The quest for certainty is hardwired. We are naturally uncomfortable when we don’t know what’s next or when we cannot apply our previous experience in ways that help us feel we can predict the future. We work very hard to know and often trick ourselves into a false certainty to resolve our discomfort as we look for data to confirm our thinking. Research also suggests that we tend to gravitate towards thinking that is effortless, rather than difficult and slow, further increasing the likelihood of overlooking details and jumping to conclusions.
Pause for a moment to think of an example of uncertainty in your life. What outcomes do you imagine? What past experiences are impacting your imagined future?
When we pause and admit that we cannot outsmart uncertainty, we might find a new sense of stillness. Learning to tolerate uncertainty is an important part of self-regulation and slowing down to admit we do not know can actually feel liberating. Moreover, admitting to uncertainty can reduce confirmation bias, while promoting stronger partnerships in relationships at home or at work as it promotes inclusivity and teamwork. We can model our approach to uncertainty for others and send a message of acceptance and trust when navigating new projects or challenges.
Admitting that we do not know is a significant strength that is typically viewed by Western culture as a weakness. The pressure to know everything and the link between self-esteem or demonstrating our perceived competence and intelligence can be damaging as we strive to live up to impossible expectations. In contrast, practicing humility and admitting to what we don’t know leads to a more accurate assessment of our abilities and options, thereby increasing our effectiveness and willingness to consider a broad range of possibilities.
We can practice not-knowing, or humility, by slowing down and taking steps to become more aware of the pressures to know. We can likewise practice being vulnerable in the face of uncertainty and integrate skills to help us better tolerate uncertainty. It takes some practice, but it is possible to find a place of stillness as well as curiosity and excitement as we become more comfortable with the unknown and more trusting of ourselves to navigate uncharted territory.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist
PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States
Email to schedule an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
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