Dealing With Uncertainty
Hi, everybody. I’m coach Rebecca and I am here to talk to you about uncertainty. We have been in this great time of uncertainty, and I posted a question in the Sport Confidence Accelerator (our free Facebook group for any sport families who would like to join us there). I asked them,
What is your biggest struggle right now?
At least one-third of the responses were uncertainty.
Will meets get canceled?
Are gyms going to stay in business?
Will we end up back on zoom?
Will my athlete train hard, all preseason, for nothing?
Today, I want to talk about how to remain calm and motivated in the face of uncertainty. I’m going to give you three truths and three questions to ask yourself so you can ride those waves of uncertainty with confidence, calm, and grace.
Uncertainty Isn’t New
Let’s start with reality – life has always been uncertain. Last November, pre-holidays, pre-COVID, I was experiencing so much stress about certain decisions I was trying to make in my personal life and in my business. Then I thought to myself, “Rebecca, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” So I had to decide – is it really worth the amount of worry I’m putting into this one decision? I had moments where I felt like I needed to worry. I needed to make sure that I made all the right decisions but I was reminded that life is so uncertain, so why stress when we really don’t know how things are going to work out? We have to just do the best we can.
But on the other hand, I’m thinking, “Well, if I’m going to get hit by a bus tomorrow, then why would I even do anything? You know, why would I plan for the future? Why would I try to make a bigger impact?” Therefore you have to find a balance. You want to stay motivated and you want to have something to work towards, something that lights your fire and makes you successful.
Before I go into the three truths, I want to let you know that our brains don’t like the unknown. I like a positive surprise, like a surprise party. Some people aren’t into the surprise parties, but I love it. I love when somebody goes out of their way to do something special for me, love that. There are some uncertainties that I’m all about. Flowers from my husband, coffee – those are great… but when it comes to the negative unknowns, I’m not a fan and neither is our brain.
Because of this, when athletes specifically, are struggling with mental blocks, it’s because the brain is thinking, “There’s not enough information. I can’t guarantee that you’re going to be safe. I’m just going to short circuit and not try any skills.” If you freeze up when you’re trying to do something you should be able to do confidently, your brain is telling you there’s not enough information and it’s just going to cut it off. Well, that’s a problem because you never really, truly, 100% know whether or not it will be safe.
Today, I’m going to give you some framework to decide if you can move forward or not. Think back to your last vacation (back when vacations were a regular thing). You were laying on a beach, your kids were laughing, the wind is blowing, and everything is right in the world. In those moments, you’re not thinking about uncertainty. You’re thinking, “Oh, this is so nice.” You feel gratitude just being in that moment going, “Wow, life has lined up in such a way that I get to be here right now. How cool is this?”
It’s a little easier for us to be present and grateful when life is going swimmingly, but then you get that big tidal wave of uncertainty and hyper-focus on that. Regardless of whether things are certain or uncertain (and I’m going to tell you in just a second that they are uncertain) what we want to be able to do is drop into that place of, “Oh my goodness. Everything lined up to put me right in this place. How cool is this?”
I know that might be a stretch for some of us, but it’s something to aim for, right?
3 Truths to Help Navigate Uncertainty
Truth #1. There is always uncertainty in life and there always will be.
As I said before, you get hit by a bus, you could get hit by a comet. Sometimes I talk to athletes and they’ll say, “Well, what if my hand slips off the beam?” What if this? What if that? I respond with, “What if a meteor hits the gym?” There’s a whole lot of “what if” that we could consider if we wanted to, but just based on the facts and based on the reality is that really where we want to go?
We Just Don’t Know
The reality is, you don’t know if you’re going to get injured. You don’t know if your coach is going to go to a new team or if your best friend is going to move away. You don’t know if your family’s going to get sick. The fact is we just don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I really wish I did. The difference is that you have to be able to be okay with that because it’s never going to change. There’s never going to be a world without uncertainty. There’s never going to be a time where things won’t ever change and you’ll just be on that breezy, beautiful, warm beach forever. You’d end up getting sunburned and dehydrated and you’d be bored.
The Flipside of Uncertainty
You also don’t know if you’re going to have the meet of your life or the season of your life. You don’t know if your family is going to inherit a huge windfall from some random, strange relative you’ve never heard of, and you don’t know if you’re going to run into Simone Biles at Starbucks. There are a lot of cool uncertainties. so it’s best to want to accept nothing is certain. We just don’t know.
There’s fact number one. If you’re still not feeling better, don’t worry. Stick with me.
Truth #2. There are so many things that we cannot control
Most things we can’t control. My grandpa Jack, who has passed away, used to say that you don’t worry about things you can’t control because every time you worry about something you can’t control, it’s wasted energy that could be spent on being happy. If you think about it – what can you really control yourself? What you pay attention to, what you focus on, what you do, how you think, your attitude – that’s pretty much it. People, places, and things are pretty much outside of your control.
So you have to accept that uncertainty is a thing that will always be with you and that you can’t control a whole lot of things.
Truth #3. Pain is inevitable
This is depressing, but don’t worry. I’m going to give you a solution. Pain is inevitable and suffering is optional, so you will have a choice. Yes, things are going to happen. Life is not all going to be rainbows and butterflies for the rest of your life, but you get a choice.
