the guy on TV or the woman on Facebook who think they have the future all figured out.

They don’t.

Yes, one day we will know the answers to the questions we have now. We’ll be able to trust what’s happening at the moment because it will be happening at that moment.

Or because the experts – the real ones – will have gathered the data and can report it out. If nothing else, they’ll be more accurate than the rest of us.

Until then, let’s do whatever we can to find some peace during this time.

Let’s all take a collective breath, stop trying so hard to make certainty out of an uncertain situation. Let’s stop that inner novelist (the one we also discussed recently) and take a better approach.

Let’s practice the three best words possible: “I don’t know.”

Try it. I’m guessing you’ll like it.

Though, of course, I’m not certain about that.

12 thoughts on “What We’re All Getting Wrong About our Freak-Outs

  1. Bonnie Schwartz says:

    Bottom line. We don’t know. Certainty is an illusion except passing on, but no one has any idea when.
    Make the best of all situations. Having had so many situations in business and life, understanding what you can do, and what you can’t (many things) guides us.

    1. Thanks, Bonnie! Making the best of all situations is definitely an important ingredient to all of this!

  2. Diane says:

    I. Don’t. Know.
    I do know that you always provide timely pieces infused with the wisdom of ages. Thank you!

    1. 🙂 That’s very sweet of you, Diane…thank you for the clever and much appreciated comment. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it!

  3. Samantha Goldstein says:

    I need to repeat these words like a mantra. So true and really so comforting, in a weird way. I’m so controlling that the thing that freaks me out the most is having no control over information. But accepting that is the first step to peace. Thank you for this wise and thoughtful piece, Deirdre. I hope you two are doing great.

    1. Thanks so much, Sam. I agree that it’s pretty amazing how much peace these simple three words can provide…especially because I haven’t always been a fan of them. So glad you found this helpful…hope you and your beautiful family are doing great, too!

  4. Patricia Costa says:

    Great outlook Deirdre! It is a great goal which will give most of us peace in this difficult time.

    1. Thanks so much, Patty! It’s definitely a good goal – and not always an easy one, but it’s important for sure!

  5. Good timing on writing this article, Deirdre, and in finding ways each of us can become more comfortable living with uncertainty. Embracing I. Don’t. Know. is one such way. Thanks~

    1. Thanks very much, Julie…so pleased you found the post timely and interesting!

  6. Jim Tenuto says:

    Well done, Ms. D.!
    All times are uncertain. A technique that I have found valuable is to ask yourself this question: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Answer that question. The follow-up question: “What are you going to do?”
    Using your example, the answer would be “My business dries up completely.” OK, Deirdre, what are going to do? You will have an answer.

    1. Thanks so much, Jim…and I love your follow up questions. I think we do have the answers inside of us if we look and listen enough. The other thing is knowing that we might not get it right the very first time, but we can flex and adjust as we go until we do!

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