Dealing With Uncertainty In Life & Language

Does your attention feel like this at the moment?


In pieces?


I’m pretty sure I know why.

It’s the “not knowing”.

We’re not used to this uncertainty. We like to know. It makes us feel safe, secure.

It stems from our school days when we had to have the answers. Not knowing the whys, the wheres, the hows, the whens is hard for us.

The oldest part of the brain, our reptilian brain, wants to keep us secure. It’s the part of the brain that is the deepest, most hardwired part of who we are. And that part of the brain doesn’t like uncertainty, it wants safety to ensure our survival.

And what do we do when we don’t know?

We pressure ourselves. We digest lots of information. We reach “infobesity”.

We procrastinate and it makes us feel worse.

But how could we possibly expect to know what to do before we know what to do?

And when you think about it, it’s the same when we’re learning a language.

We have to accept that we don’t know and realize that we’re still safe anyway.

So how can we get comfortable with not knowing? At ease with this uncertainty?


Here are some of the things I’ve been trying over the past few weeks:

1/ Create some certainty where there isn’t any:

  • I have a basic daily routine that I follow: time for work. Time for family. Time for me. I realize that this idea sometimes doesn’t work out and things probably look as organized as this painting but I can at least try!
  • I make flexible plans and create flexible programs.
  • I look for laughter. It helps to watch a funny video or TV series. Or try some laughter yoga! Laughter is the best medicine as we say in English.
  • I immerse myself in some nostalgia, I escape briefly to another place, another time, even if it’s only in my head. I laugh, reminisce, dream.

Because the most important thing now (and anytime) is that we feel good mentally.

How can you feel good mentally whilst improving a language? Choose a supportive coach. Make sure that you are focused on things you find interesting, entertaining, relevant. Add fun and humor.

2/ Stop looking for “more”

I only watch the headlines and the positive highlights at the end of the news. I don’t need to know all the details in between, which is usually bad: figures, rates, forecasts.

As we hear a lot these days, “less is better”.

It’s the same with our English communication. Stay simple, use the words you have now and build up. Speaking up and then aiming for clear and concise is the most important thing.

3/ Build strong foundations

I finally have more time to reach out and connect with others. Enhance relationships, build understanding. We can listen more and be fully present in what we’re doing. These are the keys to language learning and good communication.

4/ Know what we can control

What is in my sphere of control? My attitude and my actions. So I focus on them. In language and life.

5/ Don’t let fear rule our decisions

I listened to this recent Ted podcast in which the author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about meeting Amanda Eller, a hiker who once got lost in a Forest Reserve in Maui for 17 days. She managed to survive in the dense forest of ravines and thick vegetation with no resources (she’d intended on doing a very short hike and had left her phone, water and purse in the car!).

After many scary experiences over the first 3 days, she said that she finally closed her eyes and begged for help. From the Universe. From God. From who or whatever could help her.

She asked: “when I open my eyes, I want the fear to be gone”.

And she said that, when she opened her eyes, her fear was gone. It was replaced by a calm voice (call it intuition or anything else you believe in) that guided her over the next days, telling her what to eat (this, not that) and which direction to head in (left or right).
In a nutshell, she could only hear her inner voice, who knew what to do, when the fear had gone.

And it’s true.

When we subtract fear from the equation, only clarity is left.

We find that we intuitively know what to do and how to respond in each moment. Even when we’re speaking in a different language.

We slow down, take our time and the words come.



Photos courtesy of (Ciel Cheng, Hans-Peter Gauster, zgc1993, Ben White)


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