I was doing a live training last night with some of the PerformHappy athletes and it was all about self-image and being able to see yourself in a positive light. One of the coping strategies was to silence your inner critic. That’s the voice inside you that’s saying, “This is not okay. This is not going well. This is never going to get better. What’s the point.” It’s that grumpy dude who just sits on your shoulder and yaps at you and tells you things are not good and you’re not good enough. Well, that little voice loves for you to suffer.
So, we did this little thing that sort of plays off our superhero theme that we have in the program where you come up with your supervillain and that’s that negative voice, and then you have your superhero who responds to it. Here’s a quick run-through of what we did last night:
- Write down what your supervillain would say about uncertainty? “I don’t like change. I’m not good at this. This isn’t going to be a good day”. You get it all written down. I call my supervillain The Princess. She’s entitled and she’s a whiner. She just complains and doesn’t do a whole lot about taking action
- Bring your superhero in for me. My superhero is The Queen. She has this amazing perspective of everything is falling into place whether you know it now or not. She says things like, “Be patient, princess, be patient.” That was what I kept hearing.
You can do this whenever you’re hearing that supervillain. Write down all the negativity, and then bring your superhero in to combat those negative thoughts with positivity.
The Uncertainty Quadrant
This concept reflects how when things get rough, you have four choices:
1. Panicked and Underprepared
You can be on the line between panic and calm and somewhere on the line between over-prepared and under-prepared. Recently, I woke up to messages about hazardous air from the Sonoma County fires. I live in Sonoma County and so we get all the fires. I’ve lived in each of these quadrants during times of fire and there’s, these are the choices basically. If I’m not prepared and I’m panicking, then I freeze up. I ended up just staring at my phone not doing anything.
2. Panicked and Overprepared
Then, I could get into this freakout zone where I’m panicking and I’m getting really prepared, stocking up on everything, freaking out, but getting really prepared, but still totally panicking.
3. Underprepared and Calm
An example of this is, “Oh, the fire’s down the street. It’s fine. I don’t need to leave,” and then the police and the firefighters are saying, “Get out!” Now they’re risking their lives to save the person who wouldn’t leave.
4. Overprepared and Calm
This is the sweet spot. It’s not about just being calm if you’re not actually prepared and things are not okay, you have to get prepared. Being here between over-prepared and calm is where you want to be.
I want you to look at this as if you are getting old, razzled, frazzled by uncertainty. What can you do to prepare? Here are three questions that I want to ask you.
1. What am I worried about?
Ex: I’m going to work so hard during pre-season and then all of my meets get canceled
2. What is within my control?
The meets have been canceled, but I can still show up to practice when I can. I show up when there is practice, I prepare mentally to make sure that if/when meets happen, I’m ready.
3. What can I do to better prepare for this?
Train hard, think of my goals, and practice gratitude. People may ask why you’re doing it, saying, “Why practice if meets get canceled?” The best response will be, “What if they aren’t? What if I’m the only one who keeps training through this? The only one who kept motivated during all this uncertainty and then there was a season?!”
Is my team going to survive?
I know this is one of the worries that people have been facing.
The Worry: Is my gym going to go under.
What’s in my control?: I can help seek out cheaper facilities or costs cutting ideas.
What can I do to better prepare?: I can have a backup plan. Knowing other facilities in the area that we may be able to go to, just in case. I can also prepare my athletes so that they have other hobbies and desires, so there’s a balance created in their lives during times of instability. If there is no other gym, then that kid’s already ready. They’re prepared with something else to be passionate about.
That’s something that comes up a lot with injured athletes – the ones that weather the storm of injury the best are the ones who have other hobbies, other passions, and other desires that they can lean on while they’re recovering.
The worry: Fear of injury
What’s in your control: If something hurts, use imagery. Imagine yourself being healthy and safe. What can you do to prepare for this? You can prepare your environment, make sure that your equipment and your mats are set up to keep you safe, and you can have a team of professionals that you can go to. If you start to have a little pain, you can speak up when it starts to hurt a little bit.
This is what I’m worried about, this is what I can control, and this is what I’m going to do to prepare.
Living in Sonoma County, I worry that there are going to be fires. Well, there probably will be. What’s within my control? We redid all of our siding so that it’s all concrete. Then, we set up our trailer so it’s all ready and we know exactly what to grab when it’s time. I also have all the alerts put into my phone. This way, I get to just feel prepared and calm and know that if it affects our town, I will know what to do and I will be able to respond. I don’t have to be in that freaking out, in panic mode of buying all the toilet paper. I can know we have plenty of toilet paper, therefore I can relax in love on my kids.
So ask yourself those questions and know that you have a choice and how you respond to the situation. So again, the three truths, there will always be uncertainty.
There are many things you can’t control. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
As long as you stay in that calm, over-prepared place and focus on what you can control, you will be able to weather anything. And let me tell you, let’s say that COVID disappears tomorrow. Poof! Amazing! There’s still going to be uncertainty, so it’s good that we are developing this skill. Hopefully, we’ll be able to look back from a massive amount of gratitude and go, “Wow, I got through that. I can do anything!”
Thank you all for being here with me. If you have any questions, click here to join the Sport Confidence Accelerator Facebook group. Share your questions with me and let me know what you want to hear about on Facebook Live. I will be happy to answer them. I’ll see you around soon.