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New Program Day 13: Overcoming Uncertainty

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Jul 24, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    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.

    Last edited: Sep 12, 2017
  2. jjbuckler

    jjbuckler Peer Supporter

    So often I find my brain locked by simple decisions. This creates a grinding feeling in my brain, and often a sensation of tightness in my shoulders. I always want to make the right decision. The PERFECT decision. And if one is not clearly better than the other its worse. I spend my life trying to avoid uncertainty. And its an almost impossible task.

    Anyone who has seen the decision tree diagram (with its almost infinite branches) of a TMS'er in The Great Pain Deception can relate.
    stu1989, kim marie, Bev and 2 others like this.
  3. gutter3

    gutter3 Peer Supporter

    I have been struggling with this one!! I noticed that I stress and stress and stress about making the right decision, sometimes it takes me FOREVER to make a decision. I do notice that once I finally make a decision then I feel like a weight has been lifted. But it's getting out of that habit of stressing over little things. I'm trying to catch myself at the beginning and making a decision and living with it. It's a little harder to do so with bigger decisions, so it's a work in progress.

    This is a good reminder, I don't realize how I am making it worse by stressing about stupid things. Thanks for the info!!
    kim marie, Bev and schnurma like this.
  4. rbmunkin

    rbmunkin Peer Supporter

    "Now does this mean that one outcome isn’t preferable to another? Of course not, there’s always going to be a superior outcome. "
    I beg to differ. Many times one is not superior to the other. Many times they are equal, just different.
  5. rbmunkin

    rbmunkin Peer Supporter

    "I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened" - Mark Twain?
    sorella23, kim marie, Bev and 5 others like this.
  6. Lunarlass66

    Lunarlass66 Well known member

    For me, the greatest underlying fear, in addition to the pain itself.. Which has only been going on for close to three years.. (and the onset was a HUGE personal crisis and an actual injury..) is that of growing older and the pain becoming more debilitating and the lack of control over that..
    How can I tell myself "either way, it'll be ok" if I fear something that seems inevitable? I've been having a very hard time saying "it's ok if you can't work the same job or accomplish the same household tasks anymore.. When just 3 yrs ago, I could. Even as I type this, I feel HUGE symptoms of anxiety (heart racing, sweaty palms, stomach unsettled..) and of course, my back tightens up simultaneously...
    I wonder over amd over how others have triumphed over their pain/ fear.. And why I can't seem to figure it all out. I feel like a hamster on a wheel, running and running and getting nowhere...
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2017
    kim marie, Kat, Lauren T and 4 others like this.
  7. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

    Thank you! I drive myself crazy over making decisions and this really helps. Another that I will read over and over. Thank you so much!
    kim marie likes this.
  8. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Wonderful thoughts, Alan.

    Uncertainty about what to do next is a common anxiety-producing problem for many. I like the advice my favorite author F. Scott Fitzgerald got. He returned from World War I uncertain about how to restart his civilian life. He asked a priest friend who gave him this advice: There are always some choices to make, so just "Do the next thing. It will lead you to the next until you get where you belong."

    If you can't decide which is the next thing between two possibilities, flip a coin. You could even ask yourself which of the two is most important to you.

    I believe God has a plan for each of us. Just trust Him to know what is best for you.
    Katya, TrustIt, kim marie and 12 others like this.
  9. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

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  10. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Having being in the 1% where it was Worst Case Scenario, I have to tell you that it really is ok. At some point you wake up and the sky is cornflower blue, there is birdsong and a Cornflakes advert plays on the Tele. Life continues. This is why I love the signature I use here:

    "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen."
    ~ D. H. Lawrence

    We have a choice in how we respond. Uncertainty feels unbearable. The tension can feel awful and so we react to shuck it off. Anything feels better than nothing. Oftentimes though doing nothing is best. Sit with the feeling. Somatically track it. Cognitively soothe. :)

    One of my favourite sayings is "this too shall pass." How wonderful it is to find your strength, softness and Grace in the eye of the storm. A decade into being a carer (caregiver) I find comfort in uncertainty. I am glad there is no fixed path, only choices made consciously and with love. There is something alchemical in this surety. Events and circumstance may be uncertain but you can be sure and supple and resilient. Realising this is a game-changing moment that puts most of the nonsense that frets and frays our nerves into perspective.
    Katya, TrustIt, kim marie and 16 others like this.
  11. Katia

    Katia New Member

    Walt, Thank you for your calming wisdom.
  12. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Katie. "This too shall pass" was one of my mother's favorite things to calm my older brother and sister and me. She also said, "It'll all come out in the wash."
    kim marie, Bodhigirl, Tala and 4 others like this.
  13. Ruth

    Ruth Newcomer

    Hello and thank you for these thoughts. They resonate with me. I'm in my 70s and I've had TMS off and on for over 35 years and have been struggling with and learning from my current symptoms for about as long as you have. They were also precipitated by or coincident with a personal crisis (maybe not a big as yours). Lately I've been separating the "strands" of the issues that bother me.

    One is aging. I live in a part of the world where it's practically illegal to be over 40 :) That's one thing. Another is anxiety about becoming debilitated or disabled. Another is lack of control over much of life. When these start to combine and gang up on me, it's time for me to step back and assess each separately.

    Aging--It's not easy growing older in a culture that values (only) youth. So I give myself permission to mourn my late youth and then, daily, turn towards the time that's left, whatever it may be, and put my attention of what's up for me now. Since I'm still here, I may as well find new ways to relate to being alive. And I'm far from alone. Humor helps!

