Learn: Rationally, we accept uncertainty as a part of life. Yet our emotional mind seems determined to convince us that it is otherwise. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in our twenty-five century world. Frequently underlying this condition is a hidden demand for absolute certainty. It is often a core demand in general anxiety , PTSD and obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD). Many people with depression also struggle with the uncertainty surrounding the condition. The same can be said for numerous physical health and other challenges we face in life.
Why is this skill important?
Rationally, we accept uncertainty as a part of life. Yet our emotional mind seems determined to convince us that it is otherwise. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in our twenty-five century world. Frequently underlying this condition is a hidden demand for absolute certainty. It is often a core demand in general anxiety , PTSD and obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD). Many people with depression also struggle with the uncertainty surrounding the condition. The same can be said for numerous physical health and other challenges we face in life.
It is therefore essential to develop the skill of how to deal with uncertainty . Each one of us will encounter periods of stress throughout our lives , with accompanying uncertainty . Those who master this skill will be emotionally more resilient to such stressors , which will automatically reduce the mental health challenges such periods can engender.
One could say that chance favours the prepared mind!
If you are constantly struggling with a demand for absolute certainty in some, or all, areas of your life, I suggest the following exercise, which was first shared .It will require a sense of humour , burning desire to banish this demand and , on occasion , the enlisting of assistance from those close to you.
The coin exercise:
Let’s begin by asking you to write down on a piece of paper a list of personality enjoyable activities .
Here is the typical list.
- TV and Netflix programme
- Going out to a movie
- Going out with a partner for a meal. Different forms of exercise.
- Having a glass of wine with a meal.
- Social media.
- Reading an enjoyable book.
- Meeting up with friends in a coffee.
When drawing up this list , be totally honest , only putting down activities you really enjoy. Otherwise this exercise will be ineffective.
Now for the fun part!
For the next four weeks you are going to become very au fait with a simple coin. Heads many yes, tails mean no. This coin is now going to remove all certainty from your everyday life.
Let’s begin with TV and Netflix . For the next four weeks , every single episode of any series or soap, together with every movie and football match you were planning to watch, becomes dependent on the toss of a coin.
Because ……. before each episode or programme you are anxious to watch , you must toss a coin ! Heads you can watch it , and tails you can’t , and you are not allowed to watch it on catch – up. (I can hear the groans already.) If you are honest in performing this exercise , you will feel anxious before tossing the coin , jubilant if it turns up heads and completely frustrated if turns up tails.
If you are anticipating a glass of wine with your meal, toss the coin. Heads you can have it, tails and it is going to be water. If you are socialising with friends, heads you can drink , and tails you can’t . If you are enjoying a good book , heads you can read it and tails you must wait until the following day to see how the protagonist gets on. If you are out and you find a dress, suit , or sweater that really looks good on you, again , toss the coin. Heads you can take it home, tails you leave it behind.
When it comes to exercise routines the pattern is similar . You must get ready to exercise, but just before you go, toss the coin. Heads you can go and tails you can’t. Or even worse, if you like a brisk walk or a run, heads you can go ahead as normal, tails you must walk at a snail’s pace. It is amazing how frustrating this can be.
If you are planning to go out with your partner to a meal or movie, firstly explain the purpose of the exercise to them so that they are on board. You both get ready , but as you are going out of the door , you must toss the coin. Heads you can go and tails you can’t. You may not be popular ; but this must be done with a joint sense of humour.
Now for the daddy of them all, namely social media . If you are serious about banishing uncertainty from your life, this can really get the message across. Each day , you must toss a coin. Heads you can check your social media for the day, and tails you must disengage for twenty-four hours. Now I really can hear the groans!
You can decide on your own list . The key to be honest. Only write down activities you find pleasurable. You also have to genuinely follow through on the ‘tails’ part of the exercise. No cheating , please , or the exercise is a waste of time.
Lest you assume I am joking about this exercise , let me good-humouredly inform you I am deadly serious.
What is the purpose of this exercise ?
Why to ask you to cede control of your everyday life for four weeks to the whim of a coin? The answer is that we all fall into the trap of assuming we have absolute control over our everyday lives.
What time we get up at , what will we have for our meals, when we exercise , check our social media , read , watch TV and Netflix, socialise and so on.
In other words, We are absolutely certain of how our normal , everyday life will pan out. We then assume this is how life should be in relation to more serious matters, such as health , finance , relationships , and so on. We are seeking 100 per cent certainty that our demands in these areas are met. If we examine this demand in more detail, it is clearly irrational.
Is anything in life 100 per cent certain other than death?
Of course , this demand is impossible to achieve and leads inevitably anxiety or frustration.
The key to the coin exercise is how you adapt when things do not go your way.
What do you do when you are really frustrated , unable to view a programme , check social media or read your latest book?
How do you change your bahaviour?
What do you do instead?
This is a microcosm of real life.
By the time you have repeatedly performed the coin exercise over a four-week period, uncertainty will be embedded in your emotional mind as the norm. You will no longer seek absolute certainty in relation to more serious concerns. You will have become more realistic about life. You will discover an inner resilience and capacity to adapt when matters are not going your way, when life- as it is want to do-goes pear-shaped. By the way , if towards the end of this four – week exercise you are still seeking absolute certainty , continue for a further four weeks. The penny will drop quite quickly if you are aware of this possibility . It is amazing how this exercise focuses the mind.
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