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.