Hello everyone, my name is Rachel, and I have a low tolerance for uncertainty.
As I write these words, I am in the midst of planning for a trip with a boyfriend who does not share this intolerance. He is a Perceiver; I am a Judger. Generally, people with a Judging preference try to live structured lives and decide things well in advance. On the other hand, Perceivers are often more flexible and adaptable, and they may like to stay open to changes rather than have their plans written in stone. Meanwhile, I say that if it was good enough for the Ten Commandments, then it’s good enough for me.
Similarly to those with a Judging preference, people who score higher on the conscientiousness measure of the Big 5 personality traits are happier when they have order in their lives and time to prepare for what lays ahead. A high score in neuroticism can exacerbate the negative feelings and reactions when things go wrong for the highly conscientious and/or Judger. Neurotic people—hi, my name is Rachel, and I am also neurotic—may also spend a lot of time leading up to an event worrying about the outcome and whether or not it will go as they have planned.
We are leaving for our slightly under-planned trip in a few days, and I am sure that my conscientious, neurotic, Judger self is just a delight to be around. So in order to avoid losing friends and irritating people, I’ve come up with a few strategies to survive uncertainty as a Judger.
Think of times that things worked out OK with little (or no) planning
Last fall, a couple of friends and I went to Barcelona knowing nothing about it other than that it had a famously funky-looking church and bordered the Mediterranean. Two of us know minimal Spanish, but the dialect that they speak in Barcelona is not what we learned in our standard high school Spanish classes. We arrived at our hotel at midnight, three young females in a city known for pick-pocketing, and checked in using our meager Spanish. We survived a week in the city with no problems, not having a single Euro picked from our pockets, and with only mild affronts to our dignity by catcalling strangers. We did a lot of walking, drank a lot of sangria, and watched a lot of movies in our hotel room at night. Sure, had we planned more in advance, we might have seen more of the city or done more touristy things, but we still had a fantastic time, and I learned that sangria is an excellent facilitator of bonding.
Think of, and accept, different possible outcomes
These do not necessarily need to be bad outcomes. Let’s say your friends ask you Friday afternoon to go to a party with them on Friday night. If you are an Introvert and a Judger like me, then this is a double edged sword. Having my plans changed is bad enough, but having my plans changed from solitude to socialization is one of my greatest fears in life. (This should tell you something about how terrifying my life is.) If you decide to go with them, then your evening could go a lot of different ways. You could have fun; you could not have fun; you could have fun but leave early; the party might be no fun for anyone and you all end up at a friend’s apartment watching Sex and the City reruns and having fun that way instead. The key is to be prepared for any eventuality but not to plan on any of them. You’re remaining open to different possibilities but also giving yourself a little comfort by considering what those possibilities might be. Which segues nicely into my next strategy….
Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could (realistically) happen
This strategy is known as defensive pessimism and was coined by Nancy Cantor and her students in the 1980s. By setting low expectations and brainstorming all the problems that could occur, you can avoid or at least prepare for the worst outcomes. Long before I’d heard of Nancy Cantor, I had adopted this defensive mechanism by myself, with little mantras such as “Set the bar low and you’ll never be disappointed” and “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” I thought of it as optimistic pessimism, and it’s been working for me ever since I won the Positive Attitude Award at my fifth grade graduation. My sister memorably quipped that the rest of my class must have been a bunch of suicidal ten-year-olds, but she probably just wasn’t familiar with defensive pessimism.
Finally, just live your life
There are no guarantees, no sure things, no real certainties. And we all have to accept that. Preparation, planning, structure, and decision-making only go so far. There comes a point where you can “what if” no longer. I know this objectively, as I suspect most all of us do, but it’s hard to actually internalize this advice. Despite all the #YOLO of 2011 and the song “Let it Go” playing incessantly after the 2013 release of Frozen, it is still hard live your one life and to not hold on to all of your baggage and anxiety.
If any fellow Judgers out there have any coping mechanisms you’d like to share, or if any Perceivers wish to share the inner-workings of your minds, please do. Because even though I’ve made myself sound like quite the confident expert in dealing with uncertainty, I’m still never more than one big change of plans away from grabbing a paper bag and going to hyperventilate in the corner.