5 Powerful Things You Can Control When You Feel Uncertain

Ah, the feeling of uncertainty. 

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not my favorite emotion to experience.

You see, as humans, we bristle against the idea of the unknown or the uncontrollable.

We desperately grasp at straws trying to control our surroundings, our outcomes, and other people’s behavior.

And when we’re reminded – time and time again – that we cannot control these things, it feels terrible.

Because we’re arguing with reality.

Now here’s the truth.

We cannot control our circumstances.

Other people, situations, how fast or slow things unfold, these are all circumstances. 

They are out of our control.

And that’s okay.

Because I have some amazing news, too.

We can control pretty much everything else in our lives.

And we can do this by creating and controlling our individual experience. 

Want to find out how?

Then check out episode 67 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast now.

You can listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • Why we try to control the uncontrollable
  • What we can and can’t control
  • How to create certainty in an unknown situation

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Episode 67: 5 Powerful Things You Can Control When You Feel Uncertain 

Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 67 of the podcast. Thanks for tuning in today. And thanks to all of you who have been sharing this podcast with your friends, and leaving reviews on Apple podcasts, and for tagging me on social media when you are busy being awesome. Seriously, you are all rockstars. Thanks for helping me get the podcast out there to others who will benefit from it, too.

Now, can we talk about the fact that the day this podcast comes out is November 2nd? I’m not going to lie…I’m in a little bit of disbelief. Where did October even go? I’m pretty sure I think this most months, but seriously. How is this real?

Also, given the way that calendars work, that also means that tomorrow – Tuesday – is November 3rd. And that, my friends, means it is election day in the United States. Now, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, many of us are feeling quite a bit of uncertainty right now. And depending on how long it takes to count the ballots and figure out who won the election, this feeling of uncertainty might extend past November 3rd as well.

Now, I actually had a different podcast to planned for today. But as I started writing out the outline, I kept coming back to this concept that I want to share with you today, which I think is an important reminder for all of us to consider and internalize.

And in fact, if you are listening to this episode way past November 3rd, 2020, it’s still a really important lesson to remember any time you are facing uncertainty or feeling tension or anxiety about the unknown.

So today I want to offer a short and sweet reminder about what you can control, what you can’t control, and why understanding this distinction is everything.

What We Can’t Control

So let’s start by talking about what you can’t control. Because this is something that we often forget. As humans, we want to control everything around us. We want to control how other people act. We want to control what other people think. And we want to control how fast or slow things happen. We want to control the weather. We want to control our employees or our bosses. And we want to control our children and our partners.

And what’s more, we think that we can control these things. We think that if we check the news enough, or we scroll social media enough, or we plan and prepare enough, that we can somehow control the outcome of an unknown situation.

Weather Examples

This is what I always do with the weather. When it’s hurricane season, I constantly check the weather and the news updates. I’m always on my weather app trying to learn the latest news because I think that I can control – or at least prepare myself – for what’s to come. I think I can control my outcome when I constantly refresh the weather browser for the latest update. I think that if I could just gather enough information, then maybe – even if I can’t actually prevent losing power or having damage – I can be ready for it.

And while I do think there is truth in this belief; I do think it’s important to be informed. And I think it’s important to know what is happening. My constant refreshing of news feeds and gluing myself to up-to-the-minute weather data doesn’t change the outcome. Once I’m prepared for the storm, my constant updates of unchanging weather patterns are not going to change my experience. Instead, it’s just giving my brain something to freak out over.

Or if a nor’easter is coming in the winter, and we’re looking at 18 to 20 inches of snow overnight, my brain tells me that if I watch the news like a hawk, I will be able to somehow control how much snow actually falls. Even though the news doesn’t change, I keep watching just in case there’s an update of more or less know. When in reality, however much snow falls, whether it’s 10 inches or 26 inches, I still have to go out and shovel my driveway and sidewalk, right?

The Nor’easter, or the hurricane, are circumstances. I have zero control over them. They simply exist in the world.

