Day 13: Overcoming Uncertainty In her book, Bossypants, Tina Fey talks about struggling with a major life decision as she approached the age of forty. Should she have a second child, or should she continue focusing on her career? She felt that she needed to choose between the two options, since, as she put it, “Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty.” After months of anxiety, she found herself at her physician’s office for an annual check-up. The moment her doctor entered the room, Tina burst into tears. Her physician listened to her anxiously weigh the pros and cons of each option, then calmly told her, “Either way, everything will be fine.” That’s all it took. Her anxiety melted away. Lowering the Stakes The feeling of uncertainty can be difficult to bear. Often we put pressure on ourselves when we’re faced with the unknown: “Should I go to UCLA or should I go to USC?” “Should I get a job or should I go to grad school?” “Should I order pizza or should I get a salad?” Sometimes we get so worked up about a decision that it feels like one outcome will be great and the other will be a total disaster. That kind of extreme thinking is sure to activate our danger signals. During these times, the single best thing you can say to comfort the primitive part of your brain is this: “It’s going to be okay either way.” Now does this mean that one outcome isn’t preferable to another? Of course not, there’s often going to be one outcome that's more desirable. But there’s a difference between telling yourself, “One outcome is great and the other is a disaster” and “Both outcomes are fine though one might be better.” “It’s going to be okay either way” is a type of Cognitive Soothing that can be really effective in the face of uncertainty. It comforts the primitive part of your brain, letting it know that you’re not in danger. Of course, 1% of the time, it really isn’t going to be okay either way. For example, if you’re told that you have a tumor, and will find out in three days whether it’s malignant or benign, one outcome truly isn’t okay. In these cases, all you can do is use the coping mechanisms that you have to get through that waiting period, and hope for a positive outcome. 99% of the time though, it really is going to be okay either way. And when you find yourself worrying about a particular outcome or agonizing over a decision, giving yourself that message can go a long way toward reducing your anxiety and helping you feel safe. By the way, Tina Fey ended up having a second child AND continued making movies into her forties. Which goes to show you, not only do most of the things you worry about never actually happen, often when you stop worrying, you allow your life to unfold in ways you never could have imagined.