Have you ever found yourself stymied by a lack of certainty . . . by the very real fact that you don’t know what’s around the next corner?
Uncertainty, and how we deal with it, some researchers suggest, is one of the greatest predictors of whether we will achieve success and a sense of well-being in our professional and personal lives.
In her article for Forbes, Margie Warrell explains it this way, “As much as we may try to do otherwise, it is impossible to chart a certain path through uncertain waters. The reality is that in our fast changing, unpredictable and accelerated workplace and world, it’s those who are willing to embrace uncertainty and take decisive action, risky action, despite the many ‘unknowns’ who will reap the greatest rewards.”
If we’re honest about it—and this can literally be anxiety producing if you dwell on it for too long—we never know what’s going to happen next. For some, this becomes the reason to maintain the status quo—to resist change, to argue for the tyranny of the known. But, as Warrell explains in her article, the most successful people in life learn to embrace uncertainty.
Sound crazy? Perhaps . . . but when you think about it, creativity and innovation are acts that—at their very core and essence—are born out of uncertainty, chaos, and not knowing. For those who have learned to embrace uncertainty and transform it into the power of wonder, “not knowing” is their super power.
So how can you overcome uncertainty and make it one of your superpowers?
It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” There are different kinds of “starting,” for instance, starting to think about something, or starting to make a plan, etc., but our focus in this blog post is on starting to take action.
Sometimes, when we’re in denial about the reality of uncertainty, we can spend more time thinking and worrying about what to do than the time it takes to actually do a thing. Nothing of significance actually happens until we actually do take action.
On the other hand, sometimes we rush into action before we’re prepared . . . it's almost as if we're trying to out run our doubts. But it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Preparation and action are both necessary and finding a healthy balance between the two is the key to creating order out of chaos—and discovering something genuinely valuable amidst a sea of uncertainty.
And, here's another thought . . . what if we could shape reality in such a way as to reduce uncertainty and tilt probability in our favor?
Is this actually possible? Could it be that we can exert something akin to what quantum physicists call the “observer effect” on the larger scale of life with which we deal?
While that’s a much deeper topic for another time, we do know that many top athletes and superstar achievers visualize success ahead of time as a regular part of their preparation. In doing so, they’re drawing upon some the brain’s most remarkable abilities that enable them to see pathways, possibilities, and resources they might have otherwise missed.
But this kind of visionary preparation is often overlooked by many of us, even if we are diligent with our preparation on more material levels. Thriving leaders, on the other hand, have come to understand how vital vision work is—particularly as means of identifying the dynamic emotion connected to their intentions, especially at the beginning of a major project.
As we describe in our book, Thriving in Business and Life, and our online course, brain researchers have confirmed that visualization, especially when attention is focused into specific intentions, exerts a powerfully beneficial effect in helping us create what we want or need. Because we see the benefits our clients experience from this type of vision casting, we believe that thorough, active visualization is more than an exercise . . . it’s meant to be a natural part of our everyday life. In fact, we consider a well-developed vision to be an essential compass that can help us navigate towards our goals.
Cherie Carter-Scott, a New York Times bestselling author and pioneer in the field of human development and motivation, wrote: "Ordinary people believe only in the possible. Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible."
Take a moment right now to consider some aspect of your working life that may have seemed a bit too unpredictable . . . some place where you're stuck. At the moment, you might feel like it’s impossible to change or improve. It could be a project that seems doomed to failure because the apparent unknowns are too great, or an idea you love, but can’t figure out how to get others on board.
What can you do to shift the situation? How about some visionary preparation?
Here’s a trick that can help: Develop the habit of asking yourself, “What if?”
These two words allow you to intentionally tap into the unknown and create a bridge that brings your imagination online to generate ideas and images and feelings about whatever you are want or need to do.
You might ask, for instance:
What if there was a more effective way to do this?
What if we’re missing someone important on our team?
What if our deadline is way too ambitious?
Kristin Sweeting-Morelli calls her version of this process “wonderstorming.” And, tapping into this aspect of our brain’s amazing ability—regardless of what we call it—is very effective in shifting us from being a guardian of the status quo into leading the way into necessary, productive change.
Tapping into wonder is, in our experience, another proven method that can turn “not knowing” into a superpower. It is a habit we can develop that will help us access what the Japanese call “shoshin,” translated as “beginner’s mind.”
In Zen teachings, it is described this way: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
When our fear of uncertainty rules, we become far too expert at what’s worked in the past vs. exploring how to adapt to the future that's rapidly heading our way.
Visionary preparation can become a habitual aspect of the way we operate but it only works if we remember what Václav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, once said: “Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.”
Here’s your Thriving challenge for the week:
Pick something specific in your working life
(it could be whatever your thought of as you read, a few moments ago)
and do some visionary preparation.
Ask yourself “What if?” and see what happens.
Focus on what you want to achieve and see if you can identify
how it will feel to achieve that goal.
Then, with imaginative ideas in your head,
and a dynamic emotion in your heart,
take one simple action to get started.
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding