This blog is about
- Overcoming one of our greatest challenges and fears – Uncertainty
- What doesn’t work in response to it?
- What does work?
Read time approximately 8 minutes
This is a blog for everyone, especially those that are self-reflecting and growth orientated.
And just so you know right up front, getting good with uncertainty has nothing to do with popular things such as developing a growth mindset, grit, determination or positive thinking.
What the Scooby?
Some years ago, when creating learning content, I coined the phrase ‘Don’t Scooby Doo Your Emotions’. At the time, I was assessing the typical reactions to our emotions, including fear, insecurity, uncertainty and vulnerability.
The classic children’s cartoon, Scooby Doo, became the metaphor for the learning because every episode of Scooby Doo taught the same lesson we all need, to step beyond our most difficult emotions.
E.g. The adventure would start with Scooby and his friends hearing about the once successful – but now haunted funfair – that scared away its customers because of the ghost that had appeared.
They arrive at the funfair and sure enough the ghost jumps out and Scooby and his friends run away. They run in different forms such as retreating, hiding, avoiding and distracting themselves.
This is what so many of us do when different fears and uncertainty come our way.
In the second half of the episode, Scooby and friends do the opposite.
They paused to face the ghost and stopped long enough to see what was hidden behind it.
Through greater awareness, they determine if the ghost was as scary as they had convinced themselves.
They realised it wasn’t as scary. The ghost ended up being the ex janitor in disguise, who had lost his job some weeks before and wanted revenge on the owners.
The first 15 minutes of Scooby Doo presented a classic lesson in how not to work with our emotions and the second half of the programme, which direction to take instead.
At the end I’ll point you towards the specifics required to get it right.
If Scooby and the gang had been real they would have realised they had been the creators, (to different degrees) of their own anxiety, overwhelm, vulnerability, reactivity and fatigue.
They would have realised that so many of their fears are not physical danger.
The unknown is an experience of new-ness.
In which our psychological self turns this unknown new-ness into a fear
It’s our mental projections and imaginations that stimulate the fear.
Scooby may have also realised that his habit of eating lots of Scooby snacks isn’t a healthy way of distracting himself from fear, uncertainty and other difficult emotions.
While Shaggy may also have concluded, laughing at everything in-between his bouts of anxiety wasn’t a beneficial, long term approach either.
Recognise those two common reactions? They are very popular.
So don’t Scooby Doo Your Emotions’, including your biggest fears and uncertainty.
Let’s face it, we can’t go through a human life without encountering constant uncertainty. So there’s lots of opportunities to practice what Scooby was teaching.
We’ve been conditioned to react like Scooby
Of course, not everyone is identical in their reactions to the different fear-forms that come our way. We are influenced by a set of similar systems when facing uncertainty. Biological, psychological, emotional, physical, etc.
I’ve worked with many leaders with ‘Alpha Male’ traits that react to uncertainty with fight, push, aggression and conflict. So it’s not only about our tendencies to run, retreat and avoid.
All of us are programmed with a fight, flight, freeze and flop response. A primitive survival system with the original aim of protecting us from being eaten by tigers and the like.
A system that also becomes triggered in similar ways today, but when we aren’t under threat of being eaten. As simple as when we are out driving the car or supermarket shopping and we are crossed by others behaving differently to ourselves.
In these situations, pause to notice how quickly your fight, flight and freeze response will kick-in, when somebody (safely) cuts across you in the traffic or shopping aisle?
It’s a mini moment of uncertainty so notice how you tend to react here because you are probably playing out similar but magnified versions of this reaction in bigger life moments.
The fallacy of only trusting ‘the known’
Many of our conditioned, mental (and egoic) processes have taught us to only place trust in the known. To only feel safe when surrounded by certainty.
But that leaves us on very thin ice, and poorly equipped to cope because life is full of constant uncertainty.
Faced with uncertainty, we tend to knee-jerk react, in attempts to re-establish the known, so scared and unprepared are we of facing the unknown.
- We fight and push for the instant fix or remedy. In attempts to quickly get rid of the unknown.
- We retreat to find a logical solution even when there is no logical solution available (lost in analyses)
- We run (flight) into distraction, avoidance or denial. including, blame, recrimination, food, sex, drugs, arguments, over-working, over exercising etc)
- We freeze and becoming stuck, overwhelmed or immobilised. Caught in looping pockets of anxiety, apprehension and incapability
Strange as it might seem, we unconsciously use these methods to get certain again, until very quickly we are hit by the next round of uncertainty.
That often come in the forms of a career challenge, taking a new position, new market competition, dealing with a workplace ‘nemesis’, losing our job, financial compromise, relationship break-up, divorce, illness and death.
