4 Ways to Take Charge Even in the Face of Uncertainty

We can stumble into a place of uncertainty for a variety of reasons at any point during the journey called life. It’s hard, but it’s normal to feel lost or unsure sometimes. For example, we may at some point face job uncertainty or career choice uncertainty, difficulties in navigating childhood/adulthood, issues regarding stability or be affected by unexpected life events which may be hard to deal with and find our way out of.

I for one would say an unexpected life event, particularly to do with my health (a chronic pain situation) has recently been one of my main causes of uncertainty as it has interfered a lot with my daily activities. In addition, navigating early adulthood and trying to pave my way has been another cause of uncertainty for me. In both situations, I know that if I do not find a way to regulate my stress, this could have negative effects on my mental wellbeing.

Often uncertainty can lead to an individual feeling a lack of control over the events of their life. As a result, this could make them more susceptible to experiencing chronic stress which can cause significant damage to the body over time (Salleh, 2008). Stress is a process in which the environmental demands are exceeding the capacity that an individual has to cope, which can cause negative psychological and biological effects (Cohen, Kessler & Gordon, 1995). High levels of stress can lead to illness and illness can also lead to experiencing significant stress, a complex and vicious cycle (Salleh, 2008).

Typically major life stressors are categorised as scenarios that require a significant amount of life readjustment (Holmes & Rahe, 1967). It’s learning how to appropriately manage these readjustments, stress, uncertainty and yet still find a sense of personal control that can be tricky – especially if it can negatively affect our overall health & wellbeing. This is even more of a reason why finding ways to mitigate against this would be beneficial for us.

Bandura defined self-efficacy as confidence that an individual possesses in regards to how they can successfully execute a behaviour or action to produce the desired result or specific achievement. (Bandura, 1977, 1982, 1997). Bandura defined contended self-efficacy as a predictor of the amount of effort and how persistent people are while facing obstacles or undesirable experiences (Bandura, 1977, 1982, 1997). Self-efficacy has influence on an individual’s motivation (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). I personally feel that I’ve observed that when people face uncertainty it’s this aspect, people’s sense of self-efficacy that becomes diminished leading people to feel demotivated, unaccomplished, down and like things are spiraling beyond their control.

I think the friction between wanting to do something and not being able to or not knowing how to is a difficult battle that becomes a big catalyst for stress. Therefore, I think finding ways to boost one’s sense of self-efficacy can be advantageous for coping in these situations. I think making efforts to try to increase my sense of self-efficacy has been having a positive impact on my self-esteem because it makes me feel like I am still the driver of my life. This is also a positive buffer against stress for me.

Although realistically you may not be able to control everything happening to you or around you, there may be some things you can implement that you haven’t yet realised.

Here are 4 ways I feel have been helping me to take charge even during trying, uncertain times in my life:

1) Striving to start and end the day on a high note

In the mornings, I have started setting time aside to reflect and practise daily gratitude. 10-15 minutes, it doesn’t have to be long at all. This helps me strive to enter the day with positivity. Of course this can be quite difficult sometimes but it helps me at least strive to embody this mindset throughout the day. I write down 3 things I am grateful for each day and also write down several daily affirmations – eg. I am strong, I am healthy, I am happy. Yes, sometimes it may feel trivial but it’s the repetition of the regular statements which I think holds the power. I’m not always an optimistic queen but hey, I’m still learning. Here I am actively choosing my mindset for the day and taking the lead on how I’d like to feel that day.

Honestly, I would say that I have been one to struggle with affirmation statements in the past because I often struggle with accepting positive things about myself. But repeatedly speaking life over yourself, saying these statements with conviction, I’ve learned is one step to reprogramming your mindset, boosting your self-esteem. It’s about taking control of your emotions as opposed to allowing your emotions to control you. I now see stating affirmations as a form of intention setting and when you’re more intentional about things they tend to go more smoothly as you’re focused, especially as these intentions are now at the forefront of your conscious awareness.

One book which has been helping me on this journey is ‘The Daily Stoic’ by Ryan Holiday which has a page for each day with daily wisdom, words regarding perseverance and sayings about life from the principles of stoic philosophy. I also like to frequently reflect in the evenings and journal as a way to ground me, allowing me to think about how I can best improve my approach for future days.

There’s always an opportunity to try again after a bad day. I am recognising more and more that I can control my ability to be kinder, to be happier and exude more confidence. I have the ability to control my emotions. An aspect of stoic philosophy that I quite like is that it reminds us that we do have things that we can control, especially if we steer our focus inwards to our emotions and mind. It’s not an easy skill to master and I have not completely mastered it myself but it can be exercised over time which breeds amazing strength.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Marcus Aurelius

2) Continuing to seek knowledge & being curious

Sometimes in uncertain situations, I have found that it is easy to feel extremely stuck as if everything is progressing around you while you remain stagnant. The same. I have found this particularly difficult especially when there are circumstances outside my control. Overall, this may knock your confidence significantly and make you feel a sense of inferiority to others, even a sense of worthlessness.

