Why Certainty is an Inside Job
I live in Sydney, Australia. But this story could be set in any other big city.
My city is going through major change. New railway lines are being built connecting up suburbs around the CBD, theoretically making travel around our huge city much easier while taking cars off the road. Houses are being knocked down to construct apartment buildings. Roads are being widened to carry the traffic; roundabouts installed to improve traffic flow, roads limited to one-way traffic or speed bumps and chicanes built to discourage the ‘rabbit runs’. Office buildings are being renovated or replaced. You get the drift. Chaos!
When I visit a part of the city I haven’t been to in a while, it’s highly likely it doesn’t look the same. Being visual, I navigate an area by the combined look of the buildings. Now, there’s nothing certain in my city unless it’s that it is constantly changing. It’s like being blindfolded with nothing familiar to navigate by
That’s not unlike life. Technology has single-handedly flipped our world. Business models are being disrupted as savvy business people use technology to create more efficient and effective ways to both access and provide services.
We humans have a challenge with uncertainty – and that’s the environment we now live in constantly. We want the stimulation of variety, but we also need certainty. These two needs work together in balance. If we have too much certainty, we become bored. On the other hand, too much uncertainty can lead to insecurity and anxious behaviour.
This balance is even more precarious when we place greater emphasis on external validation of our identity, our worth, our performance and our behaviours. We can feel like a cork bobbing on a stormy ocean – completely at the effect of what is going on outside ourselves.
People with an external locus of control believe external forces like luck determine their outcomes. This is one of the symptoms of the Imposter Syndrome and feeling we’re not good enough.
There are a number of pathways to counteract the feeling of being at the effect of what goes on around us – and they help us find personal certainty in an uncertain world:
- Find your Purpose. In a world of uncertainty, Purpose – which is our big Why and the contribution we seek to make through our work and lives – provides the only certainty there is. Purpose provides a filter through which to view the world around us. It allows us to see ourselves at our best; to evaluate our actions in the context of whether they move us towards living our Purpose. When we focus on Purpose, we are no longer at the effect of what goes on around us. Rather we are moving through a changing landscape equipped with a GPS that helps us find the path.
- Reclaim yourself. If we give others more credit than we do ourselves, it is likely we don’t see ourselves accurately. Every one of us has a unique combination of talents, capabilities and personal style. The challenge is that many of us either cannot see those capabilities and qualities or fail to recognise their value. We may think what we do isn’t rocket science. We will often attribute success to external factors and blame to ourselves – and this applies particularly (though not solely) to women. We need to reconnect with ourselves because without reclaiming our qualities, capabilities and successes, it can be difficult to see how we can make our unique contribution.
- Understand the power and challenge of possibilities. I grew up as a relentless optimist. It didn’t matter what happened, I would find the silver lining. I had dreams. Life was filled with possibilities. Difficult times would slide off me like teflon. Wonderful … right?! Not so much. I was disconnected from reality. I was an observer who only saw the wonderful bits of life. One of the toughest things I’ve had to do … and the same goes for many of my clients … is to hold reality in one hand and possibility in the other. I need possibilities to keep the dream alive. I also need reality because that gives me my starting point. In working with both, I am taking control of my own process which lessens the impact of other people’s opinions and gives me more personal certainty.
- Increase resilience. Life is filled with ups and downs. Part of increasing personal certainty is to know that we have survived tough times before, perhaps even finding something positive in them. Resilience is not about denying our feelings and emotions about a tough situation. It’s about moving through the natural stages of handling those tough times as quickly as possible, returning to functioning normally. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified those stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The positive psychology movement has certainly taken significant ground here. Optimism, gratitude, finding the silver lining are a few of the ways we can increase our ability to bounce-back.
- Listen for our intuition. When we’re externally focussed, we place far more credence in what others think – particularly those we consider to be ‘authorities’. With our attention out there, we’re looking for the answers in the wrong places. Sure, let’s gather intelligent information. Ultimately, though, the decision is uniquely ours … influenced by our unique perspective on life … and we have to live with the consequences. To hear our intuition, we need to create the space for it. Our gut instinct isn’t always right, so it’s not about blindly following it. However, intuition is a critical factor in our overall intelligence and we ignore it at our own peril.
Developing our internal strength can ground us in turbulent times, allowing us to dive deep and swim, making the most of the opportunities rather than waiting to be thrown up on the beach like flotsam.