We all do it. We ponder our lives uncertainly, wavering over decisions. We also jump towards options, suddenly convinced we know what we are doing. It can be frustrating, this to-and-fro, being one minute uncertain, and the next committed.
But there is method in the madness. The to-and-fro arguably represents two different ways of thinking, each of which is capable of getting quite good results.
Associating thoughts is how we collect ideas. In order to collect ideas, we have to be prepared to be open-minded. So we ponder what our lives would be if we did not live them by the constricting rules we impose on ourselves. Political parties have ‘think-tanks’, whose job it is to think the unthinkable. Poets have the self-imposed job of imagining the world in ways which our usual minds find it hard to contemplate.
Uncertain times in our lives are times when associative thinking can predominate. It can be exhausting and anxiety-creating, letting our minds explore ‘what-ifs’ all the time. But if we are to keep our lives rich, and full of difference and newness, it’s important to endure uncertainty. It is not disloyal to think this way. It is honest, and inspiring. But we have to have courage. Otherise we will run back into the arms of ritual.
Equally, inhibiting thoughts is how we define and express ideas. In order to express ideas, we have to be prepared to close doors, to commit, to say ‘this is the way I have chosen today’. So we impose on ourselves constricting rules, in order to narrow down the options and get something done. Law-makers have the self-imposed job of restricting the world in ways which our freedom-loving minds find it hard to endure.
Committed times in our lives are times when inhibitory thinking can predominate. It can be boring and unrewarding, making our minds keep within the boundaries all the time. But if we are to keep our lives sane, and full of common activities and tradition, it’s important to endure commitment. It is not unimaginitive to think this way. It is realistic, and stabilising. But we have to keep our wild side in check. Otherwise we will run out into chaos.
MANAGING THE BALANCE
Associative thinking causes anxiety. Inhibitory thinking causes depression.
If you do nothing but explore ideas, your world will be full of difference and newness, but it will not have roots.
If you do nothing but inhibit non-permitted thoughts and behaviours, your world will be sane and traditional, but it will not have wings.
Many people live one way, but use an environment that provides the other. Thus, you might be a person who is naturally anxious, but lives with someone who is naturally sane and traditional, because it grounds you. Equally, you may be a person who is naturally sane and traditional, but you live with someone who is naturally freedom-loving and exploratory, because it makes your life more interesting.
This is great, but be aware how you might be using the other person to provide something you find hard. You may want to see if you can provide a balance for yourself, to take the pressure off them. Otherwise you are using other people to compensate for parts of your character which you are afraid to develop.
AN EXERCISE IF YOU ARE TIRED OF UNCERTAINTY
If you are suffering from the results of uncertainty, and find yourself anxious and indecisive, then maybe allow yourself some temporary working rules to keep you focused. Examples include:
Making a list of your next three activities, and just committing to it blindly
Making a conscious decision NOT to decide – in other words, a decision-free day! (It is a rule of sorts, and it works!)
Choosing a rule, and trying it out. (This avoids you agonising for ten years about WHICH rule to pick.)
AN EXERCISE IF YOU ARE TIRED OF COMMITMENT
If you are suffering from the results of over-commitment, and find yourself stale and itchy, then maybe allow yourself some free time to keep you interested in life. Examples include:
Visiting somewhere you don’t normally go, or meeting up with people you don’t normally spend time with
Making a conscious decision NOT to follow any rules at all – in other words, a guilt-free day! (You don’t have to break any laws or moral codes, just allow yourself more personal freedom.)
Let those around you cope on their own for a while. Probably, your rules are making you think that if you separate, you disappear (it’s an illusion of attachment). But you won’t. You’ll be refreshed.
One minute we are uncertain, the next committed. We float between the two. But each state is essential for us.
Uncertainty encourages associative thinking. It is the way we generate new ideas, and escape the boringness of routine.
Equally, commitment encourages inhibition, and makes our world manageably controllable.
It is a balance. New ideas and exploration give us wings; tradition and routine give us roots.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with uncertainty, use temporary working rules to give some stability.
If you find yourself stifled with boredom, refresh yourself with self-guided time, away from the usual rules.
Neither way is right or wrong. It is a question of the middle way, of finding a balance.