Uncertain How to Proceed in Uncertain Times without Unprecedented Uncertainty

I was watching television the other day and commercials came on. Everyone was jumping on the COVID advertising bandwagon. Commercial after commercial said either the words, “uncertain” or “uncertainty.” “Unprecedented” was being thrown around to a lesser extent.

When I drove to the store to get some essentials, I turned the radio on. Same thing. The word, “uncertainty,” came up constantly. Most notably to me, I started feeling really dark as I listened.

“In these uncertain times, it’s important that we…”

“We’re leading through uncertainty.”

“Amidst all this uncertainty, now more than ever we need to….”

“How you should handle all this uncertainty?”

The theme was clear. And it wasn’t limited to the commercials. News anchors were saying it. Talk show hosts were saying it. It was everywhere.

It dawned on me I had been doing it too. See, for example, this blog, or this one.

Here’s the problem: Your words have power. And if that’s true, we’re giving power to uncertainty by constantly talking about it.

Your Words Have Power

You can view this in a mystical, Law of Attraction, kind of way or you can see this more pragmatically. But either way, your words have power. Repetition of messages (autosuggestion) indoctrinates those messages into your subconscious. I’m not just making this up. There’s research supporting the idea.

For example, in this article, researchers looked at the impact of autosuggestion on geriatric patients and found changes in quality of life and even chemical changes in their bodies (in a good way).

But it also works in negative ways.

Years ago, I had a constant negative dialogue with myself. I told myself how much of a failure I was. “I’m a terrible parent, terrible spouse, and terrible entrepreneur.” These kinds of messages to myself never ended. It happened when I went to bed, when I drove, and when I woke up in the morning. The result? I had a strained relationship with my kids, I got a divorce, and my business teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. I felt miserable all the time.

When I started to believe my own narrative, that narrative came to life. Eventually I realized what I was doing and started to change my story. When I did, my life improved dramatically. The relationships got better. My business improved. I started to feel happy.

Your words have power.

Conflicting Dialogue

You might say, “yeah, David, I already know this. I even have the motivational posters at work and the ‘Live, Laugh, Love,’ home décor. I’m already on top of that and this is old news.”

BUT, then you jump on Facebook and the story changes. Suddenly you’re laughingly sharing memes that proclaim your incompetence.

“I always start the day with good intentions…Then I get out of bed and that’s usually where it all goes wrong.”

“When you finally get your life together but the world ends.”

“I’m fine. It’s just that life is pointless, and nothing matters and I’m always tired.”

These are examples of actual text I’ve seen on memes recently. There are a million of them with similar themes. Notice the subtle message of each: “I suck and my life is a mess.”

It’s hardly limited to the memes we share on social media. This pattern includes the, “I can’t eat another donut because I’m too fat.” The, “I’m too stupid to figure out how to use this program.” It’s even in, “the struggle is real.”

We can’t expect the “Change your attitude and change your world,” poster on our wall is going to have any impact in our lives if we’re constantly bombarding ourselves with contradictory messages.

You words have power. Your self-talk needs to be consistent or you’re undercutting your own efforts. When you legitimize your struggle, it becomes a struggle.

The COVID Dialogue

You may be asking, “what does this have to do with the uncertainty the Corona Virus has created in our world? I mean, there really are changes going on. Uncertainty is everywhere.”

The problem with that mindset is that certainty is an illusion. During non-COVID times, we feel like there’s a routine. We feel like we have habits and patterns that create certainty. But any of the things we’d normally do can be torn away in an instant. You could be hit by a bus, suffer massive injuries, and have your entire life turned upside down. Or, you might discover your spouse is leaving you, forcing you to tear apart everything you’ve spent a lifetime building up. You could even learn the business you’ve been working for is declaring bankruptcy and they’re firing everyone.

In those non-COVID times, uncertainty is everywhere—if we choose to look at it that way. In the same sense, certainty exists now if we choose to focus on it. Even if your job has disappeared, your ability to work has not. Your ability to problem-solve is a constant. The power in your own words is a constant. Just because something has changed in your routine does not mean you have to live in uncertainty.

Your words have power. That power can feed certainty or uncertainty.

Let’s Change the Narrative

With these principles in mind, how about we change the way we’re talking about what’s happening? Instead of dwelling on “uncertainty,” or on what’s “unprecedented,” let’s focus on what we have control over.

“I am powerful.”

“My ability to work is constant.”

“When things I don’t like happen, I fix them.”

These words have power.

And it doesn’t have to be limited to the COVID narrative. Start to re-frame the things you say in other contexts. Have you found yourself sharing the memes that glorify mediocrity? Are you habitually throwing out self-deprecating comments?

Look closely at what you’re saying to yourself about what’s happening in life. Then, fundamentally alter the way you approach your language and the way you’re viewing what’s happening. The struggle is not real. Stop giving power to the struggle. Simply say, “Struggle? What struggle? Things are great. I keep fixing my life, left and right.”

Even if you think you’re doing this, keep going back and reexamining your language. I do this constantly and I keep refining my focus. The more I do it, the better I feel. This is not a one and done practice; it’s a constantly developing skill.

Mantra-based meditation helps. Journaling will make you feel better. Reminder bands are fantastic tools. Putting notes on your desk, or in your car are additional ways to alter the narrative. Putting reminders on your mirror using dry-erase markers can further pound in the message.

However you do it, honor the power in your words. Once you’re aware of the dialogue you’re using, refine it. You’ll make your life more certain in the process. As a consequence it’ll be a much better journey.

By denevoldsen

David has spent years studying emotions and conflict in his practice as a family law attorney, while obtaining his bachelors degree in psychology, and through his own personal life struggles. He's on a continuing journey to better understand how to use emotions to make life a wonderful thing for everyone.

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