Building Tolerance with Uncertainty

6 mins read
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Few people in the world do well sitting in unknowns. In a day and age where we are inundated with information, we have grown accustomed to reaching into our pockets, grabbing our phones, and finding answers to pretty much anything we could ask. 

Sitting with uncertainty is uncomfortable, and, quite frankly, we aren’t very good at it. 

But it’s not entirely our fault. Our brains have a deep desire to know things, and so they often unconsciously fill in blanks for us and help areas of uncertainty feel much more certain. 

Hence why you just know that the look that person gave you means they think you are weird. Or that you just know the way that person texted back means they are angry at you. Or that you just know that you will fail at the presentation at work or school tomorrow.

Sure, sometimes you are right, and this reinforces the pattern you’ve created of when this certain thing happens, this is always the outcome. But, the reality is, that we don’t do very well at sitting in uncertainty. So we fill in the blanks.

Something Barbara Brown Taylor said in her book “Holy Envy” struck me in terms of uncertainty, too. She wrote, “We do not see what we do not expect to see.”

In other words, we see what we expect to see

Think of how many times you have filled in the blanks this past week. Remember, we fill in the blanks with what we know. That we will fail, people won’t like us, we disappoint people, and people won’t care about us. But, there is a chance that there are new things out there for you to experience, you just don’t expect to see them. So you don’t.

You could run into somebody who is fascinated by you. Who is in awe at what you do. Who applauds your accomplishments. But if you don’t allow yourself to sit in uncertainty when interacting with them, then you may fill in the blanks with your past experiences and miss out on the chance to experience something new. 

And Taylor recognizes this isn’t easily done. She quotes Jonathan Sacks in her writing when he says, “Peace involves a profound crisis of identity.”

By being willing to sit in uncertainty, you will be choosing to step away from patterns that have likely long been present for you. And while those patterns may not always be enjoyable to keep encountering, there is a sense of comfort in them. They’ve always been there and you know how they play out. So choosing not to fill in the blanks will cause discomfort. Those patterns are going to be enticing to fall back into.

Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily feel good, but, by sitting in this discomfort, and allowing new experiences, peace may very well follow.

This all may sound great, but how do you sit with the discomfort of uncertainty?

First, you’ve got to name that it is coming up for you. Our body often gives us signs as to what we are feeling. For me, my breathing gets shallow when I’m uncertain. And my forehead tenses and my mind starts racing to fill in the blanks. When I feel these things, I know to check in if I’m in the midst of uncertainty.

Second, I breathe. It sounds minuscule. We subconsciously do it all the time. But taking time to pay attention to my breath keeps me in the present moment, keeps my anxiety at bay, and keeps me mindful of what’s going on in my body. I work to take deep, slow breaths in and longer, slower breaths out. 

Third, if I know I have common patterns I lean into, I stay mindful to keep those on pause. Sure, what’s happened in my past may happen again. But, it’s not a guarantee. So, I keep my brain from filling in the blanks and work to stay open to new experiences.

Fourth, I reflect and I grow. This won’t be perfect every time. Sometimes I’ll miss my cues that I’m in uncertainty, sometimes my patterns will sneak in and fill in the blanks without me catching it. But, if I take time to reflect and learn, then I’ll keep growing and build my tolerance for uncertainty. 

It won’t always be comfortable, and sometimes our past patterns will continue to play out for us, but, if we can begin to build our tolerance for sitting with uncertainty, then there is quite possibly much new to be seen and experienced and peace eventually awaiting us. 


Kylie Larson, MA, LPC

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Find Kylie’s reading commendations by clicking here.

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Outside of the therapy room, Kylie enjoys spending time with her family, exploring the world through the eyes of her son, adventuring with her husband, running around with her dogs, cheering on our Kansas City teams, gardening, being active, reading and exploring new recipes.

Professional Background
Bachelors in Elementary Education from Kansas State University, 2015
Master of Arts in Counseling from MidAmerica Nazarene University, 2020

Kansas Counseling Association
American Counseling Association

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