Why Are We Always Looking For Certainty In Our Lives?

Paper ball forming a lightbulb, white background

When sharing his secret to happiness, the great philosopher Jiddhu Krishnamurkti said, “Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.”  I think many of us reading this quote can understand why this state of mind leads to freedom and happiness.  If we don’t mind what will happen next in our lives, we would have no reason to be stressed and worried today.  Although this sounds like a ticket to emotional freedom, most of us cannot help but care what happens next in our lives.  We care about keeping our jobs, having enough money, our children being healthy, and a slew of other crucial aspects of our lives. We want to make sure that the things we want to happen actually do happen and that is exactly where our need for certainty begins. We want to know what will happen next so we can rest in the moment knowing everything will be okay. Yet we can’t control everything and life is filled with twists and turns; sometimes our efforts to secure certainty leave us far from the life that we desire. And we mind.

Our “need to know” can become the foundation or priority for every choice that we make.  In fact, our search for certainty affects how we face life, approach work, maintain relationships and even how we parent.  At work we may lean towards a particular job with a “certain” future or pay grade or we may analyze a problem with a limited view of all possibilities.  We choose relationships that feel secure and engage in activities we know and with which we are comfortable.  We make choices for our children that seem like the most prudent paths to success. Sometimes these decisions work out great.  But often we are ignoring new opportunities, stifling creativity and true desires for the sake of certainty. And let’s not forget that nothing is certain, and even choices that seem prudent at the time can change when the unexpected wind blows our way.

If we can find the courage to face the unknown, we can “mind” our futures more gently. We can examine new ideas, go places we never expected to go, or develop a relationship with someone that is different from us.  We can let our children quit the soccer team if they want to spend more time with friends or pursue a new interest.  Mindfully releasing our need for certainty also creates more tolerance and patience as we give up our view or our path as the only way.  This in turn can open us up to the blossoming of a life filled with wonder and maybe even happiness.  It is amazing that the very thing we avoid can be the catalyst for creating the life that we really want.

So how can we start to release our need for certainty? Here are a few suggestions to start to change how you make the choices in your life in the face of the unknown.

1.   Let some Maybe into your life.  The idea of Maybe reminds us that life unfolds more than one way.  Just because we don’t know the answer or we are unfamiliar with a problem, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work out to our satisfaction.  Maybe what we are experiencing is good, Maybe it will get better, or Maybe we can find a new way to handle the situation and still be okay.  Maybe we can take a risk, Maybe we can just peek at some new possibilities and see how it feels.  Maybe is an invitation to view life differently.  It doesn’t demand it.  Instead Maybe is supportive and allows us to realize that the unknown has gifts and benefits. Sometimes this little word can become the platform for making new choices in life because it shows us uncertainty is filled with hope and dreams that have yet to manifest.

2.   I know people talk a lot about gratitude and it seems too simple and basic to tackle our relationship with the unknown.  However, the mindset of gratitude is a wonderful and strong platform to launch into something new in your life.  Sometimes we are so afraid of the unknown, we become fixed on what we don’t have, what never works and what can’t change.  When we start listing what we are grateful for, we start to see the things that have worked out.  Sometimes we recognize risks that we took that we didn’t realize or beautiful aspects of our lives that manifested and blossomed from a place we could have never imagined.  It gives us some support and hope that life can work out and we have good things in our lives supporting us on the journey.

3.   We also can increase our awareness in our decision making process.  Sometimes we can’t even get to a Maybe or a gratitude mindset because we don’t realize we are choosing certainty over another possibility in our lives.  A great way to create awareness is to review various choices you made throughout the day or week.  Ask yourself did I make this decision for certainty? Did I make this decision to feel more secure or to pursue my goals? Does this decision make me feel joyous or dreadful? Do I think it will lead to new opportunities and experiences? What if I wasn’t afraid of the unknown, would I have made this decision?  If you find you are making more “certainty” choices than ones that align with your true desires, MAYBE you can rethink your decisions using the steps above.

These are just a few ways we can start to reduce our need for certainty.  Be gentle with yourself and see if you can build some resilience to face the unknown road ahead.  The more expansive we can be, the more likely we will find new opportunities and possibilities because we are willing to shift our perspective to a larger playing field.  Over time, we begin to understand we can either try to avoid the unknown and play it safe or embrace what we don’t know and expand our lives beyond our imagination.

Maybe facing uncertainty is the beginning of a new life filled with more joy, less stress and new opportunities!

Originally published in Psychology Today


What Happens When We Are Willing To Wait For An Answer?


It can feel good to be able to answer “yes” or “no” to the questions about what we should do in life. It can feel good to be decisive and know exactly how we intend to resolve a problem or situation we are facing. Sometimes, however, the impulse to immediately decide “yes” or “no” to the everyday problems and situations that we face is more about playing it safe and clinging to certainty than it is about living life to the fullest.

This is why I love the idea of Maybe. Maybe allows us to contemplate the possibilities of life unfolding in many different ways without feeling the need for action the very minute a problem confronts us.  It allows us to pause and wonder if there is something else beyond what we are seeing in the moment. Maybe we have not explored how we can be more creative or more adventurous and maybe a problem can become the chance for a new direction. Maybe it is best to wait and let the situation unfold a bit more before acting in our accustomed ways.

After our pause we may come to the same “yes” and/or “no” conclusion or maybe we will try something new and it won’t work as well as we had hoped.  But MAYBE we will expand our lives and create new opportunities, meet someone new or just have an experience unlike any we have had before.

Maybe allows us to engage life full on because instead of looking only for what we “know” we expand our boundaries to an infinite playing field of all that can be. After all, are we really looking for certainty in our lives or are we looking to live a life of fulfillment, joy and abundance?

Just Maybe.

Image from: http://11even.net/2010/04/how-to-solve-the-rubiks-cube/fun/

Living Before You Die

My client Caroline retired a few years ago and since then she has been very worried about her money and whether it will last for the rest of her life.  Her money is placed in what she believes to be conservative investments and she sticks to a budget the best that she can. However, her stress about not having enough money for the future persists and keeps her up at night.  She told me that she wants to enjoy her life but the fear of what may happen frightens her and keeps her from it.

During a recent meeting, I handed her the quote above from an interview with the Dalai Lama.  After reading it, tears began to roll down Caroline’s cheeks.  I asked her why she was crying and she told me, “I feel so relieved.  On some level I’ve been feeling that I have no right to be happy because my finances are not what they should be.  I should have saved more money and invested better and now I have less than all of my friends.  I am always afraid that one day I may have trouble paying my bills.  The stress and worry is also making me feel sick. But this quote jolted a realization in me that I am just wasting time.  I am wasting time worrying when I could be laughing with my grandchildren or playing cards with my friends.  I am acting like I am never going to die and I have been careless with the time I have left.   My circumstances are what they are and I don’t want to give up another day or my health worrying about a future that may never arrive.  There is so much I want to do and my fears of the future are holding me back.  I am still going to keep my investments and stay on my budget.  The difference now is that I am going to start living!”

I should have paid her for the session!

Are You Waiting For One Thing To Happen In Your Life So You Can Be Happy and Stress-Free?

So many clients tell me that if one particular thing would happen in their lives, they would be happy and stress-free. The attorney tells me he just needs to win this one big case, the advertising executive tells me she just needs this one account and the retailer tells me he just needs to increase his sales. They all believe that if this one thing happens it will be the key that will open the door on their peace and happiness. Yet when the attorney wins his case, his secretary quits and he is aggravated and again waiting for his day of peace in the future. The advertising executive lands the client, but loses another.  And the retailer increases his sales but his rent goes up significantly.

Just like my clients, I think many of us walk around with a concrete image of what must happen for us to be content. Yet this way of thinking only serves to keep us in the illusion of the future and disappointment in the present. On some level we believe that if we can just solve a few of our problems, then we will be happy and free of stress forever. But we forget that life keeps changing and offering us new opportunities and new challenges.  What if we are putting off the enjoyment of our lives for a day that never arrives?

So how can we find some peace today wherever we stand? It can change with a fundamental understanding that life is not about arriving somewhere but instead it is about being here right now (wherever here might be). When we give up this belief that one day it will all work out, we allow ourselves to appreciate what we have.  Does it mean we won’t still strive to make it better? Of course not. But we can give up the resistance to “things are not right” and the illusion of “if I could just get this one thing then I would be happy.” If we start to accept life as it is, then maybe we can start to make peace with our circumstances and can find joy with life in each moment.

And DON’T WORRY – with that newfound peace and joy, you will work even more effectively towards the future that you would like to create for yourself. Let’s not forget – MAYBE is always at play!