Sometimes I think to myself, Finally I’ve got it all figured out.
I might be talking about a musician, a pair of shoes, or a TV show. Time and time again, I’ve caught myself saying, Absolute best, hands down.
Have you ever said that?
I remember convincing myself I could eat chicken and brown rice every day for the rest of my life. I realized it was nuts (although I still try). I also thought I could write a blog post (like this) daily. It took only a month to realize I couldn’t realistically fit that into my schedule. So I modified to once a month.
After 11 years in sales, I figured I knew everything I needed to about “selling”, so I started groundupSALES—only to realize about three months in I was just scratching the surface. Oops. I was a little off with that one. Every time I read a new book, my life seems to shift. I learn something I didn’t know before, and that experience adds to all the others. It proceeds to affect everything else I was thinking about. Slightly changing whatever I’m absolutely sure about at that moment. So, what gives?
What’s really going on here? We crave certainty.
Tony Robbins actually calls this one of his six basic human needs. Arie Kruglanski has stamped this phenomenon a desire to achieve ‘cognitive closure.’ He was so fascinated he developed a way to measure our need for closure. We have an innate aversion toward ambiguity, and a pull toward clarity. I mean, it makes sense. Think about it.
We definitely buy from companies that sell us certainty. Which is why you love those cheesy-sounding money-back guarantees. And why you dine at the restaurants with the best reviews. We love social proof.
We want certainty in our jobs. Which is why you still haven’t left your 9 to 5 or taken that entrepreneurial risk.
We want certainty in our relationships. Which is why you stay in that relationship and choose unhappiness over uncertainty.
We want certainty with advice. Which is why we end up listening to charlatans and anecdotal evidence. Apparently the more certain, the more believable. Stop listening to fake news (sorry, I had to say it). Ut oh. Certainty, certainty, certainty. Give us certainty. We want certainty.
The problem with this need for certainty is we live in an uncertain world. Most things are not certain. Very few, in fact. Which is why you get so pissed when the weatherman says, “Well, looks like 30% chance of rain today.” You think, Damn it, why can’t he just tell me if it’s going to rain or not! Or when you ask somebody how to find your passion. They respond, “Just start doing stuff you like.” Man, I hate that question. Honestly, who the hell knows?
Nobody really knows what the hell is going on. Most things cannot be boxed in, folded up, and considered figured out. I know personally, I hate when people try to box me in. Turns out I’m not the only one. Jerome Kagan, a key pioneer in developmental psychology, concluded that our desire to resolve uncertainty was not only one of the most pivotal disservices to our behavior, but also one of the biggest contributors to our behavior. He coined it our need for “uncertainty resolution.” This kind of sucks.
If you’re even the slightest bit concerned, I’m going to try to help you.
What am I asking you to do? Embrace the unknown.
I know you’re saying, “Dude, that’s a BIG ask.” I get it. I’m aware that simple is not easy. But here are five ways to embrace the unknown:
1.) Evaluate risk
How many choices you make on a daily basis are truly irreversible? Think about it. How many? Probably few to none. Are you jumping out of airplanes? Maybe you are; that’s risky. But that’s also dangerous. Danger and fear are not one and the same. Danger is real, whereas fear is made up. Danger equates to truly irreversible risk. Fear equates to you being in your own head, getting too comfortable, and not embracing the unknown. Quitting your job, cold-calling that prospective client, or not telling your husband you disagree with him just aren’t that risky. You have to evaluate risk to realize that, though.
2.) Change your mind
Damn, this one is simple. Your thoughts aren’t scribed in stone. It’s okay to change your mind, I promise. The world changes, and, personally, I think it’s a bit weird if you don’t also as you move along in life.
I’m not one of those woo woo Law of Attraction people. You know, “If you think it, it will become true.” In fact, I don’t subscribe to that ideology at all. I think it’s hocus pocus. Instead, I believe your beliefs root your actions. What you believe enables what you can see? This makes it possible for you to act. Therefore, if you actively change your mind, you’ll start seeing things differently, and you can choose to act on them if you’d like. Hey, look, it’s your call, not mine.
3.) Choose your words wisely
I’m terrible at this one. I find myself correcting my words constantly. I love my friends and family, but the environment I grew up in bred me to act certain all the time. Otherwise, my opinion probably wasn’t valid. I’m not blaming anyone. It’s “definitely” more fun to “always” use words like “must,” “need,” or “absolutely.” But “in my experience” it’s “probably” best to change out those words for words that emphasize discovery, just “maybe.” Ah, ah, do you see what I did there? Okay, I know, corny, let’s move on. Just remember, word choice is important.
4.) Call bullshit on too much certainty
CAUTION! Excessive Certainty Ahead. I wish I could be there to cue you with this warning every time you need it. Watch out for people who talk in absolutes (see above). If somebody can’t give you the downside of their advice or opinion, it typically means one of two things: 1) They’ve never actually thought about it, or 2) They’re intentionally trying to keep it from you. Either case is not good.
This might seem counterproductive, especially for someone like me who advocates his clients to understand certainty as being persuasive. It is. Which is why I also ask them to protect their clients by limiting their clients’ exposure to bad outcomes, giving their clients an easy out in case they’re not happy for any reason at all, and not using certainty with unsubstantiated claims. Certainty is powerful. And should be treated as such.
5.) Be more open-minded
In many cases, embracing the unknown stems from this very quality: being able to truly entertain ideas, thoughts, and processes entirely opposite of your own. I get it, it’s scary. Here comes a bold claim: open-mindedness can change the world, or at least your world. I believe this with all my being. And in the foreseeable future, I’ll be sticking my flag in the ground trying to prove it.
If you made it this far, then you deserve to know I’m currently writing a book and starting a podcast on this very topic of open-mindedness. For now, if you desire more, I actually conclude The Salesperson Paradox with a story that embraces the essence of this idea. Yes, that’s me plugging my own book. Sorry, but shit, who else is going to do it?
I don’t really know what you’ll think of this article, or whether you’ll use the information I’ve written about here. I hope you do.
Because the unknown isn’t that scary. Oftentimes, it’s enlightening and exciting. Good or bad, you’ll be inspired by what you find out, and you’ll learn along the way.
Plus, I’m certain this time I’ve finally got it all figured out. I think.