Navigating Uncertainty: Maintaining Motivation and Confidence

Navigating Uncertainty: Maintaining Motivation and Confidence

Studying and taking exams for a degree is hard work. Applying for a job and preparing for the workplace are also significant challenges after completing a degree.

Uncertainty can cause a range of emotions, including self-doubt and worry about how things will unfold and their overall implications for the future. However, it is also a time ripe with potential for personal growth and new opportunities.

Uncertainty is an inherent part of life, especially during transitional periods such as when studying for a degree and awaiting exam results. For graduates entering the job market it is also a challenging time waiting for responses to job applications. It’s the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds, which can cause stress and anxiety.1Carleton, R. N. (2016). “Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all?” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 41, 5-21.

To manage times of uncertainty focusing on what matters can guide our decisions and help us maintain motivation through a challenging period. Focusing on learning can help us strengthen our self-efficacy and boost our confidence so that we can take advantage of new opportunities for development and progress.2Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

It is how we handle uncertainty that affects our wellbeing. When focusing on potential negative outcomes it can raise our stress levels, leading to distress and lower motivation. This can disrupt daily routines and productivity. Recognising and understanding these effects is the first step to managing them.

Worry thoughts

Worry thoughts are common to everyone, especially when dealing with uncertainty. We have a natural tendency to focus on the negative as a survival mechanism. It helped our ancestors prepare against obstacles that could threaten their lives, and we have inherited this capacity.

When facing uncertainty, our brain searchers for explanations to understand what is happening. But inadvertently, we may create hypothetical “What-if scenarios” that soon feel like they might become reality.3Tierney, J., & Baumeister, R.F., (2019) The power of bad and how to overcome it. London: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books These negative thought patterns can lead us to focus on the unpleasant or anticipate negative outcomes4Rossman, M. (2010) The Worry Solution. New York: Crown Archetype, Random House, Inc.

Worry thoughts may seem functional in that they give us a sense that we are doing something to manage the situation. Instead, they cause tension and stress, depleting our energy. They also occupy our working memory, preventing us from thinking of alternative scenarios that could help us find solutions.

Confidence

Sometimes, we notice that our current situation has some similarities with a negative experience in the past. We then assume that the same thing will happen again. For example, if we got a lower grade in an exam, or received a rejection letter after a job interview. As a result, we may have doubts about our ability and worry whether we can reach our goals.

Confidence is the degree to which we believe our actions will achieve a positive outcome. It is believing that we are capable and can persevere with our efforts (Harris, 2010).

And, as we build our self-efficacy, our belief in our capacity to take the necessary actions to achieve our goals we can boost our confidence to deal with uncertainty.5Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

We can boost our confidence by considering alternative perspectives and learning from our experiences. However, when we have a negative outlook, we focus on the negative side of our experiences, affecting our mood and increasing self-doubt.

Have you noticed how your confidence level fluctuates? When we focus on our negative thoughts such as “I am not good enough, or what if they do not like me?” Sometimes, due to unrealistic expectations, we fear failure and feel overwhelmed by self-criticism.

David 6 David, S. (2017) Emotional agility. Get unstuck embrace change and thrive in work and life. described that adopting a flexible and understanding attitude enables us to manage our expectations and feelings.

We can develop our self-belief and skills by recognising that these challenges stretch us and therefore we are growing. As we learn to deal with discomfort and frustration, we can focus on what we need to do to make progress.

Developing self-reliance and hope for future possibilities

Being resilient does not mean we will never feel frustrated, disappointed, or upset. It means that even when things are not working out as we wanted, we can Sometimes, we notice that our current situation has some similarities with a negative experience in the past. We then assume that the same thing will happen again.

For example, if we got a lower grade in an exam, or received a rejection letter after a job interview. As a result, we may have doubts about our ability and worry whether we can reach our goals.reflect to understand the situation. Learning to tolerate frustration is a skill we can develop to cope with life’s challenges.

Having the belief that we can trust ourselves to manage these challenges – a sense of self-efficacy – can boost our confidence in our ability to deal with difficulties or setbacks in a constructive way. It can protect us from feeling overwhelmed by stressful situations, which can harm our health.

Being open to unexpected opportunities and alternative paths is essential to building confidence. Having a flexible attitude and openness to change helps us adapt and develop our skills.

Strategies to boost motivation and confidence

Acknowledge emotions: Allowing ourselves to feel our emotions without judgment, and accepting that it is normal to feel nervous, worried or disappointed can reduce their intensity. Using techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or journaling can help us process emotions and reduce stress.

