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How to Live with Doubt: 4 Approaches to Help Manage the Hard Emotions that Come With Uncertainty

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

You know the people who binge-watch a Netflix series (with at least 6 seasons… probably all in one day) to avoid their own reality? Then subsequently research the actors and actresses real-life as soon as the series is over?

How about the people who have such a jam-packed schedule, that there is “no time” to do anything for themselves? But really it’s a great way to avoid the hard stuff of life?

That’s me. I’m people. 

I’m a skilled human in the ways of withdrawing and avoiding — I’m so skilled, in fact, that I know how to withdraw and avoid in a way that doesn’t even look like I’m withdrawing and avoiding. #YIKES #LyingToMyself

Over the last several months, I used up all my excuses to avoid difficult emotions, particularly the difficult emotions that accompany doubt and uncertainty. 

I’d watched all the Netflix series, cleared up my “busy” schedule and saved enough money (due to my reclusion) that I couldn’t even use that as an excuse anymore. 

It was time to face a challenging truth: how the heck do I cope with this level of doubt?

I reluctantly put myself back into therapy. Normally I’m a huge proponent of therapy and have been in and out for years; however, I was so annoyed that I had to go back and work on things that I’d thought I’d successfully overcome. 

I had to re-learn that the things I struggle with (doubt, control, difficult emotions, avoidance, etc) are going to be re-triggered from time to time — and depending on the severity of the situation, I’ll have to learn new and different survival skills to get through. 

So, I wanted to share with you some of the approaches I’ve been focusing on in case you’ve been experiencing a little bit of doubt too.

Focus on the Facts

More often than not when we’re experiencing a bit of ambiguity, we’re likely to focus on the emotions rather than the facts.

According to Dr. Steven Hayes, author of Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, we have to learn how to distinguish descriptions from evaluations; AKA — learning how to stop judging our behaviors and start describing them.

Here’s an example:

Description: My chest hurts and I’m feeling anxiety.
Evaluation: The anxiety is too much and is overwhelming. I don’t think I can handle it.

Descriptions maintain the observable features of the event without our interaction with them. Evaluations are our (emotional) reactions to what’s happening.

Doubt becomes difficult to process when we are hyper-fixated on the emotions rather than the events/facts of the circumstance.

Although this method may feel like we’re splitting hairs, it’s teaching us that attaching a judgment to an uncertain circumstance is counterproductive. Descriptions allow us to confront the truth in a more rational and gentle way, while evaluations (more often than not) are irrational opinions that are harsh and debilitating to our emotional growth.

If we want true power over our doubt (so that we can successfully live with it), we must name and describe it (“I’m feeling uncomfortable and my relationship is rocky”). That’s real, honest feedback that we can work with.

There are no Guarantees

100% guarantees are an illusion. 

Let me say it one more time for the people in the back: 100% guarantees are an illusion. And if you’re a perfectionist, like me, you’ve learned this lesson the (very) hard way… and probably have to re-learn it all of the time.

Recently, I’ve been seemingly drowning in uncertainty and doubt more than usual. During my daily workouts, I’ve traded out listening to music to tuning into an amazing podcast/sermon series about faith and hope — what I consider to be the opposite of doubt.

During one of the first episodes, the pastor said something that hit me hard. He asserted the idea that there’s always going to be a percentage of doubt in any situation. However, in order to actually have hope in a circumstance where there seems to be none, you