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The Unreliable Guide To… Uncertainty

By Nat Shepherd on July 2, 2020 in Satire

Here’s a little song I wrote… Photo: Debbie Green

So far, 2020 can be summed up with one word: uncertainty. The dictionary defines uncertainty as something that cannot be relied on or fully known, where outcomes are not definite. Sound familiar? First of all, we had the uncertainty of the bushfires: will my holiday rental/house catch fire, will we be able to breathe tomorrow, will we be able to make it home from the South Coast? Then, just as that settled down, along came Covid-19 and every aspect of our world was uncertain. The pandemic has caused a state of worldwide uncertainty that has led to a general lack of confidence in ourselves, the world, the future. We’ve been forced to question every aspect of our lives, but we have no clear answers, just a confusion of random government responses. Will I still have a job? Hard to say. Can I go for a swim, visit friends, drink at the pub, hug my grannie? Maybe, sometimes, just for now, not on your life or hers. At the time of writing, lockdown is easing, but the life we trusted was pulled away from us so rapidly that we still feel uncertain and unable to trust any kind of future. So, if you’re now currently incapable of planning your life beyond what spread you’ll apply to your breakfast toast, don’t fear. The Unreliable Guide has some tips and tricks to help you cope.

Uncertainty Intolerance
After recent events, you won’t be surprised to learn that psychologists have proved a close link between uncertainty and anxiety. Uncertainty is a fact of life, but our dislike of it explains our fascination with horoscopes and weather channels. Wondering if it will rain tomorrow is one thing, but the current prolonged and profound uncertainty about the future has seriously affected many people’s mental and physical wellbeing. In 1994, a team of researchers in Quebec developed the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IUS), a measure of our desire for predictability and how ambiguous situations affect us. What they found was that a high IU was linked to several anxiety disorders and depression. But uncertainty isn’t like gluten, milk or wheat – if you have an intolerance to uncertainty, what can you do?

Live in the moment
Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is basically a guide for life. But how do we stop ourselves worrying about the future? Gautama Buddha had some great advice: “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” He’s right, but how can we live in the moment when we’re worried about our job, our health, our whole world? But here’s the thing to remember, worrying does not help. Worrying does not fix anything. Instead, it keeps you focused on the misery of possible futures, so hey, sing Bobby’s tune; it’s trite, but it’s true. Watch the clouds, jump around. Sniff the air. You’re alive, right now. Enjoy it.

Finally, The Unreliable Guide would like to remind you that the future has never been certain. That’s why life is an adventure – would you start reading a book or watching a film if you already knew the end? There’s only one certainty in any life, and that’s death. So, let’s celebrate every damn day, whatever strange new world it may bring. Cue Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Yeah, man.

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