What’s so difficult about uncertainty?

“Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.”
~Nelson Richard DeMille, author of thriller novels, haas also written under the pen names Jack Cannon, Kurt Ladner, and Brad Matthews (born August 23, 1943)

Why do we worry so much about uncertainty? What’s so difficult about it?

We want the best to happen for our families, for ourselves, and for the organizations we belong to.

We have strategies, goals, values, expectations that guide us. We all know that bad things still happen. Some business executives learn to focus on strengths, and plan for the worst. How else can they be the best that they can be?

Some of us just hope for the best.

What if uncertainty was viewed as something positive – an opportunity? That’s not the assumption of most worriers.

Chronic worries assume that uncertainty is dangerous and intolerable because it portends bad outcomes. It is irresponsible to not worry about the bad that is bound to result. The inability to tolerate uncertainty plays a huge role in anxiety and worry. Chronic worriers can’t stand doubt or unpredictability. They need to know with 100 percent certainty what’s going to happen. They don’t want to overlook something that can bite them badly later.

Worrying is seen as a way to predict what the future has in store. It’s an attempt  to control outcomes and prevent unpleasant surprises. An example of this is “If I don’t know for sure, then I should expect the worst to happen. If I knew for sure, then I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Another way to look at worry is that it simply means we just don’t know … and we should try our hardest to figure it out. Any uncertainty is bad, so you start to collect more information to eliminate the uncertainty. The trouble is your imagination and Internet searches keep coming up with more potential problems. The worst-case scenarios are magnified as you find it increasingly difficult to find solutions that will solve the original hypothetical problem with absolute certainty.

For example, you question your doctor’s view that your mole is not cancerous. Doctors are not infallible. Maybe you shouldn’t trust him.

Maybe you don’t trust your boss’ view that your performance is fine. You wonder whether your boss is doing well enough to keep her own job; both of you may be fired.

When intolerance of uncertainty combines with perfectionism you end up worrying even more. Too bad it doesn’t work. You get more frustrated.

What if you took whatever little tolerance of uncertainty you already have and extended it to other things you cannot control or do not know enough about?

How about a paradigm shift? Can you translate worry into wonder, anxiety into looking forward to being part of something new and unpredictable? It’s a big change. How do you make it happen?

“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
~Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States from 1923 to 1929 (July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933)

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