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Learning to Surf the Uncertainty of Life

Learning to Surf the Uncertainty of Life

When things are changing rapidly, and an overwhelming number of things are coming at you … it can be tough to navigate.

Anyone who is up to anything big will have a lot going on. Lots of emails and messages, lots of tasks, lots of meetings and calls, lots of things changing every day. Lots of uncertainty.

How do we navigate the uncertainty of all of this?

The visual metaphor that works for me is surfing. I’m going to talk about how to surf uncertainty, and how to learn to surf uncertainty.

Surf Uncertainty

What we really want is a simple, straightforward path. No uncertainty, no tough decisions, nothing overwhelming. Simple, clear, easy path.

But life is full of uncertainty, and full of abundance. That’s what makes it so beautiful!

So I like to imagine life as an ocean, full of unpredictable waves. If I were a surfer (I’m not), I wouldn’t curse the overwhelming number of waves … I’d be psyched that there are waves! That’s what I’m here for.

And I wouldn’t moan about how unpredictable the waves are — that’s what makes it fun!

So the way I might approach the uncertainty of waves is:

  • Relish a new wave coming my way
  • Jump on the surf board as the wave approaches, reading the wave as best I can
  • Have a direction I’d like to go, but …
  • Also navigate the wave as it breaks, learning to go with what I’m given
  • Try again if I’m knocked off

This applies to my life, of course. Each day is a new wave, and the opportunity is to get excited by it, jump on and ride it, set a direction but also flow with what comes up.

The attitude is one of ease and acceptance of uncertainty and change, with determination toward a direction that I’ve chosen. There’s trust in myself to be able to navigate change.

What would that be like for you, if you approached every day with this relaxed but determined attitude toward the uncertainty of your life?

How to Learn to Surf Uncertainty

This kind of uncertainty surfing takes practice. It’s not as simple as saying, “OK, just surf and be relaxed and flow!” That might have some immediate impact, but long-term impact will mean practice.

The most important place to practice is at our edge — where things aren’t so easy, but also not so challenging that it feels too impossible. Where is your edge right now? Maybe it’s chaotic mornings, maybe it’s taking on a challenging project, maybe it’s around difficult conversations.

Then when you find this edge, notice that you’re feeling uncertainty. How are you relating to that uncertainty, and the resistance and fear that come up in uncertainty? Do you hate it, wish you didn’t feel it? What do you try to do from that uncertainty? How does it feel? Bringing curiosity like this gives you awareness and the opportunity to work with it.

Now when you notice the uncertainty, see if you can take a “surf with ease and flow” approach. How can you make this easy? How can you flow in the direction you’d like? How can it be fun, with determination?

Play with it! See what you can create. Bring some lightness to it, without harshness.

Then as you practice, notice that changes aren’t necessarily anything to stress about, but simply something to flow with.

How can you still go in the direction you want as you flow?

How can this be the most amazing moment, this moment of change and flow?


Zen Habits is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. My name is Leo Babauta. I live in Davis, California with my wife and six kids, where I eat vegan food, write, run, and read. Source

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