How to Tolerate Ambiguity


Ambiguity inevitably shows up when we are on a reinvention journey or facing change because both are situations where we don’t know how things will unfold.

Because our brains are hardwired to want certainty, we’ll oftentimes choose a known path—even if it’s not good for us—over the unknown. This can cause us to block opportunity, just because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

How do you work through this?

You must be able to differentiate between the two types of uncertainty:

TYPE #1: Risk
This is the type of uncertainty where you can call the odds. Think of a roulette wheel; you’re placing a bet and can call the odds of the ball landing on your number. Or you’re one of two candidates who up for a job, so you can calculate your likelihood of winning the position. When you can look at a situation and call the odds—good or bad—you are dealing with risk.

TYPE #2: Ambiguity
This is the type of uncertainty where you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no data to gauge where you stand, so you can’t call the odds. This opens the door for our mind to fill in all kinds of worst-case scenarios, but these are just assumptions. You don’t know, either way—and your odds could actually be better. This is why you want to learn to tolerate ambiguity. You could potentially stack the odds in your favor by being willing to tolerate ambiguity vs. sticking with a known risky situation.

Managing your mind through ambiguity

When we’re facing ambiguity, we think the only options are triumph or ruination, and our minds tend toward the latter. We often take action based on what we’re thinking; when you do so from catastrophic thoughts, it can cause you to stay in situations that aren’t good for you or refuse to pursue new opportunities.

There are four skills that can help you overcome this mental roadblock. Understand that these are a practice, so with time you can master them but you won’t win every game:

Skill #1: Channel your thoughts in a productive direction

If you have thoughts that an ambiguous situation will turn out well for you, then it’s easier for you to take action that’s in alignment with that thought. The Daily Success List is a great tool for building this habit.

Skill #2: Stay present to the gifts of the moment

Remember that in ambiguity you don’t know how things are going to unfold. So if you’re sitting in the future (or the past) in your head, you’re not in a place where you can influence the outcome.

Pull your attention to present moment and notice what’s happening. What good things have shown up? What opportunities do you have to grow? What are the good things that are happening in this moment? The Daily Success List is a great tool for this strengthening skill.

Skill #3: Relax and trust that things will unfold as they should.

This skill is a challenge to practice because sometimes we REALLY want to be able to control external circumstances. However, the only thing that we truly can control is ourselves.

We control our thoughts, we control the actions we take and we control how we react to situations. That’s it. Sometimes we can influence what’s happening outside of us, sometimes not.

Life is often helping in the background. You’ve had those times where an opportunity magically comes in or somebody calls out of the blue with the information you needed.

Remembering these times can help our mind better tolerate the in-between stage of ambiguity.

Skill #4: Let go of attachment to the outcome.

Not all situations will unfold the way you want them to go in the short term, but what reinvention teaches us is to trust that whatever is happening is unfolding as it should. What may seem like a short term failure could actually sow the seeds of long-term success.