Feel More Comfortable with Uncertainty

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If only the world were more black and white, with fewer shades of gray. If it were, then producing success and living well would be much simpler.

Since the world happens to be extremely complex and heavily nuanced, however, it’s increasingly important to become as comfortable as you can with the resulting uncertainty, ambiguity, nuance, and doubt.

Here are some tips on how to do this:

Don’t Seek to Control

Some people have a strong urge to control everything around them. This is a fruitless quest. The world is far too big and complex for you to ever make it do what you want.

Instead, seek to fit in with the world around you. Develop basic skills like communication, cooperation, emotional intelligence, alertness, and self-management. You can then apply your basic skills to perform well in whatever situations may arise.

Preparation Pays for Itself

In the absence of control over what’s happening, and what will happen next, preparation forms the most solid basis available for productivity and success. When you’re properly prepared for a wide variety of eventualities, you can more easily cope with each new unfolding of every situation.

Find Your Way in the Dark

Not literally, of course, but without all the facts. In a complex world, you’ll often face choices and opportunities in situations where you don’t know everything you’d like to know. That’s OK. If you wait until you do know everything, you’ll usually miss the boat. It’s important to feel comfortable about moving forward in the dark, with a level of confidence that you can always find ways to repair or recover from any missteps.

Recognize the Error of Your Ways

In many situations, you’ll encounter your fair share of mistakes: wrong choices, unfortunate outcomes, harmful preferences, and just plain bad luck. These are inevitable, no matter how hard you try to avoid errors or how long you wait to gather complete information.

Productivity and success are all about working and re-working rather than getting everything perfect on the first try. What’s better than trying for perfection is learning from your mistakes, so you can continually improve what you’ve done and what you’re doing.

Flexibility Beats Rigidity

If you see the world as a hurricane of rapidly shifting, essentially chaotic forces – which it is – then you will readily recognize that flexibility – bending with the wind – is a better strategy for success than trying to stand firmly against it.

Flexibility under adversity boils down to accepting what you can’t change, and adjusting your tactics, approaches, and methods as needed in order to maximize your chances of reaching your goal.

Make Plans, Then Change Them

No plan survives first contact with reality.” That’s my loose translation of the original idea. But don’t think the takeaway is to avoid making plans. The actual lesson is that making a plan – while helpful – is only a first step. As you begin to implement your plan, you’ll almost always need to revise it, update it, and improve it to reflect its interaction with reality.

This variation on flexibility provides an endless series of opportunities for you to exercise your ability to recognize what’s going on, analyze the forces at work, and calculate your best options for moving further toward your goals.

Cultivate Confidence

Confidence founded on skills, knowledge, and experience is your best antidote to the uncertainty, ambiguity, nuance, and doubt that naturally arise in this difficult world. Cultivate your confidence in two ways:

First, always strive to improve your skills and knowledge, and to learn as much as you can from your experiences.

Second, regularly review your past experiences. This will not only help you recognize what you’ve done right, what you’ve done wrong, and what you can to better, it will help you feel more confident about your ability to cope with whatever happens in the future.

Trust Yourself

As you develop your skills, knowledge, and experience, you’ll improve your ability to understand what’s going on and how best to move forward. As important as this personal improvement is, equally important is learning to trust it. In the hurricane of chaotic world forces swirling around you, this inner understanding is one of the few solid foundations available for continued productivity and success.

Reduce Your Stress

The uncertainty, ambiguity, nuance, and doubt generated by the complexity of the world inevitably leads to stress. That’s just how we’re built. But stress tends to reduce your effectiveness and level of performance.

That’s why you benefit by finding ways to keep your stress level as low as possible. 

You can do this by visualization or meditation techniques, by exercise and other methods of burning off the stress, by scheduling down-time and relaxation breaks, and even by training your body and mind not to react to difficult situations by stressing out in the first place.

However you manage to reduce your stress, it’s a critically important element in your effort to become more comfortable with the chaos and ambiguity of the world.

None of this is easy, of course. You’ll probably need a long time to feel completely comfortable with uncertainty. But you’ll discover many wonderful rewards in your work and your life as you make progress in this increasingly important direction.

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