Coping with Uncertainties

Coping with Uncertainties

Narendra M Apte

Today life has become quite complicated; it is no longer controllable or predictable; in fact it is full of uncertainties. If one claims that she has control over her own life or that of her close family, it is an illusion.

During the last hundred years or so, many science-based and technology-based innovations have changed the way we live. Lifestyle of ordinary citizens even in poor, underdeveloped countries has changed in a dramatic fashion. However, despite the availability of modern gadgets and more material comforts, is it not ironic that people have to face more uncertainties?

This is the age of uncertainties. In personal life we face many uncertainties, between birth and death; the fear of an untimely death is perhaps the most unnerving uncertainty. There are many internal factors in one’s individual life which ‘create’ uncertainties. These are related to one’s health, education, occupation/job, family history, etc.

At an individual level a major external factor which is as ‘an initiator of uncertainties’ is the state of the country’s economy. State of the economy is directly dependent on many national and international factors like rate of inflation, international price of crude oil, impact of climate change on internal weather and environment, etc. In a globalized world today, there are many factors which make it very difficult to predict what may happen even in the short term.

Increasing use of automation technology like Artificial Intelligence and robots for many repetitive tasks (which were till now handled by semi-skilled workers), has led to unemployment. Thus, the use of high-end technology means more uncertainty.

It is the financial insecurity linked to uncertainties which prompt many people to make detailed plans so that one can handle the uncertain future in a better manner. That is the reason why one buys life insurance policies and makes other financial investments. It is of course not unusual to find that detailed financial planning may not really empower anyone to face uncertainties in a better way. That is because life is never as simple as buying insurance plans or making long term investments in National Savings schemes.

The question which then arises in context of uncertainties of life is this: is it possible for an ordinary citizen, without any special intellectual ability, to visualize what may happen in the near future, say after 8 or 10 years and plan accordingly? Then the next question is this: would it be worthwhile to spend time and energy to deal with uncertainties, since the cost of doing that may not always be worth the trouble? But then the last question is this: what makes one a little more comfortable: no planning, that is living by leaving things to chance or by pursuing a planned approach to deal with uncertainties?

Change, it is often said, is the only constant in one’s life. When it comes to change, we may not always be able to control the outcome, but we can control our response to it. And that's resilience. It empowers you to bounce back from tough situations and thrive in the face of challenges.

Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position for many people and will generally give rise to varying levels of uncertainty-related anxiety. So how do we cope?

Psychologists and spiritual thinkers, give many suggestions as regards ways to cope with uncertainties, do not of course offer a magic wand which empowers an individual to cope with uncertainties. Nevertheless, their suggestions would certainly ensure that an individual who implements most, if not all such suggestions, will be mentally strong and well prepared to cope with unexpected events in her life. Here are psychologists’ five keys or tips to cope with uncertainty:

  • Accept that uncertainty is a paradox. On one hand, it is a potent and powerful force that motivates one to undertake research for finding ways to deal with unexpected happenings. On the other hand, uncertainty always remains even after such research because of the inherent complexity and ambiguity of the real world.
  • Accept that one can't control everything. Accept that uncertainty is less than ideal, but it is acceptable and tolerable.
  • Envision the Best: There is no point in thinking too much and worry about how things could go wrong. Research findings show that people tend to overestimate the risks and negative consequences that may result from a situation.
  • Remember that you've faced uncertainty before. Take time to think and reflect on what helped you before. Write it down--and then read it when your worrisome thoughts start to take hold.
  • At times a little uncertainty can be healthy. In fact, it may provoke you to face challenges in a better way; one’s hidden energy is often tapped in challenging times.

In conclusion, I wish to say that the above is not an exclusive list of tips to cope with uncertainty in one’s individual life. But undoubtedly these tips provide a way forward.

(Narendra M. Apte, a qualified chartered accountant, is a freelancer.)