“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.”
― José Saramago, author of The Double
Most of us are experiencing a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in our world. We are unsure about our jobs, the industries we work in, our health, how to educate our kids, and our country’s future, to name a few. A recent study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) showed a threefold increase in psychological distress from pre-pandemic times.
Why uncertainty is so uncomfortable.
Typically, our brains use our past experiences to make decisions for the future. When we experience something new, we can’t rely on the past to inform our decision-making. Unable to utilize this process, we are like a fish out of water. We feel lost and unstable. We become stressed, which triggers our fight or flight response. To protect ourselves, we anticipate the bleakest of scenarios for the future and worry endlessly about them.
This intolerance of uncertainty can lead us to make poor choices. Out of fear, we rush to judgments without pausing to look at the facts or consider different interpretations. These poor judgments can feel strangely comforting because at least they are a form of certainty, as in, “that’s my position and I’m sticking to it.”
However, as we all know or at least eventually come to realize, there is only so much we can control in life. Unexpected things will happen. The only thing we can control is our response to it. Even though our brains have a default way of responding by relying on experience, we can step in and take control of the reigns with a little bit of perspective.
The ability to see in more expansive ways is a valuable skill to have during uncertain times. Perspective-taking means lifting our eyes from the details and looking at the bigger picture. It also means a willingness to see situations from other people’s viewpoints. Both practices are an effort to gather more information for more informed decisions. Developing perspective helps us manage and even thrive with uncertainty. As we move beyond our normal decision-making process by seeking information beyond our experience, we liberate ourselves from fear. We allow ourselves the opportunity to learn, grow and become stronger despite the uncertainty.
If perspective-taking is not one of your strengths, you may find yourself getting stuck in conflicting information that is characteristic of new and unknown situations. You tend to see the challenge disconnected from the larger issue and miss vital data to help you make better choices. You may rigorously defend your point of view due to the need for stability without ever venturing out to listen to other ideas.
A lack of perspective can be an attempt to hang on to some sense of certainty. When we don’t look beyond our current view, we don’t have to deal with the additional uncertainty new information can create. It’s understandable why we may not want to engage with it. However, perspective has an upside. It can strengthen our tolerance for uncertainty.
Perspective helped me sing better. (kind of)
Many years ago, I took singing lessons from a professional vocal coach. I was terrified of singing and am a terrible singer for the record. However, as a kid, I always imagined how freeing it would be to belt out a song like Ella Fitzgerald or Barbara Streisand. After a brief audition, the coach took me on as a client under one condition; I didn’t have big expectations of becoming a highly talented performer. I agreed and we began the training.
One of the most illuminating lessons I learned from him was about perspective. He described it as getting out of my vocal comfort zone so I could return to it, armed with more information and confidence. He had me sing at ranges much higher and much lower than my natural range to put this into practical terms. At first, I resisted because I was afraid of affirming what I already suspected, that I couldn’t sing.
The surprising takeaway was that I could carry some notes outside of my range when I allowed myself to relax into it with a “try it on for size” mentality. I also discovered that a pleasant singing voice was more than natural talent. It also had a lot to do with breath control and vocal placement. Understanding these techniques meant I had a lot more control or certainty over whether I could improve my singing or not.
This new perspective on vocal training helped me realize that the power to sing well was much more in my hands than I previously thought. I still won’t sing in public and my family continues to make loving jokes about how badly I sing when I’m caught off guard in the shower. However, I gleaned the practical wisdom that things tend never to be as bad as they seem (and for that matter, not as good). The truth is that most situations are usually somewhere in the middle.
The gift of perspective.
All the uncertainty stemming from the unexpected and uncomfortable conditions of the global pandemic and other disruptive political and social issues may have you in a paralyzed mindset. It’s easy for us to forget the wealth of knowledge we have access to if we are willing to engage in more perspective.
When we stretch our thinking, it’s easier to accept the unknown. We adapt better because perspective helps us see that uncertainty points equally to the possibility of opportunity and threat. The scales become more balanced. We indulge less in our emotions and more in rational thought. We can discern more of the options available to us for moving forward than we previously could.
If we are willing to suspend our fear and try on different viewpoints for size, there is a lot we can gain. We might even discover a special kind of certainty, order and meaning, which points to this understanding; no matter how much uncertainty there is, we can always grow, change and improve because of it.
And that perspective is a very healthy one.
Action items to work your Inner Genius. Try stretching your mind and your mindset with these 3 questions regarding something you are uncertain about. Notice what happens to your ability to tolerate uncertainty when you take an honest look at both extremes.
- What is the worst possible outcome?
- What is the best possible outcome?
- What is most likely going to happen?
Thanks for reading. Until next week,