There is a comfort that I feel in the predictable, and a discomfort that I feel with the unpredictable. This leads me to actively seek out, and constantly search for predictability in every direction, while simultaneously avoiding unpredictability.
When I reflect on my desire for predictability, it is not of what we share in our collective experience, like time, physics, weather or COVID. It is the predictability of what I perceive to be my unique experience of life.
When something unexpected happens to me, one that I did not prepare for, that I was not expecting or that I did not anticipate, I do not feel good. I feel agitated, anxious or scared. I have felt this way many times, including when a client did not continue to do business with me, when a romantic relationship did not continue or when I felt knee pain after a yoga practice.
I sometimes take it personally, as I feel that it is my fault. I was not ready, I was not prepared or I was not good enough. I could have, should have, and would have, knowing what I know now. I sometimes then feel resentment and regret. Why did this happen? I might even feel angry. Why did this happen to me?
The truth is that my journey through life is unpredictable. The question is whether I am willing to see and accept the beauty in this truth. Unpredictability is what gives life to my life. It is what enables me to feel alive. Without the unpredictable, the unexpected, and the unknown, I would have no motivation to do anything. If I could predict with complete accuracy the outcomes of my actions (or yours), I would spend all of my time analyzing my predictions, not for accuracy, but for desirability.
I would be like a kid in the world’s largest toy store, who after walking every aisle, inspecting every possible toy, reading every package, studying every review and asking every question, would spend an entire lifetime in the store without ever playing with a single toy. If I already know how I would feel, I would never accept what was in front of me and believe that there is something better for me that I just have not found yet.
If I could predict my stock market investments, my new product launches, the depth of connection with every new friend or the taste of every meal, I would become so closed that I might as well be put in jail. The desire for predictability is a desire to be put into jail.
In the face of complete predictability, I become paralyzed. In the face of complete unpredictability, I also become paralyzed.
The safer thing to do in the face of unpredictability is to wait and see. Maybe it is preprogrammed into my evolutionary DNA (a convenient answer to many of life’s unanswered questions that gives me comfort, as it is no longer personal to me). For tens of thousands of years, prior to human beings enjoying our current position of privilege at the top of the food chain, it would have been safer in the face of a potential threat to hide and wait for it to subside. Those that did wait and see survived, those that jumped out to face the unpredictability did not survive.
Unpredictability can feel threatening to what I know, to what I want and to what I am ready for. Perhaps it is tied to childhood experiences, like most beliefs. When unpredictable events happened to me, they likely caused undesirable emotions. It does not matter what the events were, and I have no idea anyways, but what matters is how I would have felt in those unpredictable moments. Not great.
Over time, I have built a desire to avoid those feelings. This leads me in part to avoid whatever it is that may be unpredictable, for the fear of experiencing those undesirable emotions. It is not the actual event or situation that I am scared of, it is the emotional feelings and body sensations that they may cause that I am scared of.
The threats from the unpredictability in life that I face are mostly mental and emotional (the one big current exception is of course COVID, which is primarily a physical threat).
My evolutionary biology has a strong survival response system to physical threats. It increases my heart rate, pumps blood into my muscles, puffs up my chest, focuses my attention and prepares me for a fight or flight response. That same survival response system gets activated in the face of mental and emotional threats, as it is the only one I was given when I came into this world.
There is another survival response system to the threat of unpredictability. It is what I call awareness. The skill of awareness enables me to learn how to be with the unpleasant emotions and sensations that I might be experiencing. To digest them or release them, so that they no longer overpower or overwhelm me.
Awareness is an inner process. I use the term process deliberately, as a process represents something that is predictable and repeatable. Meditation, yoga, journaling, breathing and similar exercises all help me cultivate the skill of awareness. They help me build a survival response system that is better suited for the mental and emotional threats from unpredictability that I will continue to encounter on my journey through life.
My best defense against unpredictability is not to avoid it but to develop a process that allows me to respond to it when it appears. As the only predictable thing in my life is that my life will be unpredictable.