Embrace Uncertainty

This morning I was reminded of my propensity to be  "duped" by the illusion of control – the tendency for human beings to believe they can control, or at
least influence, outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.

I was stuck in traffic on a way to a meeting.  Traffic drives me nuts!  I feel trapped!  It makes me angry! So I began to play the jam like a game of chess.  I strategically made moves across lanes while measuring my progress in comparison to another randomly chosen vehicle on the road.  For a while, it seemed that my ability to maneuver through the morass of cars was working, when suddenly the car I'd chosen to measure my progress zoomed right past and well ahead of me on the road. By the time it was all over this morning, I was late for my meeting and realized once again that I had no more actual control over the predicament of that jam than I do over almost any other area of my life.

Recently the op-ed page in the New York Times highlighted new survey results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
showing that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they
were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are
getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on
the rise.

The reasons for this gloom seem economically obvious, yet the author of the piece, Dan Gilbert, concluded that it isn’t a matter of insufficient funds. It’s a matter of insufficient certainty.   The fact that we don't know what is going to happen with the stock market, or predict with any certainty when this recession is going to turn around, or why traffic can be so constricting this particular morning is a root cause of our current malaise. 

Rather than try to regain sway over the events in life, a shrewd skill to develop for navigating tumultuous change is to EMBRACE UNCERTAINTY.  Resilience demands it.  To do so involves lamenting the passing of known illusions of control.  To deeply grieve the loss of control and a previously known world where it was once operative allows for healthy forms of personality development that are largely precluded in its absence.

Undoubtedly, lost opportunities and mistaken expectations are often unpleasant to think and talk about. But a seven year study by Laura King, a researcher at the University if Missouri, indicates that individuals who take time to stop, think, and mourn their losses are more likely to mature and a achieve a potentially more durable sense of happiness.

Grieving losses is important because it allows us to unleash
energy that is bound to the lost experience—so that
we might re-invest that energy elsewhere. Until we grieve effectively
we are likely to find reinvesting difficult; a part of us remains tied
to the past.

Grieving is not forgetting. Nor is it drowning
in tears. Healthy grieving results in an ability to remember the
importance of our loss—but with a new found sense of peace, rather than
searing pain.

Healthy grieving is an active process, you can't "just give it time". One way of understanding
the work to be done is to think of grieving as a series of tasks you
need to complete (not necessarily in sequence):

  1. To accept the finality of the loss;

  2. To acknowledge and express the full range of feelings we experience as a result of the loss;

  3. To adjust to a life in which the lost experience is absent;

  4. To say good-bye, to ritualize our movement to a new peace with the loss.

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