The art of embracing the unknown should be a mandatory school subject. It is a skill most of us lack – which is only natural – and all of us necessitate.
I am not an adventurist. It is probably not cool to admit that about yourself, but that is how it is. I have tried to avoid terrains that were out of my comfort zone for my whole life. Indeed, I am not the kind of person who will leave everything and go to Nepal to see how things will pan out. I do admire those people – but I am not one of them.
However, no matter how fond of certainty I may be, life has got it in for me. Yes, it is unpredictable by definition. And always will be. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. No one saw it coming. Many people had to make changes to how they work, socialise, live. It was a great unknown – and still is – but we have had to embrace the changes it has brought.
Indeed, there will always be uncertainty in everybody’s life. So, how do we learn to accept and adapt to it? How can we embrace the unknown?
One of the most well-known, established, and used psychological tests, BIG-5, resides on an empirically confirmed assumption about five broad personality traits. One of those traits is openness to experience. This trait includes the following aspects:
People who score low on this scale are more conventional in their thinking and behaviour. They are usually closed to the unknown and new experiences. Such an individual prefers regular routines over new experiences.
Open new doors and welcome the unknown shutterstock/StunningArt
Conversely, according to research, someone who has high openness to experience might have a broader range of interests. They could be more creative and knowledgeable because they are fine with uncertainty. In other words, such a person is not reluctant to jump right into new information and experience.
Therefore, some people are simply more open to experiences. That is their personality trait. However, it only means embracing the unknown comes naturally to them. It does not mean you cannot learn to shift your perspective and do the same.
Let us explore several argument points that will help you shift your perspective from being afraid of uncertainty to embracing the unknown.
Obviously, nothing lasts forever. But we secretly hope good things do. This is why we are so afraid of uncertainty.
However, when you think about it, you will realise that you have never been one hundred per cent certain about how things will unfold. Also, nothing ever stayed the same. All things pass. When you accept this thought, you might start feeling more confident about facing the unknown.
When we cling to things and people, we suffer. It is one of the four noble truths in Buddhism. Attachment, albeit a natural human feeling, has a dark side to it. When you are attached to something, be it good, bad, or neutral, you become convinced you cannot go on without it.
“Embrace the unknown. It is everywhere, whether you like it or not. It is the path towards true joy and openness to life’s wonders.”
When you learn to let go of past hurts, hopes or anxieties about the future, you can then go with the flow of life and enjoy it without fear.
You always learn when you try something new, regardless of how successful or not you might have been. And with learning comes growth. It was once believed that we were born with all the neurons we would ever have. Nonetheless, we now know that new neurons get formed during adulthood, too. The same goes for new neural pathways.
If your counterargument is: “It might be painful”, remember all the instances in which you endured pain for the sake of growth. Start with teething as an infant, for example. You would not relinquish your teeth because it hurt a little, would you not?
It may be a cliché but think of the unknown and uncertainty as an opportunity to survive and become stronger because of it.
Unpredictable situations will arise, that is certain. They all bear valuable life lessons, no matter how petty or profound they may be. When you overcome obstacles and swim back out to the surface after a storm, you find yourself tougher and wiser than you were before.
When you fear uncertainty, you fear the loss of control. However, know that you can always control one thing, no matter what happens to you. Your reactions are absolutely in your power.
Whatever happens, you will decide how to respond. We may not control much of what occurs to us, but we do choose how to handle the circumstances. So, ultimately, you do have control over uncertainty because you command your thoughts and behaviours.
Embracing the unknown comes with a recognition of the mysteriousness of life. Even though your first response might be: “Yes, I want to know my future!” upon closer introspection, you might be surprised.
“To embrace the unknown is to live the life as it was meant to be lived — being surprised by all its miracles.”
Indeed, a recent study confirmed that most people do not really want to know what lies ahead. In fact, only 1 per cent of people consistently said they would want to know their future. Between 40-70 per cent of participants in the said study would not want to know about the positive events in their future. The numbers for negative events are even higher – 85-90 per cent would not want to find out ahead about adversities that await them.
To embrace the unknown is to live the life as it was meant to be lived — being surprised by all its miracles.
So, how can we learn to embrace the unknown if it is not our second skin? How do we learn to accept uncertainty and even enjoy it?
Here are some ideas on how to stretch your comfort zone little by little.
Stop overthinking and overplanning
Trust your ability to land on your feet no matter what happens. The next time you have a decision to make, embrace the unknown and do not try to predict your distant future. Stick with the immediate facts and choices.
Learn to live in the present moment
Another Buddhistic wisdom we all would benefit from – live in the now. We cannot change the past. We cannot predict the future. While we are trying the latter, we are missing out on the only thing we do have – the present moment.
Indulge in spur-of-the-moment experiences
I am not propagating recklessness or risky/unhealthy behaviour. However, when things are safe, do allow yourself some impulsiveness. I am talking about an unplanned trip with your friends, for example. Even taking an unplanned route to work or anywhere else could help you practice embracing the unknown.
Do not compare your past experiences with what is happening right now.
If you do, you might start acting on the basis of what had happened sometime before, not what is going on right now. And you could fear the outcomes that once ensued – but you do not know what will happen this time.
Switch fear for curiosity
A study from February 2021 revealed that mindfulness truly contributes to meaning in life. However, this relationship is mediated by curiosity and openness to experience. In other words, when you decide to be curious about what happens next, you will learn to embrace the unknown and uncertainty and, at the same time, help other beneficial psychological processes to evolve freely.
When you develop the habit of being grateful, you also learn to notice how every situation brings something to be thankful for. Such a skill will help you embrace the unknown because you know that every cloud has a silver lining.
Uncertainty will always be a part of life. This is a given. And, paradoxically, the more you try to prepare for the unpredictable, the more surprised you may become.
I am not saying you should give up on acquiring information, planning or developing your skill-set. You should always strive to be the most resilient and resourceful version of yourself.
However, if you see the unknown as the enemy, chances are, you will not be able to enjoy the variety of life. The unknown comes with both the good and the bad. If you only expect enjoyable experiences and avoid anything new for your fear of adversities, you might miss out on half of life.
So, embrace the unknown. It is everywhere, whether you like it or not. When you welcome it into your existence, you will be at peace. Embracing the unknown is the path towards true joy and openness to life’s wonders. •
Main image: shutterstock/everst
Stanislava Puač Jovanović has a master’s degree in psychology and works as a freelance writer and researcher in this area. Her primary focus is on questions relating to mental health, stress-management, self-development and well-being.
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