TRUST is the magic friend of Uncertainty


By Jessica Leigh-Lyons

Jessica Leigh Lyons is a coach, a facilitator, and a writer who helps people create an Internal Compass that guides them on their life path so that they can navigate big life decisions with confidence and clarity. You can find more on

There you are, kayaking down the river of life. Let’s call her Uncertainty. Maybe you know EXACTLY where you’re going. Maybe you have no freaking clue, and the fog is so thick, you’ve stopped paddling while you wait it out. You feel calm, but alert, paying attention to any clues that might speak to your next “right” step.Suddenly, a huge ugly toad tries to crawl up onto your kayak. Doubt has made his entrance. Doubt starts whispering to you that you have no idea where you are, that you’ve not grown enough, that you’re not worthy of the next step and don’t have the right qualifications.

Recognizing the difference between uncertainty and doubt is critical in tackling our dreams, big projects, and authentic connection. As Doubt crawls up, you panic. Your throat gets tight and fear drops like a stone in your belly. In your fear, you take your paddle and ferociously beat on the Doubt toad.

GET OUTTA MY BOAT, you scream.

Or MAYBE, you get lethargic and can’t think or move. You feel like a failure. Doubt is so heavy that your boat gets stuck in the muck of the river. A client recently told me she loves the adventure of life, the uncertainty, but doubt cripples her. Every. Time. This nuance is critical. If you want to get out from under doubt and back to the the adventure, there are some tried and true steps to get your kayak moving again.

1. Get intimate with Doubt and Uncertainty. If you don’t know what it feels like in your body, you’re more likely to be afraid of it. A meditation teacher recently asked, “What is being known?” As Doubt creeps in, what happens?

When I feel doubt, I get nervous. I bite my nails. I find myself scanning Facebook to *see* but not engage. There’s a list that builds in the back of my mind, but I don’t take action. I get fearful of all of the rejection that’s headed my way. I start listing my failures. So much Doubt.

2. Name it. First, you needed to reflect on what it feels like to experience doubt. You can’t name it if you don’t know what it feels like. This is a step in building your emotional diversity. Just like biodiversity keeps a healthy biome, studies like this one show you need to practice knowing the nuances of your emotions.

3. De-permanent it. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, she points to the power of feeling like a condition you’re experiencing is permanent: recognizing that we’re not at fault. Instead of using language like I AM doubtful, use language like I’m experiencing doubt or I’m feeling doubt. This subtle but significant language difference helps our brains make an important switch. When we say I am doubt, I am fearful, etc, we make ourselves think that’s what we ARE that emotion. We are not. Experiencing our emotions allows us to see that it will pass, realizing it will not last forever.

4. Try reframing it. Often, when we name emotions like Doubt, we take the heaviness out of the equation. We can now paddle our kayaks, even with Doubt squatting in the back. It’s less heavy. We see our Doubt for what it is, but we don’t let it stop us. “I’m nervous as heck for this job interview, and I can see that Doubt is creeping in.” Choosing Uncertainty has an element of trust and curiosity that Doubt does not.

5. Stretch your Trust muscles. One of my favorite hands-on exercises is to get to an improv class. The entire process is uncertain. You have no idea what your teammates will say next and you have to roll with it. Make a dinner without following a recipe. Schedule an outing with a friend withOUT a plan. Follow your instincts for an afternoon. Build more Uncertainty into your life AND WATCH how you build your Trust muscles.

One thing I’m certain of: the more we know our own distinctions between Doubt and Uncertainty, the more we build connections and communities where Uncertainty is celebrated and supported in deep, humbling trust.  I’d love to know where you’re noticing your Doubt. Where are you embracing Uncertainty?  

To the next riverbend you’re navigating,