Too Many Questions, Not Enough Answers
It is natural for us to want to maintain a sense of stability and control when uncertainty around change arises.
In Priscilla’s case, she focused on what she knew and could control, which eased the fear that often bubbles up when the details are missing. Had she succumbed to the pressure to fill in the blanks, she might have over-reacted by finding a new place to live, possibly in a less desirable location or at a higher cost because of the false sense of urgency created by her fears, only to have learned later that what she thought was a disruptive change, was only a false alarm.
How do you respond to uncertainty around change? Leave a comment and start the conversation!
Magnify What We Know, For A Sense Of Control
Let’s consider the case of Priscilla, who was informed that her landlord was going to be selling the house in which she rented an apartment, but didn’t know how long that might take, or if the new owner would continue renting the house or would choose to do something different with it.
Priscilla loved her apartment, as well as the location, and the prospect of losing it was causing a great deal of stress, especially with so many unanswered questions. It was hard to make any plans with so much uncertainty, not to mention that Priscilla wasn’t particularly motivated to take action because she just wanted things to stay as they were.
With change, frequently comes uncertainty. When is it going to happen? When will it be over? How long is it going to last? (These questions relate to the post It's Time To Evolve How We Think About Change), How will it impact me? Will I like it? What if I don’t? What if it isn’t what I thought it would be? And on, and on, and on.
When faced with uncertainty, we humans have an amazing ability to fill in the blanks. When we only know a part of the story, we tend to take the initiative to finish it with our own pen, which helps us to create a sense of calm and greater control. The downside of this approach is that it can create a mirage that abruptly dissolves as the facts become known. And if those facts run contrary to the story we’ve created, we’re in for a rocky adjustment, especially if we prefer our fantasies to the real thing.
While it was easy to think the worst and decide that the house would sell, the new owner would no longer want to rent the house, and she would be out on the street shortly thereafter, Priscilla instead looked for those things that she knew.
First, Priscilla knew that, given the option, she would want to continue to live in that house. If the house was no longer available, she would want to continue to live in the area, but she wasn’t ready to look for another place to live until she knew more about the situation. She knew that she had to be given a certain amount of notice to vacate if the house was sold and the new owner no longer wanted to rent. She knew in a general sense how much money she would need for a deposit and rent on a new place, if she had to move, and so she started setting aside extra just-in-case funds and made a note to find out more about other rental options in the area.
Priscilla then spoke with her current landlord and asked if she would be willing to provide her with monthly updates so Priscilla could feel in the know and prepared to take further action if necessary. Her landlord agreed and they arranged for Priscilla to call when she paid rent, so the landlord wouldn’t have to do anything extra, but would know to be prepared for a request for an update.
As it turned out, the landlord did sell the house, but to someone who was interested in continuing to rent, and had agreed to freeze the rents for at least a year after the purchase went through.
How Do You Respond To Uncertainty?
So what are we to do when we feel unsettled because there are more questions than answers with one or more changes in our life?
One handy tool is to focus on what we know, instead of what we don’t. What we magnify gets bigger, so why not concentrate our efforts on those things that are known about the change? But what can we do if all we know about the change is that it is at some point going to happen?
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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