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The period following a breakup is one of mind-numbing uncertainty. Will my ex come back? Will they move on to someone else? Will I be able to get my life in order? Will I ever meet anyone better — someone, who will love me the same way my ex did? Will I be able to trust that person with my love again? Will I ever feel better?
These are just some of the questions we ask ourselves. But what is the source of uncertainty? Where does it emerge from? Fear. It emerges and radiates out of fear. Specifically, the fear of the possibility that amid uncertainty, we’ll get struck with even more pain; the pain of loss and change.
And, make no mistake of it, we will be. You will be. Uncertainty always entails pain. Because being forced into a position where we’re vulnerable, confused, and perhaps even powerless to a degree — in our case, a breakup — is, by itself, painful.
And the more we struggle to break free from uncertainty, the more we fight change, cling to the past, reject reality, refuse things to be different; the more our pain expands. So, technically, it’s not “not knowing” that’s the problem. It’s the pain that not knowingness brings.
Yet, there are ways we can get better at dealing with uncertainty so we feel less fear and pain and have an easier time navigating post-breakup life. In a way, and with effort, we can change uncertainty itself to feel more comfortable — perhaps even enjoyable.
Below are some tips that worked for me and may also work for you.
1. Find opportunity in loss and change. A breakup has two sides. On one, you lose someone dear to you. On the other, you open yourself up to personal reinvention and new love interests. I don’t’ know about you, but those are two things to be thrilled about. So go and figure out what makes you tick. And spare me the sob story: your ex is not special. You can always find someone better.
2. Don’t see your breakup as a failure. You might have somehow screwed up your relationship, but that doesn’t mean you’re screwed up. It doesn’t make you a failure. It simply makes you someone who made a couple of mistakes. Mistakes that don’t define you. The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you’ll feel better and, perhaps most importantly, open yourself up to improving upon your flaws.
3. Leverage your support system. Call up your family. Hang out with friends. Reconnect with those you may have forgotten. Make new connections if you’re in the mood. Just don’t suffer alone. Having people by your side will make you far more resilient, less lonely, and ultimately better equipped for handling uncertainty.
4. Get good at wasting time in unexpected ways. Stop making everything you do about accomplishing some goal. Develop the ability to do things for no other reason than curiosity, interest, or boredom. It will train your brain to get used to a degree of uncertainty. And it will train you to simply start on something without knowing where it’ll go.
5. Spawn awareness around your clinging. First, notice what you’re clinging to. Often it’s just an idea of your ex — a distorted image you constructed based on what and who you’d like your ex to be. Then make yourself see the downsides of the clinging. The sleepless nights. The over/under eating. The lethargy. Once you see these things clearly, you’ll know the pain that results from them, motivating you to change your ways.
6. Learn about the historical precedent. There is nothing that happens that hasn’t happened countless other times before. Most people get into a breakup, and most come out just fine. Keep this in mind. Once you stretch your life’s timeline far enough, every heartbreak, no matter how painful, becomes trivial — a source of laughter at parties even. Especially if you’re young.
7. Notice your biases at play. Unpopular opinion: you’re probably wrong about what you think will happen and how you’ll feel in the future. Human perceptions are fundamentally inaccurate due to all the biases at play: confirmation bias, negativity bias, and impact bias being the most prevalent during uncertainty following a breakup.
8. Accept not knowing. It’s okay not to know what happens next. Accept and embrace it. Think of it as reading a book without knowing the ending. It’s part of the fun. And while you’re at it, make the book fun in general. In other words, lead a life you’re proud of.
9. Learn to trust you’ll be okay. It’s not like a breakup will set your house on fire, rape your dog, and murder your family. Things ain’t that bad. Trust that things, while they may turn out different from what you want, will still turn out fine. They probably will.
10. Form habits and routines. Specifically, habits and routines around important parts of your life you can control and that provide stability to counterbalance some of your uncertainty. The theory goes that the more agency you exert over such parts of your life, the less uncertainty will affect you.
11. Get good at feeling bad. Instead of ignoring or avoiding negative emotions (which paradoxically just amplifies them), feel them and respond appropriately. In other words, learn to manage them better. For example, when angry due to uncertainty, don’t start scolding and criticizing the people around you. Go to the gym or talk to a therapist instead.
12. Expect and embrace endings. In life, entropy reigns supreme. Nothing ever stays the same, and everything eventually clogs and stalls and ceases to exist. It’s only a matter of time before you’re no more, and everyone and everything you know (and don’t know) ends. Simply understanding this will help you overcome your fear of uncertainty and stand bravely in the face of decay. It will help your reach homeostasis — proper equilibrium.
One of the coolest things I’ve learned over the years while conversing with people going through a breakup — as well as with those going through other life challenges like starting a business, switching careers, dating, marrying, etc. — is that no one knows what the fuck they’re doing.
Even I, despite running a business (my blog) since 2016, still have no idea what I’m doing half of the time with it. I’m literally making up my path as I go along, diligently learning new things and growing as a person.
And I guess that’s the best advice I can give you: don’t seek out certainty. Fuck certainty. Certainty keeps us stuck. Uncertainty, however, challenges us to become more resilient and less shitty people. So, instead of trying to avoid or escape it, lean into it and take it up for a dance.
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