How often are you certain?

Today is January 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you certain?” Anyone who ever put in the daily grind to translate one dream after another into reality understands just how uncertain life is. Plans are made and then changed. Directions are outlined and then altered. Schedules are created and then altered. The uncertainty of life might be perhaps the most certain aspect of living there is. Learning to deal with uncertainty is a fundamental element involved with navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well.


When sharing his secret to happiness, the great philosopher Jiddhu Krishnamurkti said, “Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.” Now that is a way to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well! How many times have you said to yourself ‘I don’t mind what happens?’ Be honest. You may have said ‘I don’t’ mind what happens’ aloud to others or to yourself but is that really how you feel? Reflecting upon your answer to that question helps you increase your self-awareness as it relates to a need to be certain. Truth be told, most people do mind what happens.


As Allison Carmen wrote in an April 20, 2016 Psychology Today article “Most of us do care what happens next in our lives. We care about keeping our jobs, having enough money, our children being healthy, and a slew of other crucial aspects of our lives. We want to make sure that the things we want to happen do happen and that is exactly where our need for certainty begins. We want to know what will happen next so we can rest in the moment knowing everything will be okay.” Today’s reflection offers an opportunity for you to process how often you require certainty to move forward as well as your decision-making process.


In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global marketplace, any rush to be certain has consequences to consider. In his July 2011 "Why Being Certain Means Being Wrong" Harvard Business Review article Ted Cadsby acknowledged that “The need to be certain gets in the way of accuracy when it comes to problems that have multiple, interwoven causal factors that are difficult to unbundle. Complex problems require exploration, multiple perspectives, and a variety of possible explanations, before it is safe to draw any conclusions. Many complex problems can only be tackled with experimentation because they do not converge to definitive solutions.”


When you are thinking about a problem, question, or issue, and looking to express any level of certainty it would behoove you to recall the conclusion Philip Tetlock reached in Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? “The average expert was found to be only slightly more accurate than a dart-throwing chimpanzee. Many experts would have done better if they had made random guesses.” Tetlock made his conclusion after studying over 82,000 predictions from 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” over a 20-year period. In his November 28, 2005 New Yorker review of Tetlock’s book, Louis Menand wrote “people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons.”


For those who would like to improve their ability to process uncertainty, research recommends one to pause, take a breath, and assess the situation. When asked what makes a great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky is said to have answered, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Of course, such an approach is easier said than done. Moving, deciding, and executing quickly in uncertain time, however, can be a tragic mistake. A 2014 research paper by Tobias Teichert and colleagues entitled "Humans Optimize Decision Making by Delaying Decision Onset" concluded that “the simple act of pausing, even for as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds, allows the brain to focus on the most relevant information.” Life is uncertain. The longer you can give yourself to respond while working through uncertainty, the better off you might be in the long run.


American dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille noted “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires you to take one leap after another in the dark. Doing so, however, requires you to get comfortable with uncertainty. Can you live without knowing? Can you take leap after leap in the dark or must you be certain before you move?