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Craving for Certainty

Are you a person who wants to plan things well in advanced and feels irritated, if things do not go as planned? Or do you prefer leaving things open and enjoy seeing life emerging in the moment?

Personally, I like to plan bigger projects, like house renovation, but leave open more casual events, like which lunch restaurant to choose. Despite the planning things don’t usually evolve as planned. However, the act of thinking beforehand brings me a good sense of manageability.

Aaron Antonovsky defined his concept “sense of coherence” to include manageabilty, comprehensibility and meaningfulness. He claims that these factors are important for our health, stress and coping. Manageability is a belief that you have the skills, ability or the resources necessary to take care of things, and that things are manageable and within your control. Comprehensibility is a belief that things happen in an orderly and predictable fashion and a sense that you can understand events in your life and reasonably predict what will happen in the future. Finally, meaningfulness is a belief that things in life are interesting and a source of satisfaction, that things are really worth it and that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens.

We humans seek for certainty. When things around are as expected, our brains can work on autopilot and we can do what we are doing without paying attention to it. This preserves brain energy and we can focus on something else. Like talking while driving. The minute (or actually the microsecond) something unexpected happens we pause talking and concentrate fully on driving.

Uncertainty makes us feel uneasy and that is the reason what makes us seek for certainty and manageability. According to David Rock, a pioneer in brainbased coaching, “not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This diminishes memory, undermines performance, and disengages people from the present.” However, mild uncertainty is useful. It creates curiosity and attracts attention. This is what good marketers are utilising, when advertising or presenting their products. They create interest by deliberately creating some uncertainty. Rock says that “new and challenging situations create a mild threat response, increasing levels of adrenalin and dopamine just enough to spark curiosity and energize people to solve problems.”

So, what is important is the right balance between certainty and uncertainty. At work place we crave to understand what is expected from us, but we dislike tight role discriptions. We want to hear and understand the rational for the change, but we hate being micromanaged at every step during the change. We feel unsure, if we are informed too early with not enough facts. We feel disengaged and disappointed, when informed too late.

In today’s complex organisation and business life dealing with the right balance of uncertainty is in the core of (self)leadership. Leading and being led is the art of interaction. What makes leadership an art is because we are all unique and different. What works with one person, does not suit for the other. This requires sensitivity and improvisation, which are the core skills of artists. What is important for you as the artist of your life?