Our knee-jerk reactions to uncertainty heavily contribute to the epidemics of anxiety and depression throughout corporate culture.
To transform our relationship with uncertainty we have to learn to stop using these temporary measures of running, avoiding and trying to blast it away.
The answer lies in the basic lessons from Scooby.
Behind the initial scary appearance of uncertainty we can find a hidden reservoir of trust, within ourselves, that doesn’t buy into the fear, the anxiety, the running, avoiding or blasting.
A trust that automatically takes fear in its stride.
Trust, that all of us need if we are to truly face life’s greatest challenges. However, learning to deeply trust is something our ego doesn’t want us to do.
Learning is in the ego we rarely acknowledge we have
On an ego level – not talked about enough in business – our ego demands guarantees. It demands certainty. Because this is from where it gets its version of safety.
When we go for an important job interview, its our ego that gets frightened, anxious, hesitant, timid, sometimes over-bearing and reactive because its struggling to feel safe in the uncertainty.
It’s the same (in our younger days), when asking someone out on a first date and the unknown fear of rejection.
It’s the same fear of the unknown when making a cold call, presenting in public, facing the managing director, customer colleague or department head, that carries a ‘ferocious reputation’.
Our ego reaction hates this uncertainty. So much so that it may not only make you anxious before the uncertain situation has started but will berate you afterward for not handling it better.
Our ego will try all sorts of things to avoid uncertainty. Its main drive is to get rid of it, in whatever method it can.
But trying to get rid of uncertainty doesn’t ultimately work. Because in a short while it will be back knocking on our door in another change, challenge or unpredictable event.
Our ego’s will have us try and think our way through these situations but at a cost of exacerbated fear, stress, overwhelm, self-doubt, de-motivation, confusion and many reactive behaviours.
Thinking our way into certainty is a flimsy, short-term tool.
Your ego doesn’t want you to learn how to feel its way through the uncertainty because then you’ll learn how not to fear it in the first place,
One aspect of getting good with uncertainty is we have to begin changing our relationship with our ego.
That may sound deep or difficult but in reality – just like Scooby and the gang – you already have the fundamental set-up to do this.
It’s more about waking up to and consciously using the tools that are already available
Getting good or ok with uncertainty – what works?
I prefer not to teach many models (e.g. 3 steps to getting good with uncertainty) as all too often they are used as a process to follow rather than a practical experiment to self-discover.
Unlike knowledge, its self-discovery that facilitates mastery.
In the learning world, I often witness an over-abundance of models and a shortage of experimental practice.
Below are the the entry level approaches and skills that lead to practises to face uncertainty and to begin finding your way into the deeper trust within you. That has the capability to be with even the most formidable uncertainty, including the fear of death.
- When uncertainty comes along stop and learn to notice the sensations, feelings and emotions that are present in your body.
- Tools to help you stop and notice long enough, include breath work and Centring.
- Non-judgmentally describe what sensations and feelings you notice. E.g. Ask yourself – What’s my most dominant sensation, feeling or emotion? Where is it my body? Does it have a shape, a colour, is it still or moving etc?
- Turn inwardly towards it. Smile towards it, nod your head in acknowledgment to its presence as a part of your experience. Imagine you are sitting with it on a park bench, in silence watching each other. Without blame, avoidance or judgment. Allow it be there instead of trying to get rid of it.
- Don’t resist, fight it or feed it. Feeding the emotions with an inner narrative such as, “Go away”, “If only x hadn’t have happened”, “F-Off’, blame and recriminations will only serve to make the uncertainty bigger. Your inner narrative will often blow it up and it will overwhelm you.
- Learn to combine these approaches long enough and you will open the door to the hidden well of trust that lies within your deeper intelligence or some might say ‘Wise Self’. From which new answers appear (sometimes quickly and slowly) as to your way forward. Answers that previously got drowned out because you’ve never truly listened to yourself in this way before.
In more detail than I can show you here – these are some of the skills we teach people to get good with uncertainty.
Wether its global leaders risking multi-millions on their strategy, high profile sports stars at pivotal points in their career or leaders of teams that have low certainty where their company, market or purpose are going.
- The avoidance and trying to get rid of uncertainty is the problem
- Trying to control certainty is the problem
- Not making our self available to listen to uncertainty is the problem
- Not feeling our way into the trust that lies behind uncertainty is the problem
At Future Vision – Our learning programmes have the power to tackle the many hidden issues that all organisations face but sometimes skate-over.
Our learning redresses the challenges within the psychological, emotional and social skills that everyone requires for their natural brilliance to shine and prosper. Breaking down, sometimes complex sounding topics into simple, transformative practises.
If you are into meaningful and transformative learning, it will be a pleasure to chat with you 🙂