In this episode, I discuss their addiction to certainty and reflect on the difference between certainty and agency. I encourage listeners to take risks and do things that might be uncomfortable in order to make positive changes in life. I draw inspiration from Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, and challenges the bias of certainty that can keep people from making progress. Listeners are encouraged to challenge this bias and consider taking risks to improve their lives.
Think of one thing that you rely on in your life that is causing you to be overly certain because you do X, Y, and Z; everything’s going to be fine in the end. Is there a way you can improve that situation, change things up a little bit to make them even better?
The podcast discusses addiction to certainty and how it can hold us back from making changes in our lives. The speaker reflects on their own addiction to certainty and how it has affected their choices. They encourage listeners to challenge their own addiction to certainty and make small steps towards change.
[Music] Have you ever wondered how much you fear uncertainty and how much that holds you back. That’s what we’ll talk about today. [Music] May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. Nelson Mandela Today we’re going to talk about the difference between certainty and agency and how much control you have over your life.
We talked about in past podcasts about how we can’t imagine the future you. We tend to think that our life of change is over and nothing could be farther from the truth. Our life always changes. There’s a famous quote, “The only enduring thing is change and we have to get used to it.”
When I was a kid and living in this house with my parents and everything was so unstable. And I felt so unsure of my life. You know, I was a trooper. I was tough. I thought about every option. I thought about running away and how I’d make that work. I wrote a whole story about it as a kid, as a short story, which was my plan of how to run away and live in the woods. I was a tough little kid. I don’t know that I would have made it, but you know what. That uncertainty in my life formed me into this very agile, flame-resistant child. I could take on almost anything.
But now it’s been years. I’ve formed my whole life about gaining certainty, making sure that all the unexpected stops happening. Save money so nothing unexpected can happen. You plan for your retirement. So when you retire, nothing unexpected happens. Working on my health right now to reduce the amount of uncertainty I have about how healthy I will be when I’m older. My whole life now, ever since it’s been in my own hands, has been about reducing all that fear and all that openness I had as a kid. But is there some possibility I’ve gone too far. Maybe I’ve made my life too certain, too comfortable. And you might think, or probably think all the time, how can that be. My life is very controlled right now. I went from utter chaos as a kid to minor chaos as a young adult, to now no chaos. And it feels very comfortable. I have not an expensive life, not a life filled with everything I’ve always wanted, but a very comfortable life that is secure in many different ways. And I keep working harder to make it even more secure. But now I wonder, am I too addicted to it.
Part of this came up because my best friend, she loves certainty, she avoids risk, and she won’t listen to this podcast and disagree with any of that. She likes to have everything in its place. And I find myself to be, because I think I handle chaos a little bit better, or at least it doesn’t stress me out as much as it does for her. I can make fun of her at times for just being so risk adverse. She does, and then when she takes them, She analyzes them and determines, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad anyway.” So she will do it. But then I started having some choices to make in my own life. I have a choice coming up that’s meaningful to me and will change the direction my life will go in if I decide to make that choice. And I became very fearful of it. I’ve been stressed out about it.
I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it. And the problem is, have I become addicted to certainty too?
The funny thing is I was talking to my friend Kim, was telling her about the podcast and telling her about how half of the job to get a podcast out there, obviously you have to be good at parts of it. You know, there’s a technical aspect, there’s a speaking aspect of it, and the writing aspect, which is not my forte in life. I’m much more of a talker than I am a writer. But once you get those things done, the job is to just do it. Get it out on time, be regular about it, look for interesting topics and just do it.
And there used to be that 90s logo back in the day that said, “Just do it.” And there are all sorts of shirts. It’s fourth and 10 in football and you’re inches from the line. “Just do it,” right. It’s a whole bunch of shirts. And for whatever reason, that advertising line meant something to me.
So when it came time for my job, I was not making enough money, I was struggling with my bills, and it became evident I needed to find another job. I found my salary slip for one of my jobs where it asks you to list all your past pay, and boy, it was dismal. I was really making peanuts. It’s amazing to me how little I lived on. My friend joked that she worked a summer job and she almost made as much as I did during the summer that I did for the entire year.
But I took that leap. It was nerve-wracking to me and got a better job, got one that paid decently. And in that course of nine years that I worked on that job, changed occupations, took on more responsibilities, got paid more, and it changed the course of my life because I went from someone who was very low paid to someone who was pretty well paid. And it meant then I could start affording my bills. I could start going on vacation every once in a while. I could get a toy here or there. It really altered how everything worked.
But unless I took that leap and tried that hard thing and did the thing that I hate doing, not sure why it is. You know, there’s some people who change jobs every three years. And I do it a decade or more. I hate it. I don’t know why I feel like I’m cheating on the old company. I feel like I’m disloyal and it disrupts that whole certainty thing in me. And so now that I’ve been reflecting back on it, I realize I’m almost as bad as my friend is. There’s things that she won’t change because she feels certain about it. But I’m the same way when it comes to jobs, when it came to my dating life, I hated it. I hated that kind of change. And some people thrive in it. Some people really enjoy it. But if you get yourself stuck into those situations, you never work your way out.
And so this is where I was saying to my friend, Kim, I said, what are the secret to life is you just do the thing. It’s not about necessarily how talented you are or where your talents are at. It has to do with the fact that are you doing the thing that you’re supposed to be doing. Maybe applying for that job, maybe reaching out and dating that person you’ve wanted to date, seeing where it goes, or changing other decisions in your life.
