I loved hearing how you run after the bus. You’re sweaty. You’re embarrassed. Whatever. You got somewhere to be. Great! I want more of that. Tell me more!
When you’re anxious, you can think There’s the bus. I gotta run after it!
You can also think, Great! Uncertainty! Now’s my chance!
Your body and mind work great. We are all emotion driven. Feelings and urges cue us into our needs and wants. Our values guide our actions in relation to our feelings and urges. Here’s an example: Need to pee is a feeling that arrives with an urge to urinate. The feeling tells you what you need. Your values inspire you to hold it until you reach a toilet. Look at you and your values-driven behavior! Great job!
So, your mind works great, but you have a problematic relationship with uncertainty that is negatively reinforced by obvious and subtle behavioral patterns. It’s thought-action fusion. Having the thought feels like the content of the thought is true. You don’t have to act right away. You have a thought, a feeling, and an urge but you don’t have to act. The urge to pee will not go away until you actually pee. Uncertainty will go away if you let time pass. If you act like uncertainty is a problem every time you experience it, it will keep coming back and feel more and more urgent and problematic. Avoiding or compulsing alleviates the feeling of uncertainty. That’s called negative reinforcement. Avoidance feels better in the moment, but then you develop a behavioral pattern where you have the urge to avoid every time you feel uncertain.
Oh no! Now we’re trapped! Uncertainty is EVERYWHERE. This problematic negatively reinforced behavioral pattern could be triggered by ANYTHING. Ah! What a nightmare.
Hmmm… what if you… do the opposite!
What if it… changes the whole process!
Hey, look at you…. you can change the whole system!
(The invited intrusion in my mind says, Forget politics… I’m changing my own system. Group’s wise mind, Gladys, is giggling hysterically at this. Shout out to Friday afternoon group and to Gladys. Group is a lot of fun. We all need more Gladys.)
Okay, pipe down, Gladys! Back to the plan for uncertainty. You have to trigger the feeling of uncertainty to practice relating to it differently. You’re not trying to habituate, although that might happen. Some of the stuff that gives you the feeling of uncertainty will stop giving you that feeling if you stop reinforcing it. But, you’ll feel uncertainty in the future. Welcome to humanity! You need a internal framework for relating to uncertainty that helps you thrive.
Here’s your plan:
- Trigger the story
- Get all the feels
- Scream up to Gladys so that she helps you with your attitude
- Feel it still
- Dance with excitement
Trigger the story
You aren’t just triggering the feared thought content. You also need to trigger the meaning or belief behind the feared thought content. As an example, your thought might be what if I make a mistake? The story is probably something like, Making a mistake will be humiliating. Everyone will judge and reject me. I will lose everything and it will ruin my life.
We know that you need both the thought or sensation and the story, because you can tolerate that thought or sensations in other contexts. For instance, it might be okay in your mind for your heart to race while running but not while sitting at work. It’s not okay for your heart to race while sitting at work because of the story you’re adding to that experience.
Here’s our current process: You have a thought or sensation plus a story -> Whoosh! Uncertainty drenches you -> You have the urge to do something to alleviate uncertainty -> You act on it -> It is gone for a bit and then comes back.
Here’s the process we want: You have a thought or sensation plus a story -> Whoosh! Uncertainty drenches you -> You have the urge to do something to alleviate the the uncertainty -> GLADYS SHOWS UP! -> You feel it still-> You dance with excitement.
Get all the feels
If you’re doing it right, you will get all the feels. Great! You’re doing it right! If you don’t get all the feels, you need to find something else to give you the feels.
Here’s therapy with me:
Me: You tried an imaginary script?
You: Yes, but no feels.
Me: Bummer, no feels. Go find some feels. Can’t wait to hear about it.
If your answer was “Yes, feels,” great! Now’s your chance! Practice having the feels!
When your answer is “No, no feels,” bummer! Go find something that gives you feels so that you can practice. When Life gives you feels, thank Life for that. Now’s your chance to practice!
Scream up at Gladys
You probably also think that the thought or sensation is actually a problem somewhere in there, but it might be old news at this point because it’s happening so much. (Gladys says: “Old news is great for changing the whole system!”). The content is not a problem. We need the thought or sensation plus the belief about it to get all the feels. The intrusion and the story you have about it are necessary for you to get better. You need your wise mind to remember that and remind you. Talk to your wise mind frequently so it becomes a stronger part of you. Now’s your chance!
Feel it still
When you have the feels, can you stay with them? You gotta be really still. Can you just stand there with them? Wait, why not? The feelings are in you, not bigger than you. Like when you have to pee. You might feel like you’re going to explode, but peeing yourself is pretty rare. (Gladys: “Has it actually ever happened for you while physically healthy and not laughing hysterically?”) Tell me more. What makes it hard to feel your feelings? Are you afraid of what they mean? Are they too painful? Do they trigger other thoughts and feelings? Are you afraid you will lose control when you have them? You have a good body. If you know what’s happening and you practice, you’ll see that you can handle all those feelings. Let’s talk more.
Dance with excitement and share your success
After you see that it was a story that created the feeling of uncertainty, then the feeling of uncertainty was just a feeling, and then the feeling peaks and passes, you will have the urge to dance with excitement. No instructions needed. You know what to do. Also, share that with Group or a loved one so that you remember for next time that it feels great to relate to uncertainty well.