Are we good so far?

Trying to Control Other People

Okay. So now let’s think about people.

We often like to think that we can control other people, too. We think that if we offer enough reminders, or yell loud enough, or we drop enough hits, then we can control how our colleagues, or our kids, or our partners show up.

Maybe if I just leave one more hint for my husband, he will finally help out with this. Maybe if I tell my kids I’m going to take away their screen time, they’ll finally stop fighting. Or maybe if I offer a reward to my employees, I can make them work harder.

And this is where it sometimes gets tricky. This is where our brain actually falls for this belief. Because sometimes when we do these things, our partners or our kids or our colleagues actually do change their behavior. They do help out, or they do stop fighting. Maybe they do work harder. But your actions did not do that. You did not control these people.

Instead, they had a thought like, “oh, I want that reward. Let me try to get my sales up.” Or “oh no, I want to play on the iPad, I better stop fighting with my sister.” They had a thought, which made them feel motivated to change their behavior. And I know this can feel a little brain twisty if this is a new concept to you. So if you need to pause and think about this for a moment, please do.

But the truth is this; you can not control other people. Because other people, just like the weather, are circumstances. What they do, what they say, how they show up in the world, those are circumstances. They are out of our control.

We Think We Can Control Our Circumstances

Now the thing is, we don’t believe this. We think that we can control these people or these situations in our lives. And we try to “do” and “do” and “do” all of these different things in order to change our circumstances. 

And because we can’t. Because we can’t change the weather or control the people, or determine an outcome, it feels terrible. Because we think we should be able to. We think that we should be able to say the right thing or do the right thing or ask the right question and be able to change the circumstance. We think that we should be able to watch the news enough, make the right post on social media, check the latest updates, and that is going to control what’s happening outside of us.

But let me say it one more time for the people in the back. We cannot control our circumstances. And I know that might sound terrible right now. You may be thinking, great, Paula. Thanks for being such a Debbie Downer today. But stick with me. It’s not all gloom and doom.

What You Can Control

Because here’s the great news. You have complete control over everything else.

You have complete control over what you choose to think about the situation.

And you have complete control over how you feel about the situation.

You are completely in control of how you choose to show up in the situation.

And ultimately, you get to control how you experience whatever situation is in front of you. 

And honestly, I think this is some of the most freeing information I could possibly share with you. Because you have complete control over your experience.

Weather (Again)

I’m going to use unpredictable weather again as an example because I think it’s relatable and – let’s face it – I’m a Minnesotan born and raised, and that’s what we talk about. And then I’m going to bring it back to what’s going on in the United States, so bear with me.

So, a couple of days ago, we had about six inches of snow on October 30th. This is a circumstance. Unfortunately, I have zero control over how many snowflakes fall from the sky and pile up on my driveway and sidewalk.

And here’s the deal, I get to choose my experience of this snowfall. And in fact, I was reminded of this when I shared a poll on my Instagram stories with a picture of the snow. By the way, if we’re not hanging out on Instagram yet, what’s happening? Head over to Instagram and give me a follow. I’m @imbusybeingawesome.

Anyway, I shared a picture of the snow, and I put up a poll that asked something to the effect of: Snow on October 30th. Too soon or Super excited? 

And guess what people, results came it and it was 50-50. Half of the people were super stoked for snow on October 30th. And the other half of the people we’re thinking to themselves, what happened to fall? No thank you!

We Get To Choose What We Think

We get to choose how we think about our circumstances.

Now, I was thinking, are you kidding me? This is way too much snow way too soon.

And there’s no surprise that when I thought that, I felt super annoyed.

And when I felt super annoyed, I complained to my husband. I kept looking out the window at the snow rolling my eyes. I talked about it on Instagram. And I kept checking the weather to see how much more snow is going to fall.

And do you know the experience that I created for myself? I made the snow even more prevalent in my mind. I kept thinking to myself this is way too much snow, when in reality, I was filling my brain with thoughts of snow CONSTANTLY. Plus, I kept telling myself the snow shouldn’t be falling, and I was arguing with reality, which always feels terrible.

