A craving for certainty

It seems that currently most people are dealing with uncertainty; if not properly addressed, this can have a detrimental effect on our mental and emotional well-being. It feels like nothing is certain anymore. No one can tell what tomorrow will bring, and that is hard for us to deal with. We do not cope well in situations where the future feels unpredictable. It makes us feel tense, unsafe and anxious, and our brain plays no small part in all of this.

Our brain craves certainty and avoids uncertainty as though it is pain. When we can’t predict the outcome of a situation, an alert goes to the brain to pay more attention. A threat response occurs, and this craving for certainty follows the same circuits that are used when we have a primary need, like the one for food. In that sense, we have a huge hunger for certainty and in the absence of that, a response is triggered in our limbic system. Our brain detects that something is wrong, and our ability to focus on other issues is then diminished. Our brain doesn’t like uncertainty, and views it as something to be avoided, like we avoid pain, and it will do almost anything to address that. The main focus then becomes to ease the situation in whatever way possible, as long as the uncertainty goes away. It is much like when we are very hungry and then eat anything we can lay our hands on to still the hunger. Once the craving is met, there is a sense of relief, and we can relax. It comes as no surprise then that politicians and entire industries like insurance brokers, financial forecasters, and future analysts capitalize on this human craving for certainty.

Change and uncertainty go hand in hand. The massive amount of changes we have been faced with during the past few months has triggered stress responses in our brain, and we are all dealing with it in our own unique way. Some of us deal with uncertainty by trying to predict the future. We do so by gathering as much information we can. Being informed is always useful, but apart from the fact that nobody can tell with certainty what tomorrow will bring, the problem is that we can easily drown in the flood of contradictory information, thus leaving us feeling even more overwhelmed and uncertain. As avid seekers of certainty, we should also keep in mind that there are voices out there that are ready to unashamedly exploit the situation by deliberately creating more uncertainty to prepare the ground for some solution that only they can offer, which will supposedly bring us certainty. That is why we need to be discerning and very careful whom we choose to lend our ears and eyes to in a time like this.

A more useful way to deal with uncertainty is to learn how to handle change better. If we can become more flexible and adaptable, we will get through this time more easily. Like a palm tree facing the strong wind of a hurricane, we too need to bend and yield to the storm. We should stand firm by believing in ourselves and developing an inner knowing that soon the storm will pass and the sun will shine again. Life has an interesting way to take us exactly where we are meant to be. Let our craving for certainty not drive us mad. Befriend uncertainty. Ride the storm. It wants to take you to exciting new destinations. You can do it.

“Don’t pray for better days, pray for a better attitude to withstand uncertain days.”

― Mac Duke The Strategist