How to Increase Your Tolerance for Uncertainty

So many aspects of life are uncertain. Although 2022 has made us more intensely aware of this reality than ever before, humanity has dealt with this truth again and again throughout history. In addition to being distressing, this sort of post-trauma awareness — a 24/7 fight-or-flight response — can leave us feeling paralyzed, making us less effective at work and at home.

While this may seem like bad news, you can actually increase your tolerance for ambiguity (TA) and uncertainty. I know this firsthand as I’ve historically been a stickler for clarity. It’s like a natural setpoint that can be shifted. While you can’t control the external forces in life, you have autonomy over your reactions, even in small ways, and can change your setpoint over time.

Some of the methods I’ve compiled below overlap with behavioral-based interventions. Others, I’ve learned through experience. Try a few and see what works for you.

5 Tips to Increase Your Tolerance for Uncertainty

  1. Practice mindful distraction

While it sounds simple, distraction is a powerful tool to manage uncertainty, especially when applied mindfully. Focus on your senses — What do you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. Visualize a pleasant memory or distract yourself with an activity, like reading a book, taking a walk, stretching, or writing down things you’re grateful for. 

  1. Move your body

Even a five-minute walk can be an effective distraction but it serves another purpose, too. Getting active and moving your body lets you release nervous, pent-up energy. When your stress cycle is activated due to fear of the unknown, exercise allows you to complete that cycle. 

  1. Slow down

When something uncertain happens or you begin to fear it will, practice slowing down. Try not to react right away. Instead, sit with it; coexist, consider all perspectives, and reflect. It may help to have some sort of mantra you can return to. Choose to wait until some time has passed to make any sort of rational plan. 

  1. Train your brain

Before something uncertain occurs, build your tolerance through practice. Try to do at least one thing every day that makes you a little uncomfortable. This could be a simple change in routine — take a different route home, cook a new meal, send an email without proofreading a dozen times, say hello to a stranger, etc.

  1. Give yourself grace

We’re often taught that uncomfortable feelings are negative but that’s not necessarily true. Anxiety and fear are not only normal, they also serve a purpose, preparing us to deal with danger and even motivating us. You don’t need to discard your feelings; instead, think of them like waves you can learn to surf. When that gets difficult, give yourself a bit of grace. 

Uncertainty Is Certain

One thing is certain – life is full of uncertainty. Fortunately, you can take small steps to manage your reaction to the ups and downs. Just remember, adjusting to change takes time; adjusting your tolerance to uncertainty is a lifelong endeavor that can be worth the effort.