Once I saw the responses from others on Instagram, however. And I remembered that what I choose to think about the snow is completely optional, that helped me step back a little bit. I was able to stop trying to control the uncontrollable. I was able to stop arguing with reality. And in fact, I was able to even see the beauty of the fresh snow.

But I’m not going to lie, I didn’t flip over to the other side and get super excited and start loving the snow. No thank you. It’s October 30, for goodness sake. BUT, I did decide to accept the unknown for what it was. And what’s more, I decided to focus my attention elsewhere until the information was available. Until the snow stopped and I knew how much we’d get. 

I decided to think to myself, I don’t know how much snow is going to fall, and that’s okay. Once the snow stops falling, then I will know. And then I can decide what I want to do. Then I can decide whether I want to just let the snow melt over if it’s ultimately just an inch or so, or I can actually bundle up, get out the shovel, and clear off the driveway and the sidewalks if it’s necessary. 

And what’s more, I know that I can absolutely handle either situation.

You Get To Decide What You Focus On

So again, you can decide and control what you focus on.

And the same goes for the election. Again, depending on when you’re listening to this podcast episode, and depending on how quickly we learn about the results of the election, you may be sitting in some uncertainty.

And believe me, I understand that uncertainty feels uncomfortable. As humans, we don’t like it. We want to have a plan. And because we like to have a plan, that’s when we slip into trying to control the uncontrollable.

But the reality is this. You have control over what you think, over how you feel, over how you act, and over your experience this current situation. You can control what you focus on right now. 

Do you like your reasons?

Now, if you want to focus on refreshing your newsfeed consistently, and if you want to have the news on in the background 24/7 until you know the results, you absolutely can. That’s your call. You can absolutely take those actions.

But I recommend checking in with yourself and figure out why you’re doing it. Are you doing it to try and create that sense of control? Are you trying to control the uncontrollable? Because if so, you’re fighting with reality, and it’s probably not going to feel good. Because again, you can’t control it.

Now if you are familiar with my work and this podcast, you know that when we talk about thought work and how we choose to think about things, I often talk about how we can change our thoughts to see the situation differently.

For example, if we go back to the snow example – I do apologize for everybody who hates talking about the weather, but just stick with me because it’s such a relatable concept. But if we stick with this snow example, I could have talked about changing my negative thought to a more positive one. I could have thought to myself, “Amazing. This will be a great workout. I don’t have to lift weights later.” I could try and find the beauty in the situation. And you can absolutely do that at any time as well.

Whatever You’re Feeling Is Right

But what I really want to stress in this episode, is that whatever you are feeling right now is absolutely okay and right.

If you are feeling anxious, or uncertain, or afraid, or angry, or sad, or whatever emotion you are experiencing right now, that is okay. All this means is that you are a human having a human experience of feeling a negative emotion.

And what’s more, there are some experiences in our lives where we want to have negative emotions. And I know this is kind of a crazy thing to think about. This is because we’ve been wired to seek pleasure and joy and happiness. We have evolved as a species to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So when we feel painful emotions, we think that something has gone wrong.

Sometimes You Want To Feel Negative Emotions

And I want to remind you that on the contrary, negative emotion in and of itself is not wrong. All it means is that you are thinking a thought in your mind that’s creating that vibration in your body that makes you feel a negative emotion.

And as I said, there are times when you may want to feel a negative emotion. Let’s say that your 5th-grade daughter is feeling really sad because she feels left out of her group of friends. And she told you about it, and she was really sad, and she talked about how she felt so bad because she was left out of this thing or that thing.

In a situation like this, you probably don’t feel super happy. You probably don’t feel joyous and excited and full of laughter. That’s okay. You don’t want to feel that way. Instead, maybe you’re feeling compassion for her. Perhaps you are sad for her. And that’s because you are thinking thoughts that make you feel that way.

