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The Beauty of Uncertainty

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I’m a big fan of quotes. I love so many of them that picking my favorite one would be like choosing a favorite child. But there’s one quote I heard recently that resonated in a deep way. I’ve been thinking about it constantly because it might be the most accurate description of the human condition.

“Most people choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” – Tim Ferriss

That’s the whole problem in a nutshell. If you had a certainty that the actions you took would work, you’d take them. If you knew you could avoid the gut-wrenching feelings that come with putting yourself out there in a major way, you’d do it. But, you have no such guarantees.

As a matter of fact, you have a guarantee that many of your worst fears will come true. You can almost be certain that some of the strategies you try to improve your life won’t work. You can almost be certain that putting yourself out there will lead to that rejection and embarrassment you’re so afraid of.

It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. Once you step outside of it, you’ll have to put yourself in difficult situations that will make you feel uncomfortable. But, that’s kind of the whole point. You need discomfort to grow. You need to face an uncertain future to get what you really want from this life.

As strange as it sounds, you wouldn’t even be happy with your life if you get everything you wanted without dealing with the psychological pain it took to get it. On some level, you already know that, but you just need a reminder. Hell, you need several. This is why I write so much. As usual, I’ll try to attack the problem from different angles and give you some useful insights.

You’ll never be “ready” to leap

Imagine you can’t swim but you want to learn how. You could read a bunch of books on swimming. You could watch instructional videos of other people swimming. You could visualize yourself swimming. But, no amount of learning about swimming will teach you how to swim.

Eventually, you’re going to have to get in that water yourself and, at first, struggle to learn how to swim. Interestingly, some swim instructors will take babies and throw them straight into the water. They have a natural floating instinct and it kicks in once they’re in the water. In Navy seal training, recruits are thrown off a helicopter into deep water even if they don’t know how to swim,

The moral of the story: there’s no replica for the real deal. And no amount of conjuring up some motivated energy is going to change the fact that you’ll have to do ‘the thing,’ whatever that thing may be, out in the real world.

Self-help is addicting in that it can make you feel like you’re doing the work even though you’re just consuming content that makes you feel good. It’s a great tool for getting you right to the edge of the pool, but it still takes a dose of courage to jump in that I simply can’t provide for you. You’re going to have to be the one who does that.

And take all the time you need to reach that point where you’re ready to jump, but be honest with yourself. No amount of studying and getting your ducks in a row is going to quell those fears of yours. Reading something like “don’t care what people think” doesn’t do much when you’re in a situation that causes real and palpable fear of what others think. It’s good to think about these things beforehand and you can definitely mentally prepare for these situations. But, eventually, you have to step into that cold water.

But once you leap, usually, everything turns out fine

Let’s keep with the water analogies here. Have you ever hesitated to get in the water because it’s cold? You think about going in, but you don’t. Maybe you stick your foot in and say “ooooh that’s cold.” You might start slowly walking in until the water is up to your waist. Your upper body is shivering and you still don’t want to go all the way in.

But what happens as soon as you decide to fully submerge yourself in the water? You get used to it. And you could’ve saved time by just jumping in right away. This is a metaphor for the way you’ll feel about anything you pursue that puts you in the face of uncertainty. Most of the pursuits you’re afraid of would work out just fine once you got into the habit of doing it.

The way you think something will turn out is almost always harsher than the way it actually turns out. Your fear in anticipation of the moment gets in the way of the actual moment. And, overall, you’re afraid of facing the many moments required to build the life you want, so you spend your whole life like the person who slowly enters the water instead of the one who just jumps in.

You still feel stress and anxiety because you know you’re not doing what you want to do with your life, but you cling to your current situation because at least you’re used to this kind of stress and anxiety.

Here’s what you need to know about making it to the other side of your fear. I can’t give you any magic formula to do it, but I’ll tell you that once you do it, you’ll look back and wonder why you were so worried about it in the first place.

You’ve already been through moments where the reality of a situation wasn’t as bad as your anticipation of it. Remember those moments the next time you’re afraid to take a leap.

Start building your uncertainty muscle and never stop

Learning to deal with uncertainty is like a muscle. If you want to get stronger, you have to keep exercising regularly. If you take too much time off, your muscles will atrophy quickly. This metaphor rings true when stepping into any arena of life.

Here’s what will happen once you start to take some baby steps toward an uncertain future. You’ll muster up a bunch of energy to try something you’re not used to doing. You’ll either get a quick win or you’ll experience some sort of rejection.

If you get a quick win, you’ll be tempted to just pat yourself on the back and avoid facing uncertainty again in the future. You saw that it worked, but you also felt that uneasy feeling beforehand and you’re not sure you want to keep going through it over and over. If you get rejected or the action you take doesn’t work, you’ll want to avoid taking action again because you take rejection and failure personally.

Either way, you’re not gaining momentum, which is the most crucial element to facing an uncertain future. Rather than periodically escaping your comfort zone from time to time, it’s easier long-term to make discomfort your default state for a while. Say you want to try something like running a business. You’re not going to feel comfortable or sure about yourself, or make much money, for a while, years maybe.

In any uncertain pursuit, there’s a pain period you have to go through and it’s unavoidable. So don’t try to avoid it. Using exercise as an example again: if you start lifting weights, you’re going to be sore at first, but then it goes away after a while if you stick with it. But if you keep taking breaks from lifting, you’re going to get sore every single time you start back up again and you’re not going to get much stronger either. Might as well do what it takes to build for a while.

The beauty of uncertainty

After a while, when you live a life where you focus on facing uncertainty over and over again, you’ll stop craving certainty altogether. You’ll develop a healthy addiction to putting yourself out there. It will become thrilling to you. We’ve been tricked into thinking we want comfort when we really want adventure.

Animals come to mind here. Think of a lion who lives in captivity. It’s safe. Food is readily available. Technically, all of its needs are met. Except for the need that truly drives it — the need for the hunt. Compare that with a lion who lives in the wild. It has no idea when or where its next meal will come from. It’s more dangerous to live in the wild. But, it gets to live the way it was meant to live.

Consider the idea that, as much as you’re afraid of uncertainty and the discomfort that comes with it, you hate being comfortable more (even if you haven’t done anything about it yet). You know what your life would look like if you just decided to break out of the cage once and for it. Yeah, it’s difficult and mentally challenging to the point that most people will never give it a sincere try.

But you have to ask yourself whether or not you’re content to live the rest of your life like most people. Ask yourself again and again until you come up with an answer that compels you to action.

Also read: How to Deal with Uncertainty

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