A helpful way that I have found to combat this demotivating, stuck feeling is to keep pushing myself to learn more, to continue being hungry for knowledge, even outside my area of expertise. I think taking a small step is sometimes better than not trying to move at all. This has allowed me to develop as a person. I have been eager to seek knowledge in areas I don’t know much about such as tech and law and better familiarise myself with current global affairs. I think this is a particularly great thing to do to find yourself when you’re feeling lost because who knows, maybe you’ll find your feet while exploring the most unexpected place? In addition, delving into areas which I’m really interested in such as psychology, fashion, health.

I have found that exploring a combination of areas has significantly expanded my worldview and transformed my perspective. I’m able to understand more and think more critically from different angles. It also allows me to feel that I am still moving forward and progressing even if things feel a bit cloudy right now. Luckily there are so many great mediums to obtain knowledge in this era – ones that I particularly enjoy include, watching documentaries, films, listening to lectures, podcasts and reading books.

It’s mind-blowing to me the number of great things you can be exposed to through the internet and books. Doing a combination of these things has allowed me to feel a sense of control over aspects of my personal growth and this is a fulfilling feeling. Even if this is done incrementally, at a steady pace it’s a nice feeling to know that I’m still evolving.

“Books mean all possibilities. They mean moving out of yourself, losing yourself, dying of thirst and living to your full. They mean everything.”

Ali Smith

3) Doing something that gives me a sense of purpose

Engaging in an activity that brings me a sense of purpose has also been a great way to feel fulfilled and bring a sense of structure to my life. For me, that’s crisis volunteering for the mental health charity Shout UK. It’s an amazing accomplishing feeling to know that I can impact someone’s wellbeing and hold space for them to have someone to talk to. It makes me feel like I am positively contributing to something and gives me a healthy sense that I am achieving something which motivates me further. Doing this every week helps me to feel a sense of routine and makes me feel like I have control over a thing that I’m doing in my life. 

I also like to write, as I’m doing now sharing what I learn and love talking about psychology. Your purpose is unique to you, so what makes you feel that glowing feeling will be unique to you also. It’s all a process. There are many things you can try to do routinely to try and help you feel a sense of purpose – for example, pouring into others through mentoring and teaching, sharing knowledge, skills or giving advice, fundraising and giving to charity if you are able, joining a community, whether that be physically or online – there are so many remote options nowadays.

Even if it’s just one thing, no matter how big or small. That one thing could also be doing something purposeful routinely for yourself, for example, pouring into yourself with some self-care once a week – however, that might look like to you.

4) Finding a hobby/interest to pass the time

In uncertain times it’s not uncommon to get wrapped into a spiral of negative emotions. I recognise that it’s not always easy to forget about how you feel and while you may not be able to forget in all entirety you may be able to find a healthy, regular hobby to engage in to cope. Going through uncertain times and feeling lost, especially when transitioning through a stressful life change can lead to a sense that you have lost your identity and in turn, a loss of identity in high-stress situations can lead to compromised wellbeing (Praharso, Tear & Cruwys, 2017).

For me, crochet is an enjoyable hobby I like to engage in as a healthy distraction. It’s hands-on but also therapeutic and a good stress regulator for me. As well as honing my hand skills, it allows me to create things related to fashion, an area I love and this allows me to feel more like myself amidst the trying times. It makes me feel in control of who I am as a person and makes me feel a sense of ownership of a part of my identity that I love. Also, the fact that I am producing a garment makes me feel productive and this acts as a great mood booster for me.

In addition, being part of the online crochet and design community has been an excellent way to feel a part of something and allows me to feel less isolated, giving me less opportunity to dwell in sadness. In hard times, as humans, we can often isolate ourselves intentionally or unintentionally but the power of community can be magnificent and it can be a beneficial thing to find people to connect with if you can.

Overall, I just want you to know that you are completely valid in your feelings during your difficult, uncertain times. It’s not the nicest of places to be. I see you, I feel you. Feeling lost can be such an empty, dim, isolating place and it’s not an easy ride navigating through uncertainty in life. You are not alone in struggling, even if it may feel like it (important note to myself as well). I hope you eventually find your way, things get clearer for you or you find ways to cope better in your journey. I hope things get better for you.

I think it’s very important for us to listen to our instincts and body and know our personal limitations. Do what’s best for you and don’t overexert yourself. I’m hoping you found this helpful even if there is just one change you can make to try to take charge, feel more control and have a greater sense of self-efficacy in your life. It’s all a journey. I’m personally trying to find a balance between accepting the reality of present situations but also learning to find hope somewhere in the future, even if I do have to dig a little deeper. Rooting for you all!

  • Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological review84(2), 191.
  • Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American psychologist37(2), 122.
  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Bandura, A. (1997). The nature and structure of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York, NY: WH Freeman and Company, 37-78.
  • Cohen, S., Kessler, R.C., & Gordon, L.U (1995). Strategies for measuring stress in studies of psychiatric and physical disorders. Measuring stress: A guide for health and social scientists, 2-26.
  • Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of psychosomatic research.
  • Praharso, N. F., Tear, M. J., & Cruwys, T. (2017). Stressful life transitions and wellbeing: A comparison of the stress buffering hypothesis and the social identity model of identity change. Psychiatry research247, 265-275.
  • Salleh, M.R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences: MJMS, 15 (4), 9.

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