Subsequently, these activities and thoughts prevent the time and space for the client to scratch deeper and explore more meaningful thoughts. Setting up a daily activity to be alone and unplugged from the client’s reality, allows them to explore and think their way through many situations that are initially very uncomfortable. Being allowed to spend time with these emotions and even lean into them can lead to greater understandings, a clear perspective, and more importantly, positive action to help them improve either the actual situation or if that is not possible, their reaction to the situation. The more time they spend with uncertainty, the more refined their skill set becomes in dealing with it. David Swenson (2009), a renowned Ashtanga yoga teacher explains it like this:
When you put your body into the different postures, you are making yourself uncomfortable. What you are doing is producing uncertain feelings, emotions and reactions in your brain. However, if you stay with it, and breath into it, your brain learns to deal with those emotions. And as you grow in your practice, you can take those skills off the mat and when you are in situations that make you uncomfortable, your brain now has the skills in place to be with the discomfort. And the longer you stay with it, the more perspective you develop.
I like to think of it as a bubble around me. When I practice, this invisible bubble inflates around my whole body and as I move throughout my day, things first go through the bubble before they hit me: bad news, a speeding ticket, a death, traffic, etc. They don’t hit me so raw. I have time to slow them down, be with the thoughts and feelings that I don’t like and choose my reaction to them. However, on the days that I don’t practice, I feel that there is no bubble and the world hits me very raw. It is much more difficult to be with the feelings of uncertainty.”
To further echo Swenson’s point of learning to be with uncomfortable and uncertain situations as a means for growth, Pema Chodron (1997) writes:
When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.
2. Dealing with the fear of judgement: Determine if you have a fixed or growth mindset
The big difference between having a fixed or growth mindset is that a person with a fixed mindset believes that they either have it or they don’t, whereas a person with a growth mindset believes that through hard work, results can be improved. This is vital distinction when dealing with how a client moves forward with action into a realm of uncertainty. For example, if a client was looking at losing weight and on their first attempt found themselves unsuccessful, a person with a fixed mindset would be quick to harshly judge themselves as a failure or that the achievement was impossible for them. However, a person attempting to lose weight with a growth mindset, despite a setback, would then regroup and implement more hard work or a different strategy and push forward. This subtle shift in clients gives them permission to move forward into uncertainty knowing that challenging times are not a result of their immovable shortcomings, but rather very fixable through hard work.
A client wanting to implement action and get from point A to B, first needs to understand their relationship with uncertainty. A client may have hesitations about how they will be judged by either themselves or others, and/or lack the skills of dealing with the discomfort that uncertain situations create. Providing clear strategies that help clients develop skills to be with uncomfortable emotions and shifting their mindset from that of a fixed to a growth mindset, will not only help them get from point A to B in much more efficient manner, but also create a blueprint in their lives for creating action. In conclusion, Pema Chodron (1991) sums up the importance of action despite our perceptions of how uncertain our lives may seem :
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
Chodron, Pema. (1991). The Wisdom of no escape and the path of loving kindness (Kindle Edition). Shambhala Publications, Boston, USA.
Chodon, Pema (1997). When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (Kindle Edition). Shambhala Publications, Boston, USA.
Covey, Steven. (1989). The habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
Ellsberg, Daniel (1961). Risk, Ambiguity, and the Savage Axioms. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 75, No. 4. pp 643-669.
Fields, Jonathan. (2011) Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (Kindle Edition). Penguin Books Ltd, USA.
Swenson, David. (2009). A personal conversation. Goa, India
Trautmann, Stefan T., Ferdinand M. Vieider, and Peter P. Wakker (2008). Causes of Ambiguity Aversion: Known Versus Unknown Preferences. Journal of Risk and Uncertainly, Vol 36, pp. 225-243.