I often tell my clients to practice being “sure enough.” While this might initially sound a bit negative, it’s quite the opposite. It’s less about the ho-hum “the best you’re going to get” and more about making a choice that helps lower your anxiety.
Here’s the thing. Anxiety wants you to seek out certainty, a guarantee.
Most of the time, that guarantee doesn’t exist. To chase it down wastes your time and energy — and increases your worry, because anxiety will always find the loophole (that “yes, but” scenario).
There’s always going to be an opportunity to do more (check more, plan more, ask more, be sure more), but that doesn’t mean it’s in your best interest. It means you’re having an urge to do it, and if you have anxiety sensitivity, those repetitive little checks are training your brain to associate uncertainty with [insert behavior]. That behavior functions as an attempt to get rid of the anxious feelings.
Remember that an urge is a feeling, and feelings are temporary.
We need to remember that! Certainty is not a fact. It’s a feeling, and we want to practice treating feelings as just another sense — one that comes and goes if we let them be.
For instance, let’s say you’re sending an email. You’ve checked it twice and are pretty sure it’s good to go. But you feel anxious, because you want to be certain it’s grammatically correct, coherent, effective, whatever. Your brain tells you to check “just one more time.” You do. Then your brain says, “ok, but one MORE time.”
You never feel certain. You only feel more anxious.
You may have many of these choice points in a day, and, in isolation, giving in to one of them isn’t a big deal. Chances are, however, you’re probably not just doing it once. You’re probably doing these small things over and over it.
Let’s stop and think about what those little behaviors are training your brain to do and the associations you’re making. When you’re feeling unsure about something, you take an action to get rid of the feeling, and you feel better … for a little bit. Taking that action gave you short-term relief.
What I’m suggesting is instead of automatically jumping to a behavior for short-term relief, try accepting being “sure enough” or “certain enough” about the situation for the long-term goal of freedom from these urges. Expect to feel uncomfortable that the situation may feel unresolved. Let whatever you feel be … and move on.
Every time your brain nudges you to check, remind it that you’re sure enough and carry on. This is what building our tolerance for uncertainty looks like. Bit by uncomfortable bit.
Send the email.
Another reason to start practicing letting those urges pass: what happens if there’s a bigger stressor? You’ve trained yourself out of being ok with feeling uncomfortable and into checking, controlling and overplanning as your coping skills.
Everyone has areas where they’re accepting life’s uncertainties without even realizing it. Think about when you’re confident — or sure enough — about things. Do you check in with your parents to make sure they’re still alive every day or are you sure enough they’re ok? Do you take your temperature every day or are you sure enough that you’re healthy and well? Remembering these examples helps you work through others.
By letting the anxious feelings be, you’re building resilience.
You’re training your brain that it’s ok to live in the reality of uncertainty. The more you practice, the stronger that association becomes, and the less anxious you’ll be.
And the more freedom from worry you’ll gain.