There are those who enjoy panning for gold in the waters of uncertainty: savvy investors, maverick entrepreneurs, and high-stakes poker players, for example.
Then there are the rest of us, who’d prefer to get an electric shock rather than endure the pain of not knowing. This is literal: a UK study showed those who knew they were going to be shocked were significantly less stressed than those who were told they had a 50-50 chance of it.
Having lived through a year of ambiguity and chaos, it’s understandable to crave certainty and simplicity. But playing it safe is also dangerous. You lose vital opportunities to create, grow, learn, innovate and lead without some degree of risk.
The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice all security for the sake of personal development. All it takes is a willingness to explore the edge of uncertainty.
Left to its own devices, your brain does everything in its power to convince you that uncertainty is the same thing as danger. This hardwiring, aka your amygdala, triggers your fight-flight-freeze-please response, pushing you into your comfort zone.
To counteract this natural reaction, Leo Babauta advises playing on the edge of uncertainty. As he explains,
It’s the place where you’re learning, but not completely lost. Where you are exploring, but not freefalling. Where you’re creating something new, but not without some grasp of what came before you.
Moving from drowning in fear to swimming with new ideas takes practice. And it also entails keeping most of your life stable as you dive into a daily routine of playing with uncertainty.
Livin’ on the Edge
As Babuta points out, we all have plenty of unpredictability in our lives, but that’s not the same as deliberately training yourself to withstand the discomfort of the unknown. Baby steps make it manageable and actionable.
First off, to identify the perfect practice topic, listen to your resistance. What have you been putting off? What scares you? From tackling new technology to redoing your website or writing a book, pick something around a 7-10 on the resistance scale.
Next, set a time each day with reminders, so you don’t “forget.” Start with a few minutes and build up to a half-hour.
As you’re dancing on the edge, be sure to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Don’t condemn uncomfortable sensations; use them to help you consciously embrace curiosity.
Finally, let go of any judgment and be kind to yourself. And consider asking a friend to be your accountability partner. While you don’t know what you don’t know, it can be easier to explore the unknown with someone you know.
Staying at the Edge of Uncertainty (Zen Habits)