In this post I’m going to share with you how you can deal with anxiety around an uncertain future when it’s preventing you from deciding whether to stay or go, looking forward to what’s yet to come and living a fulfilling life.
But first, finish this sentence:
To feel certain that I’m making the right decision to stay or go, I think I should….
❓ excessively worry over how everything is going to work out
❓not feel uncertain about any aspect of my decision
❓ know exactly what the outcome is going to be, otherwise I’m making the wrong decision
If you answered “yes” to any of these, I want you to know that a large percentage of expats that I work with think the same.
In fact, if you’re like many expats I work with, you probably want to know where you’ll live, what your next career will look like, and how it is all going to work out.
If this is you then you probably also believe that because you DON’T know for certain how things are going to work out for you in the future, that this is a barrier to you being able to make the right decision (to stay or go) that’ll help you feel safe and fulfilled in the future.
The truth is that this a mental barrier that you can remove by addressing your beliefs around uncertainty.
But listen, I get it.
The prospect of an uncertain future makes most people deeply anxious.
Feeling anxious whether things are going to work out to your advantage is completely normal when you’re stuck trying to decide whether to stay or go.
In fact, feeling anxious gives people a way to cope with lack of control and information about what’s to come.
Looking for certainty is actually nothing more than a search for something reliable to hold on to. It’s not about truth or clarity.
But that completely normal anxiety – you can turn that into a productive force if you wanted to.
Keep reading if you want to know how.
TIP #1 – Identify what triggers you to worry
Productive worrying is focusing and acting on things that you can change such as making sure you have all the necessary information, while unproductive worrying is coming up with worst case scenarios late into the night without taking any action.
It removes a lot of stress when you follow the principle that if there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s not yours to worry over.
Of course, when worrying has become a habit, it’s not easy at first to tune it out.
But taking a step back and distinguishing worries that you can do something about from worries that give you the illusion of control is an important first step.
TIP #2 – Challenge your need for “having a direction”
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you let go of your need for a direction?
When you think about it, a direction is actually a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t actually exist.
Which means that you don’t actually need this imagined direction to feel safe.
To feel safe, you need to understand your core needs and then follow those breadcrumbs in your life.
When you take even the tiniest step in the direction of the things that interest you, excite you, make you feel certain, you will always be moving in the right direction, no matter what happens later down the line.
TIP #3 – When there are lots of possibilities, don’t *only* focus on the negatives
When you are faced with a number of possibilities the question becomes – are you the type to see possibilities as a bunch of opportunities to take advantage of, or do you see them as a bunch of opportunities for things to go wrong?
Where is it that you habitually land on this scale?
If you tend to see possibilities through a negative lens, then this is something that can be unlearned so you move from problem-focused to solution-oriented thinking.
It’s a muscle you can train, but the first thing you need to do is set the intention and then consciously work on it every day. Because just like abs, they don’t appear out of nowhere.
TIP #4 – Address your beliefs around uncertainty
Dealing with an uncertain future becomes that much easier when you let go of these beliefs:
YOUR BELIEF: “When I worry, I’m being productive and I can keep negative things from happening to me”
HOW TO TURN IT AROUND: No one can prevent bad things from happening just by thinking of them. Bad things happen whether you try to prepare for them or not. If you’ve already done everything that’s in control, you’ve done all that you ever could anyway.
If this way of looking at things doesn’t bring relief, it’s worth looking into a trauma-informed therapist as your nervous system that’s high on alert like this may be a byproduct of a difficult experience in your past where you felt out of control.
YOUR BELIEF: “I should never feel uncertain”
HOW TO TURN IT AROUND: It’s possible to feel both certain and uncertain at the same time. It’s more a question of degree – to what extent do you feel certain and uncertain? It’s also enough to feel really certain of just one thing and follow that breadcrumb to where it leads you. Trust that you’re strong enough to deal with whatever comes your way. You’ve made it this far in life right?
YOUR BELIEF: “Bad things will happen because the outcome is uncertain. Only when I know what’s going to happen, everything is going to work out”
HOW TO TURN IT AROUND: You can never know more than one step ahead. Once you take that step, more information will be made available to you. Trying to fast-forward is only going to hurt you. So what is that next small step that are you certain of?
TIP #5 – Don’t excessively seek reassurance from others
It’s perfectly okay to seek a fresh perspective from someone when you feel stuck and anxious.
However, most people can only speak based on their framework of social norms, expectations and values around how the world should work.
When seeking others’ take on your situation, it’s important to be critical towards their input by asking yourself – do I value the same things as they do? Do I aspire to live my life like they do?
If the answer is no, you are unlikely to get feedback that will satisfy and resonate with you. As a result, their input will also fail to help you move forward.
If you struggle to see what’s the right decision for you because you’re anxious about an uncertain future, check out my coaching services here to see if we can untangle this knot of issues that is preventing you from feeling confident about your next steps and excited about the future.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.