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How to Live with Doubt: 4 Approaches to Help Manage the Hard Emotions that Come With Uncertainty

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

You know the people who binge-watch a Netflix series (with at least 6 seasons… probably all in one day) to avoid their own reality? Then subsequently research the actors and actresses real-life as soon as the series is over?


How about the people who have such a jam-packed schedule, that there is “no time” to do anything for themselves? But really it’s a great way to avoid the hard stuff of life?


That’s me. I’m people. 


I’m a skilled human in the ways of withdrawing and avoiding — I’m so skilled, in fact, that I know how to withdraw and avoid in a way that doesn’t even look like I’m withdrawing and avoiding. #YIKES #LyingToMyself


Over the last several months, I used up all my excuses to avoid difficult emotions, particularly the difficult emotions that accompany doubt and uncertainty. 


I’d watched all the Netflix series, cleared up my “busy” schedule and saved enough money (due to my reclusion) that I couldn’t even use that as an excuse anymore. 


It was time to face a challenging truth: how the heck do I cope with this level of doubt?

I reluctantly put myself back into therapy. Normally I’m a huge proponent of therapy and have been in and out for years; however, I was so annoyed that I had to go back and work on things that I’d thought I’d successfully overcome. 


I had to re-learn that the things I struggle with (doubt, control, difficult emotions, avoidance, etc) are going to be re-triggered from time to time — and depending on the severity of the situation, I’ll have to learn new and different survival skills to get through. 


So, I wanted to share with you some of the approaches I’ve been focusing on in case you’ve been experiencing a little bit of doubt too.


Focus on the Facts

More often than not when we’re experiencing a bit of ambiguity, we’re likely to focus on the emotions rather than the facts.


According to Dr. Steven Hayes, author of Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, we have to learn how to distinguish descriptions from evaluations; AKA — learning how to stop judging our behaviors and start describing them.


Here’s an example:

Description: My chest hurts and I’m feeling anxiety.
Evaluation: The anxiety is too much and is overwhelming. I don’t think I can handle it.

Descriptions maintain the observable features of the event without our interaction with them. Evaluations are our (emotional) reactions to what’s happening.


Doubt becomes difficult to process when we are hyper-fixated on the emotions rather than the events/facts of the circumstance.


Although this method may feel like we’re splitting hairs, it’s teaching us that attaching a judgment to an uncertain circumstance is counterproductive. Descriptions allow us to confront the truth in a more rational and gentle way, while evaluations (more often than not) are irrational opinions that are harsh and debilitating to our emotional growth.


If we want true power over our doubt (so that we can successfully live with it), we must name and describe it (“I’m feeling uncomfortable and my relationship is rocky”). That’s real, honest feedback that we can work with.


There are no Guarantees

100% guarantees are an illusion. 


Let me say it one more time for the people in the back: 100% guarantees are an illusion. And if you’re a perfectionist, like me, you’ve learned this lesson the (very) hard way… and probably have to re-learn it all of the time.


Recently, I’ve been seemingly drowning in uncertainty and doubt more than usual. During my daily workouts, I’ve traded out listening to music to tuning into an amazing podcast/sermon series about faith and hope — what I consider to be the opposite of doubt.


During one of the first episodes, the pastor said something that hit me hard. He asserted the idea that there’s always going to be a percentage of doubt in any situation. However, in order to actually have hope in a circumstance where there seems to be none, you have to embrace the doubt and live with it, AND “show up” anyways.


Wow. 


When we wait for guarantees, we become paralyzed by the emotions that come with doubt. The reality is, there’s no way to predict any and all outcomes — the only real assurance we have is that we will have to live with doubt. The trick is embracing it rather than avoiding it.


Take Charge

I have always believed in the power of discipline. I grew up on a farm and I remember that every Saturday morning, my mom, brother and myself were outside working prior to 8:30 am, while my dad started his day around 7. Although my childhood self resented waking up early and couldn’t understand what rational person would ever wake up before 10 on the weekend, my adult self learned one important lesson from this: discipline and hard work are foundational components of any type of success (emotional, spiritual, business, etc).


In the midst of doubt, it’s important to rely on hard work and discipline so that you can take charge to better manage the emotions that come with uncertainty. Why? Because everything feels outside of our grasp and taking small action steps can help re-balance us and help re-frame our thinking during uncertain situations.


Furthermore, taking charge of the things you can control in your life has roots in hard work and discipline. Each root operates under the assumption that consistency is a salient feature of success, even if rewards are prolonged and/or unseeable. So, having a daily routine that helps you fight the battle of doubt is important when we’re learning to live with uncertainty.


The Problem is Not the Problem

When I first heard this phrase, my mind was absolutely blown. I was pretty salty I didn’t think of this myself and that it hadn’t occurred to me before (can we say #perfectionist).


When we face circumstances that feel heavy and uncertain, more than likely, what we consider to be the major “problem” isn’t the real-life, actual problem… it’s how we see it that’s concerning.


In the middle of doubt, we can go to the absolute, most irrational worst-case scenario. For me, this looks like:

“What if my friends get so mad at me for not going to the party they don’t want to be friends anymore?”
What if I can’t complete this project? That must mean I’m incapable and can’t do this job at all.
No one has responded to my email… they must think this was a dumb idea.

All of these are irrational thoughts that are hyper-focused on literally everything outside of my own control. Therefore, the two problems here are 1. how I’m perceiving the situation and 2. the story I’m telling myself when experiencing the emotion.


In order to live with doubt (because it’s inevitable), we have to take on different perspectives and see “problems” from different angles. I have to ask myself, “If I wasn’t so worried, how would I see this?” OR I have to talk through the concern with my therapist, a close friend whose wisdom I trust and/or meditate and pray on the situation.


Regardless of your take-on-a-different-perspective method, it’s crucial to put on different lenses in order to survive in uncertainty.



In the last few months, I’ve learned that it’s natural to feel like there are many things outside of your control. It’s a natural feeling, because well, it’s true. 


However, when we waste all of our good energy on circumstances outside of our purview, we begin to believe that our life is not our own. We become a victim of circumstance, and maybe even begin to feel like victims altogether, rather than owning our power and our story. 


And our story is the crux of the connection with ourselves and others; our story ultimately leads us to our purpose. 


My nugget of wisdom? Next time you encounter doubt, don’t avoid it and deny yourself the opportunity to become more powerful and to live fully in your story. The world needs you.


Love You the Most,

JT

#beinggreatHER



Questions for Thought:

  1. What doubt are you currently experiencing?

  2. Describe your doubt. What are the observable facts?

  3. If a friend was asking for your advice about this situation, what advice would you give him/her?

  4. Which areas of your life are you waiting for a guarantee?

  5. What are some areas of your life that you can take charge in?

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