“I’m okay” – “I’m not okay”: The ultimate test

At the end of the day, our ultimate test of well being boils down to one of two sentiments: “I’m okay” – “I’m not okay“.

This may seem a bit simplistic, but if you really dig deep into your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, this simple phrase sits at the crux of our prevailing psychological state. It’s so pervasive, that it even presents itself through our reflexes, and more complex states of unconsciousness.

Of course there are varying levels of “okay-ed-ness.”

One may be a little on edge, or, completely terrified. On the positive side, sentiments range from “whew, that was a close call” to “I’m on the top of the world” (see “Titanic”, or the Oscars that year). Regardless, there is a ‘tipping point‘ upon which our sense of well-being teeters.

So: When do we most often experience this?When we’re not sure.

The primary psychological situation evoking the “I’m okay” – “I’m not okay” reaction is uncertainty. When we are unsure of what may happen, this thought runs either silently or very actively through our minds. We want to know if things will turn out for better — or worse.

The sides of a coin

I have a metaphor for explaining this phenomenon in the specific context of uncertainty – or, more accurately, potential uncertainty. It’s a coin.

As the fundamental question-state implies, there are obviously two potential ‘answers’, or, psychological states that we address hundreds, or thousands of times a day. A key element to the answer to this question relates to how one deals with the uncertainty.

Coin metaphors always leverage opposing sides. A coin has two sides. Our response to the “I’m okay; I’m not okay” question has two answers. The metaphor seems a good fit. In this case, the two sides of the coin (or answers) deal with the issue of control – do you have it, or not?

On one side of the coin we have control. In this case, the vast majority of us will fell at ease due to the fact that we have control over our circumstances. On the other side of the coin we do not have control. But this is not by itself sufficient to change our mood state to concern. Here, the key question becomes, “Who?”, has control.

Who’s holding the water balloon?

In a water balloon fight, when you are holding the “weapon” (that’ll draw some hits – no pun), you have much more control over your fate than others in the room. “I’m okay.”

On the other hand, if someone else has the water balloon, you do not have control (or certainly, not as much). In this situation the second dimension of “not in control” presents: “Do I know and trust the one in control?” If the person with the balloon happens to be your best friend, you’ll probably think, “I’m okay.” This is because you trust your friend not to pelt you in the face. In other cases we may have faith in our circumstances. Although we’re not in control, we have faith, either attributable to a specific entity or generalized without direct a referent, that we’ll be okay.

Having trust, or faith, when we aren’t in control is like being on the other side of the coin. We do not have control, but we have trust or faith in who or whatever does and, “I’m okay.”

So: On one side of the “coin of un/certainty” we are in control, on the other we don’t, but we have trust or faith in the force that does.

Reason to believe

Consider the experience of flying as a commercial airline passenger. As passengers we do not have control, but we (for the most part) have confidence, or trust in the captain and copilot who do: “I’m okay.”

Going back to the water balloon fight: What if you don’t trust the individual with the balloon? Worse, what if they are your “enemy” in a game with two teams? (Can you feel yourself reacting, “uh-oh”?) Here our feeling of uncertainty is not offset by trust. “I’m okay” – “I’m not okay” is very much in question. Which side of the coin are you on now? No control. No trust.

The blind side

Most don’t acknowledge it at first, but there is a third side of any coin: The EDGE. And this, ‘blind side,’ is where one is in the void between having control or having trust. When we’re in this situation, we truly feel “on edge.”

The key to having a thin coin

The key to managing your sense of well-being or safety is to maximize either — or both — the control side or the faith side of the coin. What you do NOT want is to live your life on a coin with an edge so wide you can easily stand it up on a table. By increasing the ratio of control plus faith over uncertainty, we minimize a multitude of challenges. Some favor maximizing control to mitigate the fear that comes with uncertainty, others place more emphasis on the faith or trust side of the coin. It really doesn’t matter – as long as one or the other are broad.

But those who routinely find themselves on the edge operate in very uncomfortable circumstances. Research (and mothers) are very clear about the perils of living life on the edge: It’s not good for you. Stress, anxiety, fear, lack of self-confidence, and quite literally, failing health (psychological and biological) are the consequence of living life on the edge.

So: When you enter a given situation, take note of whether you have control, or, if not, have faith. Without one or the other, you’re probably in the state of, “I’m not okay.”

Knowing your sense of control and tolerance for uncertainty can really make a difference, not only in how you feel, but how — and who — you really are.

It makes a difference.

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