2 min read

Mapping the Unknown

Mapping the Unknown
Photo by Dmitry Osipenko / Unsplash

“…to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender.

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Anxiety perceived as excitement

In January 2021 I hosted a salon on Enjoying the Unknown as I was embarking (yet again) on a new journey and everything ahead looked challenging and blurry. The three-hour conversation we had during the salon brought us more than food for thought, it brought us comfort and an underlying feeling that the best is still yet to come. I believe that by sharing our personal stories and by exchanging words of encouragement, our anxieties turned into excitement.

In her research paper Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement, Alison Wood Brooks explores how we can reappraise anxiety as excitement using strategies such as self-talk or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which can make us feel more excited and “adopt an opportunity mind-set (as opposed to a threat mind-set)”. I believe that the opportunity mindset is very similar to the abundance mindset, in the sense that we end up focusing on all the exciting and unknown opportunities which are yet to come rather than on what can go wrong. And, in this way, our anxiety is turned into excitement and we are more equipped to face the unknown ahead.

“Important work in positive psychology suggests that happiness in life comes from the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative emotional experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 2009; Shiota, 2006). Building on this work, I expect that issuing multiple positive self-statements such as ‘I am excited’ does not produce diminishing marginal returns. On the contrary, the more often individuals reappraise their pre-performance anxiety as excitement, the more likely they may be to trigger upward motivational spirals, and the happier and more successful they may become.”

Alison Wood Brooks – Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement

Visualising the Unknown

During the Enjoying the Unknown salon we tried to come up with answers to the question: how can we map the unknown? We can map and track back the things that we know and that already took place, but how can we map what has not (yet) happened?

a map that I made in preparation for the salon

By asking this question, I wanted to invite everyone who joined the salon to imagine how their life would unfold as of now and to play with the flow of maps – streets, canals, rivers, cities – or to visualise the unknown in drawings, paintings, splashes of colour on paper. By mapping our choices and some possible ways our lives can unfold we can at least have a taste of the unknown and reduce our anxiety vis-a-vis the future.

Drawing maps was most of the time a preferred solution of mine in dealing with uncharted territory. However, that does not mean that the map will be accurate, but it can serve at least as a guide or as a possible journey ahead. After all, nothing will truly make sense until we look backwards to start remembering forward.