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  • Writer's pictureNed Shakir

Creating the confidence of certainty in a world of uncertainty.

Do you know what will happen today?

It’s a simple question that’s almost impossible to answer.

Even with the best of plans, life spins it’s merry dance and what you thought would happen becomes something new. Sometimes it feels like chaos!

On a typical day when I’m heading in to our office at Business Mastery, I know how I’ll get there and where to go. I know who will be there and what we’ll need to do to make the day a success.

But, I still can’t be certain of what will actually happen. I know my team very well, I trust them and expect great things every day, but I also know somewhere during the day, life will serve up some uninvited chaos.

I can be certain that there will be some element of uncertainty.

Even when I’m working solo, I know who I’ll be coaching, but I don’t know where our conversation will go, which means that every day I have some certainty and at the same time, some uncertainty.

Which I love, but not everybody does.

In fact, without the right balance of certainty and uncertainty we can be affected by insecurity, stagnation, boredom and stress.

Tony Robbins refers to certainty and uncertainty within the six human needs of; certainty, uncertainty, connection, significant, growth, and contribution. Where certainty gives an assurance that you can avoid pain and gain pleasure. He posits that it goes hand in hand with uncertainty, the need for the unknown, or change or new stimuli.

Every day we need both certainty and uncertainty.

The dictionary definition of certainty is; A firm conviction that something is the case. Uncertainty is existing without that conviction.

Where certainty assures pleasure and avoids pain, which is great for our ego, being uncertain takes away that assurance and challenges our ego.

Depending on our personality, we require different levels of certainty and uncertainty. Therefore, you will seek out safety and security because being certain means you feel safe and secure about the future, and at the same time we take risks in the spirit of adventure, the excitement of the unknown and the avoidance of boredom and stagnation.

Anyone that’s been fortunate enough to go on holiday will have found a place to go, and then researched what to expect. Certainty. In fact, some will return to that same place to take their holiday each year ensuring that they will get what they need for pleasure and avoid the pain of disappointment. While others will go somewhere new, book excursions, try local foods and experience cultural traditions.

To find a balance in the realm of certainty and uncertainty, those who seek out the new experiences might also make sure there's a plentiful supply of whatever it is they need for certainty, like their favourite wine or the home comforts of their most comfortable clothes.

We need to seek out and understand our own balance of certainty, and uncertainty. The challenge is getting the balance right for you.

Let’s see if I can get you a step closer to what you need…

Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi is the maxim; Know thyself.

Some scholars attribute the phrase to Socrates, making the point that knowing thyself is the starting point for all things good and failing to know thyself is the starting point for delusion.

I haven’t had the opportunity to debate with Socrates about the philosophy, however, I understand that the more I know about myself, the easier it is for me to experience the highs and the lows of life, and in turn, the happier my life is.

The more we understand how we are affected by certainty and uncertainty, the happier we are.

Which means that to experience happiness we need to find clarity and define our intentions, seek out what we believe is our truth. To be certain of who we are.

We also need an understanding of how, as individuals, we measure consequences, the risk over the reward. How uncertain we can afford to be without becoming stressed.

Moreover, when our personal definitions appeal to our sense of purpose, and we have clarity on the reasons why we choose to take the actions we take, we gain certainty and find balance, even in times of uncertainty.

Which is why it’s so important to work on your own vision, mission and values.

It’s empowering to understand how you feel about the future in your personal life, having some understanding of what will happen next means you can manage your need for certainty or uncertainty.

It's the same in your professional life. When you don't know where the next payment is coming from, or who your next customer will be or what your business will look like in 12 months, uncertainty tips the scales.

Unless you need that kind of uncertainty in your life, you'll be looking for a plan, hopefully you'll be able to define what your goal or your purpose is through your professional mission, vision and values

With every moment spent engaged in a defined plan or purpose, we can feel certainty. Certain our actions will help us avoid pain and gain pleasure, despite the challenges. Even when business isn’t great, if you know the work you’re focussed on takes you a step closer to your purpose, you will feel certainty.

As we understand ourselves and gain clarity on our direction we can tip the scales toward certainty

Consider this, as a business owner your clients need certainty too. When you can be certain that you solve the pains of others and you express that in your communication, anyone considering the prospect of working with you or buying your product will appreciate your certainty.

In an uncertain world, we are all seeking certainty.

It’s the same at home.

Our children love to express themselves and live what seems to be a carefree existence. But to achieve that serenity they must understand their boundaries and limitations. Children love to know what’s allowed and what’s not. It means they don’t need to feel the burden of choice. They can be certain of their boundaries.

Sure, they might want to choose which treat they have, but it’s so much easier when it’s a simple choice. Ice cream or sweets isn’t the easiest choice but compared with deciding what we’ll eat today, it’s a no brainer.

Choosing one thing over another is much closer to certainty than uncertainty.

Children need the safety of certainty to grow their confidence.

As adults, it’s a similar story…

Over the last couple of years during the pandemic, we have all experienced extended periods of uncertainty. Nobody could be certain about what had happened, what was happening and what would happen.

On any day we can be presented with existential uncertainty which feels like a threat. Our brains are wired to identify threats. Our instincts kick in and our sympathetic nervous system fires up the fight or flight response. Which creates anxiety and overwhelm that leads to stress.

As a result of the uncertainty during the pandemic, our behaviours changed. Some became angry, which in its self creates certainty. Anyone who has been on a demonstration will be certain of how they feel.

Others were able to create certainty through routine, finding new pastimes which are unaffected by external factors. Did you exercise with Joe Wicks? (I did!)

We all need a certain level of certainty.

But what if everything was certain? What if you knew what was going to happen every day?

When I was at school, I would find myself feeling trapped in a class of quietly working children. The urge to create chaos, excitement and aliveness would lead me to disrupt the class through some typically childish behaviour. As you can imagine, I was not popular with the teachers.

In my early twenties, I had a job on a night shift as a machine minder. I set the machine up, it did its job. That was all I had to do. After 2 hours I was going insane! I needed excitement and variety. There was nothing to feed my curiosity. Every day I need challenge in my life to feel like I’m growing.

If I’m not growing, I’m dying! I can’t handle the same thing happening repeatedly. I need some jeopardy. Some uncertainty! I quit the job after 2 days…

Today I understand more about how much certainty and uncertainty I need. I’m clear about my vision, mission and values. When times are challenging I have strategies to cope. When I need excitement, I know where to go.

When we can define what’s truly important to us, our boundaries, our purpose and what we value, it’s possible to respond to life’s threats and complexity with reassuring confidence.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters – Epictetus

I still don’t have this licked. I need to work on myself every day. I help myself through the certainty of good habits and routines like welcoming good sleep and nutrition and avoiding the news or those people who are simply mood hoovers.

We can all seek out opportunities to grow by taking on life’s challenges, in so doing we are avoiding stagnation and creating excitement, despite being uncertain of the outcome.

The next time you’re faced with a challenge, I encourage you to step towards it. Seek out the certainty and uncertainty. Know what you need and look for your balance. Understanding what you are certain of and seeking out the opportunity within uncertainty is how we live, learn and grow.


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