    Debilitation--I either can't or don't choose to do some of the things I used to. I notice, though, that there are many much younger than I who have been facing debilitation and disability for a long, long time. What strategies--physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual--do they employ? I can learn a lot from them. Also, to the extent that any of this is TMS, it will abate with healing this episode of TMS. I also note what I can do more than what I can't. It's not always easy, but it's do-able.

    Control. Well, control was always an illusion anyway! I'm in charge of how I respond to whatever life brings, but I've never been in control.

    An analogy that serves me well is thinking of life as a car ride. I don't control the other drivers on the road. I don't decide what condition the road is in. I don't really know how my car works anyway. What I do know is that I need to make sure I, the grown up, has the car keys! When a more primitive part of myself has grabbed the keys and is driving, I need to reach over, take the keys, get back into the driver's seat, and reassure that part that I will be driving and that "we'll" be okay. I put that part in the back seat. I'll always have that back seat driver--I'll just be the one directing the car! Or at least until self-driving cars are here :))
    Katya, Dixie12, kim marie and 13 others like this.
  14. bman

    bman Peer Supporter

    For 24 years I taught Decision Making as part of my college courses at Rutgers University. There are basically four decision models: Rational, Incremental, Methodism (not the religion) and Utopian. In short, Rational - you know the means and ends; Incremental - take small steps to reach your goal (check out the movie "What About Bob"); Methodism - you know the means but not the end; Utopian - you know the end but not the means (man landing on the moon). I have always taught that if you understand the model that applies you can always figure out how to solve the problem. Unfortunately, now that I am no longer teaching I often forget my own advice. I need to remind myself constantly - decision making can be stressful and cause TMS, but only if you let it! Another saying to ponder, "Man (woman) plans and God laughs!"
    Lisasmiles1, kim marie and Gigi like this.
  15. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    I too struggle with decision making and wanting to make the RIGHT decision. This will then bring fear because I dont know the right decision and then comes immobilization, terror, and panic in trying to figure it out. I made decisions in the past- when I was 25 and listened to the doctor specialist say if you dont have surgery before you are thirty you will be paralyzed - so I had the surgery, but in retrospect, I would have been better off not having a laminectomy or fusion as it worsened my back pain. Then when i was in my thirtys I developed cancer and had to decided on the type of surgery and whether to get chemo or not. I made my decision and the surgery was sooo painful which caused me to have more panic and more pain. then years later I had teeth and misalignment issues and had to make yet another decision and I did but that also caused a ton of pain, regret, and trauma. So I understand why I get panicky because I dont want more pain and disability and trauma but there is that old sayint that hindsight is 20/20 and we make the best decisions we can at the time but wont know if it the right one until after the fact. So this is one that I struggle with wanting to tell myself all will be ok, but then a parat of my brain chimes in will it really because that hasnt always been the case- remember... But then I remember another old saying that- things could be worse and there is always someone worse off than me. My dad used to say "This too shall pass as well" and "Whoever said everything is Life would be fair" and I guess I need to make peace with that Thats life and it is not always fair. I remember waking up after my back surgery and the doctor asking me to try to wiggle my toes and I did and I began to feel really guilty that I wasnt paralyzed as I know many people are and thinking how does that work, why is it that one person will become paralyzed, and one(myself) didnt- and I think I had survivor's guilt for a while and my mom said to me to try to snap me out of feeling guilty- "The book isnt finished yet"
    kim marie, suky, Kat and 2 others like this.
  16. itmsw

    itmsw Peer Supporter

    It makes sense that agonzing over a decision would set off danger signals to the brain, but I just never put that together, until now- Thank you Alan. I agree that I think the happiest and most successful people are those who dont agonize over making a wrong decision- they just make a decision and if it doesnt work out- they are not phased by their wrong choice, they just say oh that didnt work out, I'll try this choice now- and that is what Id like to aspire to.
    kim marie, Salsara18, Gigi and 2 others like this.
  17. Marla

    Marla Peer Supporter

    Thank you for this. Once again TMS has been sneaky to me. I have been stressed about making a decision to sell and move or not. In the middle of getting ready to sell my stomach went haywire and even though I knew it was from stress once again I didn't think about Tms.

    I let myself take the doctors medicine which for the last 3 weeks hasn't done much of anything since its not the problem.

    I love the idea of its okay either way.

    I got home from a 5 day trip yesterday where I felt yucky most of the time and walked into my zen room, looked at my prayer flags and said, where are my Sarno books? Then I relistened to a interview with him on youtube.

    Just hearing his voice calmly talking about what my inner most being knows is true was such a relief. I feel better already.
  18. LEW

    LEW Peer Supporter

    Thanks for this thoughtful posting! Very effective way to say, "let go of the worry."
  19. James59

    James59 Well known member

    I had the exact same thought when I read that. Often the most difficult decisions we have involve two equally good options, but we can only choose one. Like chocolate or vanilla, Mercedes or Cadillac, Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.....

    These kinds of decisions can be very stressful. When I was a teenager I used to have nightmares where I made a bad decision long ago and didn't realize I'd made a mistake until it was much too late to undo it. I'd wake up in a total panic!

    The idea that either way it'll be OK is new to me, and somewhat reassuring.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2017
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  20. Gigi

    Gigi Well known member

    "This too shall pass." is a favorite of mine as well. But the phrase I'm best known for at school is "Life is good." One day a 6th grader asked me why I say that. I responded with a litany of questions--”Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Do you have enough to eat? How about someone to love you?" After a few minutes, he realized that his life is indeed pretty good.
    I'm often like that student. It takes someone else to help me recognize life's blessings. The kids don't realize that I say "Life is good" as much to remind myself as to make them aware.
    kim marie, Tala, Ellen and 2 others like this.

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