Healthy You: Coping with Uncertainty

black and white image of worried woman grabbing her head

A top life coach shares tips

You probably don’t need to be reminded that being a meeting professional is one of the most stressful jobs on Earth. Despite all your detailed punch lists, the unexpected always threatens to derail your careful planning.

Then, into that sea of uncertainty came the pandemic, upending everything. The change it has wrought to the art and science of successful gathering is enough to keep anyone up at night.

As the levels of uncertainty mount, you’re just left to deal with it. And that’s potentially dangerous to your health. Research shows that the fear of uncertainty often takes a worse toll on humans than the actual fear coming true.

So, how to cope more successfully?

Daniel Mangena is a life coach who has been exalted by The Wall Street Journal as a “Master of Success.”  The London-born Mangena has authored best-selling books, hosts a “Do It With Dan” podcast and speaks to audiences around the world on how to live “an abundant, joyful, purpose-driven” life.

“Fear of uncertainty often takes a worse toll on humans than that actual fear coming true.”

Like many in his trade, he’s faced down severe hard knocks and life challenges to find a much happier place today. We caught up with him in Cabo San Lucas, in Baja Mexico, which he now calls home, to discover his coping mechanisms for when things feel out of control.

Obsessing Over the ‘What Ifs’

It may seem obvious but it’s still not always that easy to acknowledge we never have certainty in our lives, he begins. The unexpected happens and always will. Yet that doesn’t mean we need to obsess over the worst “what ifs.”

“The unconscious is always scanning for threats.” Mangena says. “That’s a protection mechanism.” His prescription to override the always-anxious unconscious: “We need to be keenly focused on where things are going right.”

And for what’s on the horizon, we need to visualize the positive. “It’s a mind trick. Where there are two possible outcomes, why focus on the one that might go wrong?”

Read MoreDon’t Worry, Be Happy

Our unconscious minds are looking for the next potential outcome 80% of the time, according to Mangena. “Your mind is seeking certainty. Make the conscious choice to really focus on what might go right, and your unconscious thoughts can help bring about that outcome.”

Like most things, this takes practice to perfect. One hack Mangena advocates is what he calls a “success board.” He elaborates: “Keep track of how things really come out—consciously make the choice to keep a record in some way. That will actually create a chemical release in the body. It’s easy and practical, and you’ll feel the results in positive emotion right away.”

Reprogramming the Worry Habit

He is not alone in promoting what amounts to a reprogramming of your unconscious worry habit. For example, Aric Prather, a psychologist at University of California, San Francisco, and sleep expert, advises patients to calendar daily time for “scheduled worry.” Take a few minutes to write down what you’re anxious about, without searching for a solution. In so doing, Prather says, our unconscious is less likely to rob you of restful sleep when “our thoughts can get very, very loud.” If anxious thoughts arise, simply remind yourself you will address them the next day.

Mangena sums up his coaching advice this way: “My invitation to you is to be OK with the uncertainty, be OK with the unknowable and do the best with what you have today. Put your energy into making empowered choices that serve you and your goals, from where you’re at right now. Do so from a loving space and reserve judgment on whether or not you made the ‘right’ decision for the future.”

This article appears in the January 2023 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

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