Aren’t times always uncertain?

I’ve never heard the phrase ‘uncertain times’ uttered as often as I have in 2012. Usually it’s in connection with a story about our bubbling-over stress levels. It certainly makes sense that we’re feeling so anxious – we’re living through the worst recession since World War II and nobody really knows how it’s going to pan out. Us human beings like to feel we have control over our lives; studies show lack of it is one of the biggest factors in stress, so no wonder we’re worried when everything feels so wonky.

But the reality is that life is always uncertain. The potential for things to crumble seems close to the surface right now; however, in truth, we never know what’s around the corner, even when times are good. Years ago, I interviewed the American speaker and writer Byron Katie, and she told me: ‘We are never really in control. We just think we are when things happen to be going our way.’ I’ve never forgotten that.

Not that I’ve mastered the fine art of acceptance; I try, but I’m a certified worrier, which makes laidback serenity a challenge. However, I did work out at an early age that it’s unwise to devise a rigid life plan (to be honest, plans aren’t really me, anyway – I’m far too scatty). There’s nothing wrong with having a direction in mind; if you don’t, you risk drifting aimlessly. But, personally, I think it’s best to not to grip too tightly to your map. 

The uncertainty-averse should check out Professor Robert Leahy’s brilliant book The Worry Cure, which has lots of advice for accepting instability. One of them is the boredom technique – you repeat your worrying thought [eg ‘I might lose my job’] over and over for twenty minutes, really focusing on the words. After this time, you’ll find it so tedious you won’t be able to think about it anymore. Trust me, this works: boredom is underrated as a motivation for change.

And here’s a comforting thought from an experienced fretter: little is as bad as we fear. Statistics show 85 per cent of our worries actually have a positive outcome. Besides, if things do turn out for the worst, it just means something else will happen. And that might be interesting.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Penelope Jane Compton
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 20:43:21

    Yes, times have always been uncertain, as has the weather; I’m not denying global warming but in 1946, the summer was so wet, they didn’t make any hay until October, when no frost arrived. But it’s not the times that make us worry, it’s the media. Phenomena no longer awes us, but frightens us and unpredictability is threatening instead of exciting.
    I love your American writer quote.

    Reply

    • charlottehaighmacneil
      Jul 11, 2012 @ 21:12:35

      A bad summer just after the war seems a bit unfair! Yes – I think the sheer amount of news to which we’re exposed nowadays leaves us feeling a bit helpless. It’s basically a constant dripfeed of negativity, whereas in that other soggy summer back in 1946, people would have read their paper and/or listened to the news on the wireless once or twice a day.

      Reply

  2. Hannah Doyle
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 20:53:22

    Best not to grip too tightly to your map. I like that!
    My husband has a similar tip to Prof Leahy’s for when worries are keeping you awake at night: you say all your thoughts to yourself in a really slowww, tedious, disinterested voice, until you’ve bored yourself to sleep!

    Reply

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