I have to confess. Since the COVID-19 hit home back in the late first quarter of 2020, I was increasingly getting intrigued with the art of making predictions with logic: machine learning. I also had been always so proud as a person that was not easily swayed by disruption and somehow always managed to adapt to the change smoothly. Change was challenging, and to be able to predict and control change was the joy I sought. Ironically, the situations turned to be and continuously quite unpredictable for the modern world. Those chaos and disarray are not only manifested in the physical realm, but also in the intangible, illogical, and blurred room of our feelings. Well, at least my feelings.
One can’t say she knows how to deal with uncertainty, coming with a (new) tendency of high neuroticism (I score 77/120-categorised as high in Neuroticism by the Big Five Test). But at least she wants to help herself by affirming the insights she received when dealing with such hard times for everyone in general.
But before getting to the how-tos, I want us to be on the same page of what do I mean as a “neurotic person”.
“Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings.” – Bigfive-test.com
“Neurotic means you’re afflicted by neurosis, a word that has been in use since the 1700s to describe mental, emotional, or physical reactions that are drastic and irrational. At its root, a neurotic behavior is an automatic, unconscious effort to manage deep anxiety. … Sometimes neurotic behaviors arise because you literally have a neurotic personality. Also called neuroticism, it’s a personality type, not a diagnosable medical problem. … A neurotic personality has little natural buffer against stress.” – WebMD.com
“The essence of neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.” – Sigmund Freud
If that sounds a bit like you, then maybe we are on the same page.
So how do we deal with uncertainty?
Yes, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, extremely don’t know. Instead of agonizing over that fact, accept it instead. I know it’s hard, but from my personal experience, I’m sure we can practice adding one or two elements of spontaneity into our daily life then slowly getting comfortable even under clear uncertainty.
But what about the big goals? What about those aspirations you have to plan and build up way long before the day?
It’s hurt to say this, truly hurts me:
Let go of the complete picture.
All we can do is choose the best options based on our current understanding and knowledge. For the time being, there is not much big room for planning around countless what-ifs scenarios. That will drive you crazy.
But, look! Don’t let go of the end goal or the way you believe in! Stay strong towards those destinations and enjoy the journey between. Roads may be changing. We may need to scrape “the way” of getting things, yet we don’t have to completely forget our dreams if we think and feel it is still important and holds noble values.
We have highs and lows. Now’s the lows. Sometimes in the past, we were blessed in the highs. Pay attention to the pattern. Repeat the grateful words uttered when we experience the glorious moments because surely the past is still worth being grateful for. It is what makes us come this far until today.
That’s the meaning of the past: a story we need to study back again. Then what’s the meaning of those stories? Find or create that meaning. This exercise will help reposition ourselves in the current situation.
Here’s your best friend and worst enemy: yourself. It is the same entity, but wan can turn into either side unconsciously. Be a gentle person. Make your best friend as comfortable as it deserves and treat your worst enemy with civility as you should. In certain moments, you can separate yourself conveniently. You know the theory of how to calm down, let’s show your worst enemy how to calm down, then be proud of your good service. In tough moments, notice the way you talk to yourself, so let’s converse inside your head just like how you would like to do it with a best friend. You won’t say mean things to your best friend, right?
That’s the mental work.
Don’t forget the material aspect of ourselves. Small acts of physical self-care early in the day can make a good snowball effect for the rest of it. Review your likes and dislikes, then create an internal system out of that as a coping mechanism. Open some spot or choose nice items for comforting yourself throughout the day (or the week) can be a valuable add on.
Seriously, just be kind to ourselves. But not indulged.
Come back to the basics. Life can be uncertain, but most of the things that make life worth living are conventionally certain. Review our hierarchy of needs. Do we have deficiency needs or growth needs? Start from the answer to that question to get the feeling of control back into our life.
Amidst the unknown, what can we expect from other people? They might be as confused as you. There are two options: make a spiral, small build-up from yourself and let others take the inspiration, or create a strong, committed community that will help each other.
We’ll talk about the first. This is closely related to the previous point.
I got inspiration from the gradient descent algorithm. See ourselves as learning humans (not machines!). We have ambiguous data with a lot of variables without knowing which ones are good to be considered. Too many dimensions, you can say it like that. Then we have no idea which variable to change, we can only try to take small steps and review it frequently to learn the terrain of evaluation that we are walking on right now. Sometimes it’s okay to learn slowly but you know it will converge surely. Also sometimes you need to optimize the process and be adaptable, adjusting your pace. The keys: make a small, confident decision; do frequent evaluations; learn and make adjustments. Nowadays, people call it being agile.
Invest that small actions on us and closely around us. As long as we are on track consistently, everything else will follow.
Now, the second option. Create a community, or, should I generalise it, support systems. Support systems are anything that can help you deal with the worst of yourself, directly or indirectly. People you trust, habits you hold, or channels to release the tensions of uncertainty.
There may be a different support system for different components of your well being. There are sports clubs or exercise habits that will hold up your physical well being. There are your family and friends to fulfil your emotional needs. There are prayers and charity habits to maintain your spiritual health. There are your journals and short midday walk to keep up with your mental state. There are your internet connection and a daily learning plan as means to relish your intellectual pursuit.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. But don’t rely too much on others too.
Uncertainty is the refuge of hope
Henri Frederic Amiel
With these neurotics tendencies, I think I need to incorporate into the dailies all the things I write. I just need to be reminded that I live in a six-dimensional world: three dimensions for physical spaces, one time-space, one head-space, and one heart-space. By that, I know what to do next, how should I assess the moment, then act accordingly, not neurotically.
American Psychological Association 2017, The great unknown: 10 tips for dealing with the stress of uncertainty, accessed 9 December 2021, <https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/uncertainty>
Christine Carter 2020, Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty, Greater Good Magazine, accessed 9 December 2021,<https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/seven_ways_to_cope_with_uncertainty>
Liggy Webb 2015, How to deal with ambiguity, The World of Learning, accessed 9 December 2021, <https://www.learnevents.com/blog/2015/04/07/how-to-deal-with-ambiguity/>