Most of Us Are Addicted to Certainty. Here’s Why Embracing a Maybe Mindset Can Set Us Free
Most of us go to bed at night with the mindset that tomorrow we will not overreact to an unexpected event, will have less stress, and will stay present to enjoy life’s blessings. We are determined not to sweat the small stuff. Yet, few of us can control our feelings and emotions when something happens that interrupts our plans for bliss and balance. Often, our fear of the unknown turns something small into something bigger.
Through our fear of the unknown, we fill ourselves with stress and worry that things are bad, can’t get better, or we can never have the things we want in our lives. However, achieving balance in our lives and keeping matters in their “right size” is often very challenging until we heal our addiction to certainty.
So how does this addiction to certainty start, and where can getting over it take us in our lives?
It begins simply—with one fearful thought about the future.
We want to know if we will keep our jobs, have enough money to pay for our children’s college education, meet the person of our dreams, or be able to fix some minor unexpected event that undermines our plans. The “not knowing” of how things will work out becomes the source of all of our fears and, we come to believe, the cause of all of our problems. We often face our addiction to certainty with stress and resistance and choose safety over the life we truly desire.
My journey toward overcoming this addiction and embracing uncertainty as an ally started with a decisive aha moment that changed my life. I’ve written about this moment in my book, The Gift of Maybe: Finding Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times, and I have gone over and over it on my podcast, 10 Minutes To Less Suffering, but it bears repeating. It starts with a Taoist story about a farmer.
“One day, a farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, “You have the worst luck.” The farmer replied to the neighbor, “Maybe.” The next day, the horse returned with five mares, and his neighbor came by and said, “You have the best luck.” The farmer replied, “Maybe.” The day after that, the farmer’s son was riding the horse and fell off and broke his leg, and the neighbor came by and said to the farmer, “You have the worst luck.” The farmer replied, “Maybe.” The next day, the army came looking to draft the boy for combat, but he could not go because his leg was broken. The neighbor came by and said, “You have the best luck.” Again, the farmer said, “Maybe.”
When I first heard this story, I remember feeling a profound shift within, but it took time for me to fully adopt the Maybe philosophy.
Now, I can say it has become a lifesaver for me—a perspective that sustains my hope without fixating on specific outcomes.
Similar to the farmer’s ever-changing circumstances, we encounter setbacks like job losses, heartbreaks, and business failures. Yet, each moment presents an opportunity for something new. It might not always be as significant as avoiding war, but life evolves, forging paths that may exceed our expectations or offering us enough to make life’s journey worthwhile.
In my view, embracing a Maybe mindset is the best approach. Sure, things might not work out to our liking. You can refer to it as the “maybe not.” But that is just one piece of uncertainty. The unknown also offers another side of maybe.
Maybe the unfolding events are beneficial. Maybe we can accept them and still be okay. Maybe things can improve. This Maybe mindset instills a sliver of hope, motivating us to get out of bed in the morning. It gives us enough hope to create new businesses even when the economy is uncertain, begin new relationships even when we are heartbroken, or help us ease through small, unexpected stuff each day so it doesn’t linger and grow.
I’ve heard many people say that with everything going on in the world in the past few years, life has become more uncertain, and they feel despair about the future. Many don’t realize that our despair often affects us much more than the events that happen to us.
But despair is merely another addiction to certainty, making us believe that the past and this moment guarantee a certain future. A loose grip on hope does the opposite. It helps you see things for what they are, but you still get to believe in the potential of the unknown—the miracles and the good things you can never predict. This is precisely what the Maybe mindset can do for us.
In my view, life is no more uncertain now than it has ever been. While certain days pose more significant challenges, the level of uncertainty remains constant. Many of us are unaware that the uncertainty we run away from has always ruled our lives, whether we like it or not. The job we take, the person we marry, the business we start—they are all measured in some way by our relationship with the unknown. How much risk can we tolerate? How many things are we willing not to know in our relationship? How close to becoming broke are you willing to go to make your dreams come true?
We are always living in the unknown; we just fail to see the beautiful side filled with possibilities.
Shifting to the Maybe mindset enables us to embrace uncertainty and approach each moment with wonder, creativity, and innovation. Stress and worry diminish as we grasp that most pressures are projections into the future, not grounded in the present. Embracing the full spectrum of Maybe opens our eyes to possibilities beyond our greatest fears.
And even if fears persist, acknowledging all facets of Maybe broadens our outlook, making so much more possible.
For all we know, Maybe the best is yet to come!
Allison is the author of The Gift of Maybe, Finding Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times and A Year Without Men, A Twelve Point Guide to Inspire and Empower Women. To learn more, visit AllisonCarmen.com.