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  • Writer's pictureDr. Nina Ahuja

Use Visualization to Reframe Your Approach to Uncertainty

The following is adapted from bestseller Stress in Medicine by Dr. Nina Ahuja.

Neon question mark at the end of a hallway

Accepting uncertainty is a difficult thing. It challenges your ability to be open and flexible to circumstances that are constantly changing and in unpredictable ways. As a high achiever, you typically have a clear sense of direction on where you want to go and how you want to get there. There is often little willingness to waiver from this well-defined path, particularly if the alternative is uncertain.

Herein lies a challenge.

Imagine what it would be like to live in the present moment with only an overarching concept of your ultimate goal. You have no clear plan, no defined roadmap. Your focus is in the now, dealing with the situation directly in front of you. Each and every moment after now is its very own unique opportunity. The possibilities are endless, and as they present themselves, you will choose those that align with your goal.

You have faith that you will be guided along the best path of discovery to take you to where you want to go. With your commitment and hard work, you will arrive at your destination with unexpected twists and turns along the way. It may not be how you thought it would be when you arrive, but the journey along the way helped you grow. Uncertainty paved the path for you to experience and evolve in a way that a path of knowing may not have allowed.

How does that feel?

Close your eyes and give yourself a moment to really imagine what it would be like.

Is it as though a weight gets lifted off your shoulders? Is there a lightness that initially feels difficult to internalize?

With repeated visualization, you can learn to shift your mindset and reframe how you experience the unknown. The word opportunity brings excitement and anticipation of what could come. With an optimistic outlook and reasonable degree of flexibility, stress associated with uncertainty can actually become a valued resource. It can offer a source of motivation for learning and exploring potential for new opportunities.

The stress response is intended to help resolve the perceived risk in uncertainty. A hormonal cascade heightens your senses and ability to respond to challenges. You become more alert, focused, and more capable of processing and retaining information. This allows you to learn and be better prepared for similar instances in the future.

For instance, the first time I was involved in a code blue as a final-year medical student on my internal medicine clerkship rotation, I was able to channel my initial panic into action. When the overhead page announced the code blue location, I began running towards the ward, all the while hoping I would not be the first to arrive. I had completed my advanced cardiovascular life-support training, but I had never experienced a code blue firsthand. When I entered the room, a senior resident had already taken the lead and asked me to assist with compressions. I didn’t realize how much force each compression actually took and concentrated on putting my weight into each one. The heightened state of emergency and uncertainty turned into a heightened state of focus, and each skill I learned I would never forget.

Ask yourself, “Do you approach the unknown from a positive perspective, or is it your tendency to focus on the negative?” If you answered the latter, it may be time for you to reframe your experience of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is the root of all stress. By reframing uncertainty as opportunity, you build your capacity to manage unknown situations, increase your stress tolerance, and develop a constructive, productive, and positive relationship with uncertainty both emotionally and intellectually.

For more advice on coping with uncertainty, you can find Stress in Medicine on Amazon.


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