A year or so ago, I was psyched when the Metropolitan Transit Authority installed electronic time clocks on New York subway platforms – just knowing that the next train wouldn’t arrive for another 11 minutes took away the angst of waiting and gave me the illusion of certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.
The thing is, even though we’re better off learning to embrace rather than resist uncertainty, there’s a bit of hurdle: our brains are wired to want certainty. That’s because that feeling of uncertainty – when you’re wondering where your relationship is going or whether the deal will go through and you’re shuffling through all the possible futures in your head – triggers similar reactions in the brain as actual, physical pain.
David Rock, head of the Neuroleadership Institute, explains: “The more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. “
So it’s important to remember that our lizard brain is not very bright and just because it translates uncertainty as a threat to survival doesn’t mean there actually is. And it’s less about getting rid of uncertainty (because, good luck with that) and more about changing how you view it – learning how to create your own certainty.
Here are some things you can practice being certain of:
That life has ups and downs.
That, no matter what happens, you’ll figure out something; you’ll bounce back.
That you don’t have to know everything. That it’s about being curious, and learning from your mistakes — not being infallible (because, good luck with that).
And, ultimately, that life is more interesting when you embrace the twists and turns and look forward to the unknown around the corner.