The color of truth is gray.
Moving to San Francisco was quite a jump for me. My friends, family, and other loved ones were all based in the New York area; I had a great job in the heart of New York City; and I could count all of the people I knew on the west coast on one hand. Leaving everything behind was tough.
But I moved. And roughly one year later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
There’s something rejuvenating about pushing the reset button. The feeling is not unlike your first day of college – a clean slate and near infinite ways to craft yourself into who you want to be, rather than what people have always known you to be.
One theme that’s been present in my life since pressing the proverbial reset button is living comfortably in life’s shades of gray. Or, as a close friend has put it, living in the colors between black and white.
Type-A personalities, take note.
As a stereotypical type-A personality, I seek comfort in clearly defined boundaries. If I couldn’t define right and wrong when presented with a situation, I’d become anxious and try and coerce the situation into a simpler, black-and-white version of itself. A version that was easier to handle, mentally and emotionally.
While this did a great job of reducing mental burden, allowing me to make a decision and move on (something us type-A personalities crave), it did so at the expense of a fuller understanding of the situation.
You see, when you prematurely force your circumstances into their simpler black-or-white counterparts, you miss out on the full story, and, potentially, the opportunities that become apparent from a fuller understanding of the situation. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ve certainly missed out on plenty of opportunities in both my work and personal life as a result of my inability to navigate ambiguity properly.
If you’re like me, and dislike when you’re kept in a state of ambiguity, take note. I’ve been working to better handle life’s many gray areas, and while it hasn’t been easy, I’m beginning to notice significant benefits from doing so.
Some benefits I’ve noticed.
Since making an effort to be comfortable with the unknown, the unclear, the blurry lines, I’ve noticed three benefits:
1) I’m better able to take advantage of opportunities. When you keep your mind open to the fact that you’re navigating through gray zones, you prevent yourself from locking into one mode of thinking. Confirmation bias is a tried-and-true phenomenon that causes people to narrow their thinking when they’ve already locked on to an expectation.
When I used to coerce situations into black and white, I’d do so in order to latch on to the course of action I deemed as the better approach (hence relieving my mind from the burden of pending decisions). However, the black and white version of the situation wasn’t the real version. So although I’ve made my decision, I’d usually learn in retrospect that being more patient with the situation would’ve yielded a better course of action.
2) I’m easier to work with. When you become comfortable with the uncertainty that the gray areas of life bring, you become more open and tolerant to last-second changes, plans that keep shifting around, and various other unclear circumstances in your life.
This has the potential to make you easier to work with, both at work and in your personal relationships. Have you ever had to work with someone who was impatient and insisted on premature decisions? These people cannot navigate uncertainty well, and seek solace in decision, when often it’s advantageous to wait for additional information to reveal itself.
This same logic sometimes applies to people who jump into relationships too quickly, for example, when it would likely be advantageous to go on a few more dates to check for compatibility.
3) I’m happier. In order to be more comfortable with gray areas, I’ve found that you need to stop obsessing about the future and live more in the present moment. It goes without saying, but adopting a mindset where you obsess less about the future and focus more on the present tends to make you happier. It’s one of the core tenets behind meditation, after all.
Want to try this too?
For any readers who have the same mentality as me (overthinker who feels a sense of comfort from clearly defined boundaries), here’s what I’d recommend:
1) Look for the gray first. No need to take action yet. Simply keep your mind open to the possibility that certain situations might be better served if you deferred a final decision. Perhaps if you sleep on it, talk to a someone you trust, or just wait a few days, the situation might reveal more information that can aide in the proper decision.
2) Journal to wrap your mind around the gray. I’ve found that either journaling or talking through the situation with someone you trust helps you adapt to unclear circumstances. Especially for those of us who crave the simplicity of black and white situations, it can be easy to back track and prematurely decide on something simply to release the situation’s mental burden. Make it a point to deliberate more on these situations than you might’ve in the past.
3) Meditate, if necessary. My mind is so overactive, I had to start meditating to better keep myself in the present moment. When I wasn’t meditating, I’d still obsess over gray areas, and tended to narrow my thinking on one course of action, even if somewhat arbitrarily chosen due to the uncertainty of the situation. Meditation is a very handy tool for those us who wish to be more comfortable with ambiguity.
A caveat and a conclusion.
While this all sounds good on paper, I’ve found that you can’t be this deliberate for all of the gray areas in your life. Some are time sensitive, in which case you must act with imperfect information. In other cases, it might be too much cognitive load to address every gray area in your life with this much attention. Sometimes, you have to pick and choose.
Nevertheless, by approaching certain gray areas in your life with a more open-ended, mindful approach, you’ll find yourself extracting more value from these situations, as you’ll be able to avoid premature decisions and confirmation bias, and adapt more quickly when new information becomes available.
Do you have any experience with navigating the ambiguity of gray areas? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.