We can ground ourselves by pausing to pay attention and being in the moment, letting thoughts come and go without taking them personally. It is about being willing to tolerate discomfort – just noticing what is happening with curiosity—acknowledging that we can experience moments of vulnerability. It does not mean we cannot manage the situation, but we need time to restore our inner balance.7Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Manage stress: To maintain our health and wellbeing, we need to incorporate healthy habits into our daily routine. Treating ourselves with kindness during difficult times, recognising that everyone experiences setbacks, and remembering that these do not define our worth.

Reconnecting with our values to remind ourselves of what is meaningful. When we are consistent in our behaviour, and in harmony with our beliefs, we are more likely to experience inner balance.8Joseph, S. (2016) Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters. London: Piatkus.

Reframing negative thoughts and applying a self-distancing technique, such as imagining what we would say to our best friend if they were in the same situation, help to gain perspective.

Another self-distancing technique is to guide ourselves by using our name to work through a task or challenging situation. Using our name, rather than referring to ourselves in the first person, we can redirect the inner chatter to focus on what we can do to move forward.9Kross, E. (2021) Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. London: Vermillion.

It is also important to reach out to friends and family as they can provide us with different perspectives that provide comfort and connection. When feeling unwell, reaching out to professionals can help to restore health and wellbeing.

Focus on what you can control: When uncertain having “What if?” thoughts is common as we try to prepare for a future scenario. However, this is tiring and unproductive as there are many factors we cannot control.

Having a routine helps us manage our emotions and energy levels. By creating a flexible structure and keeping active every day, it provides some predictability in our day, enabling us to plan our work or study.10Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman. It allows us to manage distractions so we can focus on what matters to us.

Sometimes, worry about what others might think can limit us. We can deal with these thoughts by reminding ourselves that these are just thoughts, not facts. And if they have views about us, we can decide whether we will let these thoughts stop our learning or choose to invest in ourselves and learn.

We can motivate ourselves by imagining how we will feel after achieving what we want to do. Like any skill, through consistent practice, we can develop our confidence in social and professional situations.11 Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Set short-term goals: Setting small, achievable goals helps maintain progress and provide a sense of achievement. Focusing on what is meaningful and what we are learning keeps us motivated and engaged.

Setting long-term goals is helpful. Even if long-term goals change over time, keeping them flexible provides direction and hope so that we can keep moving forward.

In order to overcome obstacles, we can take the initiative to do something, which stretches us beyond our comfort zone while learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. We can start by identifying something we would like to do but feel too nervous about taking action, then visualise the steps to achieve our goal.12Harris, R. (2010) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Learn to tolerate discomfort: When in challenging situations, reminding ourselves of the bigger picture can help us manage uncomfortable feelings. Then, we can focus on what we want to do, and as we make progress, the sense of achievement will boost our confidence.13Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.

When feeling insecure, we can acknowledge it as part of the human experience. It allows us to normalise our experience, boosting our motivation to persevere. As we learn to deal with challenges it builds our self-efficacy and confidence that we can rely on ourselves to deal with challenges.

Connect with others: Looking for social connection is our natural drive; it is part of our human condition. When we feel alone, we tend to isolate ourselves because it is challenging to explain to others how we feel. However, taking the initiative to reach out to others will allow us to deal with challenges.

Building and maintaining professional and personal networks helps us connect with others who can provide support, advice, and potential opportunities.

Navigating uncertainty is challenging, but it also offers opportunities for growth and resilience. As we apply these strategies, we can manage worry thoughts, maintain motivation and confidence, and cultivate hope for the future.14Maslow, A. (1998) Toward a psychology of being (3rd Ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc. Embracing this period of uncertainty with a positive mindset and trusting in our ability to navigate through uncertainty towards new and exciting opportunities will boost motivation and confidence for a bright future.

 

Footnotes
  • 1
    Carleton, R. N. (2016). “Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all?” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 41, 5-21.
  • 2
    Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.
  • 3
    Tierney, J., & Baumeister, R.F., (2019) The power of bad and how to overcome it. London: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books
  • 4
    Rossman, M. (2010) The Worry Solution. New York: Crown Archetype, Random House, Inc.
  • 5
    Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.
  • 6
    David, S. (2017) Emotional agility. Get unstuck embrace change and thrive in work and life.
  • 7
    Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.
  • 8
    Joseph, S. (2016) Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters. London: Piatkus.
  • 9
    Kross, E. (2021) Chatter. The voice in our head and how to harness it. London: Vermillion.
  • 10
    Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.
  • 11
    Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). “Positive psychology: An introduction.” American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.
  • 12
    Harris, R. (2010) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
  • 13
    Gilbert, P., & Choden (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson.
  • 14
    Maslow, A. (1998) Toward a psychology of being (3rd Ed.). New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc.

User registration

You don't have permission to register

Reset Password