In these days following the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, while we ensured every single vote was counted, and sometimes recounted, the lyrics of Tom Petty’s famous song “The Waiting” kept popping into my mind. Yes, Tom, the waiting was hard and while millions of us held our breath before the verified outcome was announced, it took a lot of faith and heart not to check for news updates every 30 seconds or explode from impatience.
In writing this article, I started thinking about other major moments of uncertainty in my past. The overwhelming concern felt when my 80-year-old mother had a heart attack in 2018 a week after her boyfriend suddenly passed way. The overwhelming fear of paying bills, like so many people are experiencing now, when the Great Recession killed my small business 10 years ago. And then I drew comfort in thinking about my first extended period of waiting, one that had the ability to crush or continue my dreams. I scraped by paying for college with student loans, grants and working multiple jobs; Emory University was expensive even back in the mid-1980’s. Upon returning my sophomore year, the financial aid office notified me that they lost my approved paperwork, and no one knew how much help I qualified for. There was no quick fix in those pre-Internet days. I had to wait it out, fearful that departure was imminent if the package was insufficient. After a month of being on pins and needles, my financial aid package came back with enough coverage. I got to stay at college after all.
Which brings me back to today. We are all going to face times of uncertainty, whether it stems from a minor occurrence or the future of our country. The waiting does not have to be the hardest part after all. Here are three ways to deal with uncertain times:
Focus on your pillars of strength. By pillars of strength, I am referring to your personal traits or deeply held beliefs that are a steadfast source of pride. Maybe you are loyalty personified, honest to a fault or always choose the high road, even when others are sinking low. Perhaps it is your ability to think strategically, a strong commitment to daily exercise or talent for planning unforgettable birthday celebrations for friends. When you focus on these strengths, they reinforce your solid foundation in life when everything else might feel in flux. Chances are good you will still be able to count on those gifts and practices whatever lies ahead.
Practice distraction. If you don’t like a streaming show or podcast, it’s easy to switch to another episode. So when stressed about an uncertain circumstance that is out of your hands, consider switching to distracting activities that redirect your thoughts while awaiting an outcome. For example, months ago we planned to take a vacation right after the presidential election. Made sure all of our socially distant/safety protocols were in place and hopped on an airplane for the first-time since early 2020. Being somewhere different, with new experiences, proved to be a great distraction from the post-election waiting game. For some quick, easy distraction techniques that don’t involve travel, check out this verywellmind.com article. Reading a good book, doing household chores or binging past seasons of your favorite cooking show can all help calm your mind.
Bring on the gratitude. Happiness Guru Shawn Achor, author of the Happiness Advantage and other best-selling books on the topic, notes that you can become happier by spending just two minutes a day, over the course of three weeks, journaling a few items you are grateful for. As this Inc. Magazine article reports, Achor notes that practice is powerful because you are training your mind to scan for positives, instead of threats, and it is the fastest way of teaching optimism. If you want to go beyond this baseline practice, check out this exercise I developed as an executive coaching tool to help people turn gratitude into rocket fuel. Infusing your day with this burst of positive energy does wonders for your attitude, especially when life feels uncertain or out-of-control.
How do you deal with uncertain times?