Lately, I’ve been delving deep into this concept of the unknown and uncertainty. As a natural over thinker and worst case scenario type of person, you can imagine uncertainty doesn’t sit well with me. I like plans and lists and spreadsheets. I like knowing that I am safe with food, water and shelter. Google gives us this great definition that uncertainty is “something that is uncertain or that causes one to feel uncertain…” Okay, it’s not that great of a definition really, but I mean you get the gist right — we all know what uncertainty is and what it feels like for us, and particularly at this point in time it’s a word that is getting thrown around everywhere. I think what annoys me most though, is that uncertainty is almost always put out in the public sphere alongside fear — and that really doesn’t sit well with me. Because if it is anything that I’ve learned, is that in any situation there is always always hope. There’s an opportunity to learn and grow and do better next time. When we are afraid, we tend to back down and just let things happen. I learned the hard way that you can step into uncertainty _ I’m not saying it’s easy and sometimes you most definitely do not get what you want, but in my experience, you will always learn something from it.
So to give you a bit of context, for those who don’t know the story — I’ll give a very short debrief of how I developed my own personal arsenal for dealing with uncertainty. It’s 2016 and I am cycling in a 3000km brevet called Tour Aotearoa. I am completely and utterly out of place in this event and up to that point I had never done anything like it before in my life. I am bit more comfortable with vulnerability now days to admit that I spent the first two weeks of this ride crying every.single.frickin.day. Look, that’s all on me. I wasn’t physically or mentally prepared for a ride of that magnitude and I most definitely wasn’t prepared for the uncertainty of each day. Where would I sleep, where would I get food and water, what town would I be in, would I get hurt or kidnapped, how far could I ride, oh crap I’m running out of money, how do I survive without money, how many hills are there, oh god how many more hills could there be? Are you serious more hills??
To cut a long story short, it all came to a head for me on the Timber Trail — an 85km mountain bike trail in the middle of North Island aka the middle of nowhere. I was mentally and physically done, I was absolutely broken, and there are some things that even to this day still have not healed in me. I won’t go into the detail of all my complex thought processes, but as much as I couldn’t carry on in that moment, I had no other choice. I couldn’t stay there. No one was coming to help me. No one could help me. I was alone.
So how did I get out of it? It wasn’t bloody easy. And it doesn’t really get easier if I’m being honest. But you get better at managing the fear around uncertainty and breaking it down.
So here are some of the things I did to pull myself out of the hole I was in mentally and get out of the Timber Trail physically. These are still things I use every time I’m put in a situation where there is fear or uncertainty, and they are really key things I use when I know my mental health is going downhill.
Know Your Why — be absolutely certain of your reasons for doing something. Stay true to that and to your values. Don’t get your why tangled up with what others think, say or do. You have to do you.
Be Realistic and Acknowledge— just like with your SMART goals, you have to be real with yourself. Can I cycle 100km of hills in two hours on a loaded bike? Probably not. As much as you need to back yourself, you also need to check your ego at the door. Being realistic is also being ready to acknowledge your emotions if things don’t work out for you. Once you can acknowledge it, you can process it and move forward. Your reaction absolutely defines everything.
Have a plan, and a back up plan — and if you’re like me, a back up for the back up plan. When we are in uncertain situations we can’t guarantee that things will work out, but we can make a plan around the things that we know we can control. This goes right back to knowing your WHY. Know where you want to go, what you want to achieve. There are all kinds of circumstances where you will have to make decisions under pressure or in the heat of the moment, and usually if you have stuck to your values, been realistic and planned for that uncertainty, you generally end up making the decision that is best for you.
Do the smallest thing you can do to move forward — for me getting off the Timber Trail was literally having to put one step in front of the other. That was all I could do. I had to keep telling myself it didn’t matter how fast I was going I just had to keep moving forward. I use this technique pretty much every day with all kinds of tasks to break things down. When you aren’t sure how things are going to pan out you should always try and push yourself ahead to get yourself into a position where you can make good and sound decisions.
Connect — reach out to people. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere by yourself that’s understandably difficult. But… You are never alone. Someone is always thinking about you and wanting the best for you. When I came off the trail the connections and interactions I had with people — friends, family, strangers — they were so much more meaningful and helped to bring me a lot more perspective and purpose. Sometimes an outsiders view can help you see things differently as well. Connecting is about reaching out if you need help, but also listening. And always remember that kindness is magic.
There is always hope — when we are surrounded with fear and uncertainty, we often lose sight of hope. There is always hope. Things happen to us for a reason. We can get so caught up with being afraid of loss or failure, that we don’t see the opportunities in front of us. If the opportunities aren’t there, we forget we have the power to create them. It will be okay in the end, if it’s not okay then it’s not the end.
None of this is easy. I will be the first to admit I still struggle with uncertainty and the fear around it. I absolutely get scared out my mind when I’m confronted with the unknown. The key for me has been learning to look for the things that I can control, because of course the antithesis to uncertainty is certainty. It is always in these hard and dark moments that we learn and grow the most. Step up to it, and lean in.