What if I told you that the only thing that holds you back from being more creative, living a better life and inhabiting a much better world is uncertainty? What if I also told you that resolving those uncertainties is not only possible, but that it has become an existential imperative?
More correctly, there are two ways to soothe ourselves, when faced with uncertainty. One is to try to control the uncertainties, imposing our will on them. Increasingly, though, this approach fails (if it ever worked at all). The second, more effective way is to change your perceptions, by seeing differently.
Let’s back up a little. In evolutionary terms, caution and fear, in the face of the unknown, was a survival instinct. Don’t go into the dark cave, if there could be an ambush predator lurking within. Don’t eat the berries that mother doesn’t eat. Whenever we encountered uncertainty, it was a potential threat to life and well-being. We extrapolated from this to treat any uncertainty in the same way – with fear and suspicion.
What we fail to realise is that what seems uncertain to us can be fully understood and certain, in another person’s perception. However, because they aren’t us, we don’t trust their grasp on reality. We’re uncertain about them too.
Resolving uncertainty is a unifying principle across biology, and thus is the inherent task of evolution, development, and learning. Uncertainty is at the root of our worst fears. The problem is that we face infinitely more complexity, today, than we did millennia ago. Our response to complexity – to treat it with fear and withdrawal, because we don’t understand it – is, ironically, imperilling us far more than if we took positive steps to resolve our uncertainties.
An increasingly connected world is also inherently more unpredictable. As we become more interconnected, we become more interdependent. We can’t continue to approach our interdependency with fear and denial. That won’t make it go away. All fear will do is create greater tensions and instabilities in the interdependency. Politicians that call for isolation and division are making the problem, the uncertainty and the fear very much worse. They’re not helping; they’re regressing to the dark ages and causing immense harm, holding back our progress toward harmonious co-existence.
We fear the integration only because we’re uncertain of the outcomes. This is not a fear based on good evidence. This fear arises only because of faulty perceptions. The outcomes are, in fact, both knowable and highly satisfactory. The trick is to be able to see them. The uncertainties can be resolved.
How we manage our perceptions constrains how we deal with and shape reality. Perceive badly and you create dystopia.
The biological motivation of many of our social and cultural habits and reflexes, including religion and politics, and even hate and racism, is to diminish uncertainty through imposed rules and rigid environments… or in one’s vain attempt to disconnect from a world that lives only because it is connected and in movement. In doing so, these inherited reflexes—by design—prevent us from living more creative, compassionate, collaborative, and courageous lives.
Changing your perceptions, questioning your most fervently held assumptions, can change your brain profoundly. Due to the plasticity of your brain, new ideas, which resolve your uncertainties, actually change the very structure of your wetware. Different connections and associations are established in your mind, allowing you to comprehend scenarios once intractable to you. You gain the ability to make different inferences and thereby arrive at new insights. You are able to spot new patterns and perceive how things that previously seemed unconnected are part of the same entity. Ideas and actions, previously out of your reach, can be available to you, if you are willing to question your assumptions, and in doing so create a new, unknown terrain of wondering.
People who insist they’re not creative mean they haven’t learned to change how they see. It’s a choice. Consequently, they remain constrained by the certainties they’ve developed and imposed on their own lives, to make themselves feel safe and secure (strong and stable). Creativity requires that you take the risk of confronting uncertainty, without knowing whether you will succeed in your aim, or not. You have to take the chance that you will fail, perhaps humiliatingly. Humiliation, fortunately, need not be a mortal wound.
When people tell you to be realistic, they actually mean they want you to conform to their particular perception of reality. Nothing more. This control that they wish to impose on you is so that they can be certain about you. Control over your perception of reality, in perfect alignment with theirs, removes an uncertainty for them, by putting you in your place, relative to and according to their mental model and world view. You may, in fact, be better served by being what they would regard as delusional.
As an example, there is pressure placed on people to be positive at all times. Negativity is considered to be a threatening contagion, which must be eliminated, so that everybody else feels safe, secure and certain within their positive reality distortion force field. Positive thinking, though, is a double-edged sword. If thinking positively permits you to overcome your paralysing fear, so that you can exercise your intention with purposeful agency, then fine, but if it’s just a way to remove uncertainty by constraining it, so that you ignore reality completely and fail to act, then perhaps not.
Similarly, not all negative thinking is bad. A certain amount of dissatisfaction with how you perceive things to be can drive creativity and innovation, to improve things. On the other hand, a retreat into wallowing and inaction is not a good thing. I find that if I don’t feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction, my creativity and ability to innovate abandons me entirely. I can’t create a thing worth a damn.
The key to living more creative, compassionate, collaborative, and courageous lives is to confront uncertainty with an open mind, be prepared to learn and based on what your curiosity helps you discover, be willing to change your mind, based on new ideas and evidence. In short, changing your perceptions is the best way to resolve uncertainty and take away fear.