Rethinking Uncertainty [Harbinger]
One of the downsides of a super-short commute, and choosing to exercise without a pair of earphones, is that podcasts are not part of my daily routine. By they are certainly part of my vacation routine, usually on the long drives to/from my vacation destinations.
I’m not sure how I first came across The Art of Charm podcast, but deciding to withhold judgement on the dubious branding was a wise decision, since it’s a great resources for psychology and personal growth nerds like myself.
Recently, Jordan and team did a great piece about uncertainty.
They started by providing a great definition for what uncertainty is:
Uncertainty is a function of the availability of information — how much we want vs. how much is available to us. A gap in information creates uncertainty and makes it harder for us to understand and control the world around us. The less control we feel, the more stability we crave, and the fewer new experiences and stimuli we seek out. [Furthermore,] Uncertainty has an informational aspect (the data gap leading to uncertainty) and a subjective experience (how it feels on a gut level to be uncertain).
They then shared an interesting study, suggesting that uncertainty is neither good or bad, but rather uncertainty acts as an emotional amplifier: good events feel better, while bad events feel worse.
Which led them to a novel insight:
Because not only is uncertainty a fundamental constant in life, it’s actually one of the most helpful and productive environments available to us. After years of studying this stuff, I’m convinced that it’s not uncertainty we need to move beyond, but our aversion to it. That’s what most self-help approaches don’t understand — that by trying to avoid uncertainty, we’re only increasing it, and missing out on a huge opportunity.
Once we stop turning uncertainty into the enemy, we can begin to look at it, understand it, even start to enjoy it. And rather than fleeing from it, we can actually invite it in, and use it to our advantage.
This insight suggests a practical technique for dealing with situations in which we are emotionally overwhelmed by uncertainty:
What the brain doesn’t care about is whether that information is true, useful, or even important at this moment. The brain is simply wired to consume data in any form. When it knows that there’s more data out there, it throws itself into a cognitive panic.
The information gap is real, but that doesn’t mean it’s important. The fact is, we live in a world that never gives us enough information, and we operate (very well, in fact) despite it.
So once you catch your brain obsessing over the information gap, ask yourself these two questions.
Can I actually get this information?
Do I actually need to know this information right now?
You’ll be amazed how often your brain will hunger for information it can’t obtain, to answer questions it doesn’t need to ask.
With that perspective, you’re free — free to stop obsessing, and free to start focusing only on the information that can actually serve you right now.
On a deeper level, the team also suggests a powerful mindset shift — testing and eventually changing a deeper belief/assumption that uncertainly exists to throw you off your stable progression through life. And instead choosing to trust that uncertainty exists to serve you:
Even for those of us who are naturally anxious about change, knowing that change will ultimately fuel our growth makes it easier to take in stride. Trusting that uncertainty is designed not just to throw you, but to make you a better person, is an essential step in embracing it.
Over time, that trust will turn into excitement. After a few cycles of uncertainty leading to personal growth, new challenges will carry a hidden promise: a new problem, a new set of skills, and a new identity waiting for you on the other side.