Maybe you’re thinking something like “I wish she wasn’t so sad.” Or “I wish that I could help her feel better.” Or “I totally remember what this was like for me in fifth grade. This is hard. I feel for her right now.”

Again, nothing’s gone wrong because you are feeling a quote-unquote “negative emotion.” And in fact, you probably want to be feeling that emotion.

Now, I’m not saying you want the circumstance to be happening. I’m not saying you want your daughter to be left out and feel sad. I’m saying that in this circumstance, which is out of our control – we want to feel sad about it. We want to feel that emotion.

And when we do feel a negative emotion, again, nothing has gone wrong. Our brain will want to tell us it has. It will want to tell us there’s a problem here. But there’s not. All it means is you had a thought in your brain, which caused a specific vibration in your body that you do not find particularly enjoyable.

And I’m not trying to downplay our emotions here. Because I’ll be the first to admit that strong emotions can rock you. They can feel incredibly intense. But even so, it is still a vibration in your body. 

The Worst Thing That Can Happen Is An Emotion

And the last thing that I want to leave you with today is the reminder that the worst thing that can happen to you is an emotion. When you peel back the onion all the way, the really scary thing that you’re dreading the most always comes down to an emotion.

And again, I’ll give an example outside of our current situation to put things into perspective first.

New Job And Imposter Syndrome

Let’s say that you are thinking about applying for a job. And you really really want the job, but you’re afraid you won’t get it. You’re dealing with a lot of imposter syndrome. And you think that you might not be the right fit or that you won’t have what it takes. Maybe think you’re not smart enough or capable enough to take on the position.

Even if we let our brain go all the way to the worst-case scenario. And we don’t get the job, and everybody laughs at us, and we get fired from our other job because that job found out we were looking for a new position. And we’re totally stuck having to start over finding a new job. When you keep peeling back that onion with all of the worst-case scenarios. And you keep asking so what? Why is that a problem? Why is that a problem?

When you keep going further, you will always find that the worst thing that will happen – is you will feel some kind of negative emotion, whether that a shame, or hopelessness, or disappointment, or anger. Whatever you will feel if you.hypothetically applied for the job, didn’t get it, everyone laughed at you, you lost your current job, and you had to start all over.

Uncertainty Now

And the same is true right now in our current situation – or anytime in your life that you might be sitting in uncertainty about an outcome. The worst thing that can happen is a feeling. It is that feeling of uncertainty, or anxiety, or fear. And again I’m not saying that those don’t feel terrible. They absolutely do. They’re not fun to experience. I’m certainly not lining up raising my hand saying hey! I would love to feel anxious and uncertain and scared. That sounds like fun.

What I do know is that I can handle it.

As humans, we are built to experience any emotion. And when we allow the emotion to be there, and we breathe into it, and we open up to it, it makes the experience much more bearable. Because the alternative option is resisting. It is resisting the emotion, pushing it away, and trying to make ourselves feel better by controlling the uncontrollable. By constantly checking the news or checking our social media or whatever else we try to do, which ultimately adds to the tension and anxiety.

So whenever it is that you are listening to this episode, whether it’s election week in 2020 or 3 years from now, and whatever is going on in your life or in the world, I want to leave you with these points.

While we can’t control other people, and we can’t control the unknown, we do have control over pretty much everything else in our lives.

Here is what you can control.

You can control what you think about any situation. And you might choose to think negative thoughts. That’s okay. You get to choose them. You have control over them. And you have control over where you place your focus.

You can control how you feel about the situation based on the thoughts you’re choosing to think. And if you are feeling a negative emotion, that’s okay. Nothing has gone wrong. Your body is experiencing a vibration in response to the thought your brain is thinking.

You have complete control over how you show up in this current situation and every situation going forward. You get to choose what you do and you get to choose what you say. And you get to choose what you don’t do or what you don’t say. That is all completely within your power.

And finally, right now, in this moment, despite the feelings of uncertainty, you’re safe and you are loved.

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