So the striking thing was, is I was talking to her about this and maybe that this is the answer to life is to just do the thing you need to do. Then on the way home on the plane flight back from this customer visit, the podcast came from Optimal Daily Living. They’re short podcasts. They last about nine minutes or so every day and they talk about one particular topic or another. They usually read directly from a blog with permission from the author of the blog.
And this one came from Alison Carmen and she was talking about addiction to certainty about how we not just find comfort in certainty, of course, everybody does, but that we get so attached to it it stops our lives. We start growing we stop getting the things that we want and this 10 minutes on a four-hour plane flight just had me spinning. I’m like, oh my gosh not only is this my friend. This is me, too. I’m stuck in this same boat. What if this certainty, this addiction to it, is really holding us back. That’s when I landed, I came home, and I picked up her book, The Gift of Maybe, which we’re going to be talking about in the next podcast or two. It opened my eyes to my own blindedness about what I think might be stopping my life, not from being happy, I’m happy, not from being comfortable, I’m also comfortable, but from moving further, don’t I want things to get better, even if they’re comfortable right now. And so that’s why we’re going to talk about this book. It struck me, I need to move away in an area I have identified from this certainty, because it’s the one thing holding me back. And what’s wonderful about it is we live in this amazing time where we have a lot of choices, choices that people in the past never made. Certainly if you lived in the Middle Ages and your father was a blacksmith and you were a son, well, guess what. You’re a blacksmith or places that have the caste system. My dad grew up not too far from that train crash in Ohio. And everyone worked in mines in this area, worked in certain industries in this area. That was kind of his choice. He was going to either stay on the farm or go work in this industry. And while he did have a choice, he decided to go into the military. It was during Vietnam. It was going to happen anyway, because eventually your number got called up to go to Vietnam. But he left college, went into the military, and it changed his life, mostly for the good, but certainly in a lot of ways for the bad, too. Just because while he was deployed is when he became an alcoholic. I mean, he has eight brothers and sisters and all the men in that family were alcoholics. That’s a big genetic string right there. So it wasn’t just the military, but that’s where he learned that habit for him. He picked a choice. One of the things that got me is a long time ago, I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and it was great. You know, I enjoyed hiking books and hiking books are some of my favorite.
The Bill Bryson one I think is fantastic. And then the movie came out with Reese Witherspoon and I don’t know why. I think I’m one of those audio learners. Somehow when people are speaking to me, it makes more sense to me, it resonates better with me than when I’m reading it. I read a lot. I mean, I have to read a book for almost every podcast episode I do. So reading is not a problem for me. But when I’m trying to learn something, somehow hearing it strikes all the right tones in my brain.
And then it came to that part, it was towards the end of the movie, like I said, the book, fine, but when Reese Witherspoon read this particular part where she says, “What if I forgave myself even though I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done.
What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted to do and needed to do.
What if I was sorry. I wouldn’t do anything differently than what I had done.
That whole part of it when she was talking about doing the thing that she had wanted to do.
She didn’t have to walk 1100 miles to forgive herself. She didn’t have to walk 1,100 miles to decide it’s time to change direction and go a different path.
But everything that led up to her life at that point brought her to this height and brought her to this point where she realized she had to take a different path.
And I don’t know why, but then I bought a magnet and put it on my refrigerator that just says, “What if. ” Because what if I just lost the weight. What if I got myself into a financial position where I wasn’t frightened anymore.
What if. And all the things. So, my things weren’t her things.
Her things were certainly quite different than what I was. But it struck me that I have the what if too. This is not just a what if for her. It’s a what if for me. And what if I stepped out. And how did she do a hike.
She says, “I walked and I walked. My mind shifted into primal gear that was a void of anything but forward motion. I walked until walking became unbearable, until I believed I couldn’t walk one more step. And then I ran.” Cheryl Strayed.
Wow, you know, it’s funny, I’m a hiker, I like hiking.I did that 100 plus mile hike in England. And for some reason, I didn’t think it was going to be hard.I’m like, I’ve hiked 15 miles a day.It‘s no big deal. I’ve done it before. Yeah, but hiking 15 miles a day is a lot different than going to bed and then hiking 15 miles the next day. And for the next eight days. It’s a whole other ball of wax where you have to get up.
And because this was a guided tour of a sort, where they were bringing our luggage to the next place, I was with a friend who paid good money too to join me on this hike. There was no turning back.
So she’s right about hiking, that you just keep walking and it becomes the only thing in your brain. There were days where I was just beat up. We had a very large series of hills we had to climb. And by the end of it, I had a look on my face and my friend just kind of laughed at me.
She goes, “Are you having fun still.
” And I said, “Yeah, I am having fun.
” And she goes, “You don’t look like you’re having fun. ” And it was because I had such a face on there, but it was determination.
I am going to walk that next step.
And that hike taught me perseverance, to keep going, to keep doing the next thing.
And so I understand, obviously, my hike was a lot smaller than Cheryl Strayed’s hike, but it suddenly brought out in my mind what I needed to do in order to change my life.
I had to keep walking, even when I didn’t feel like walking, even when I wanted to stop walking, I had to keep walking.
When you’re in that position where you have no choice, like I was when I was a kid, I didn’t have the choice to stop studying because I needed to go to college.
I didn’t have the choice to stop being resilient. Do you know I’ve worked a job since I was nine years old. I babysat. I answered phones in the grade school I worked in office. So during lunch, when the person who answered the phones wanted to have some lunch, I sat in that room and answered the phone for her. I was, must have been 10.
And I then went on to washing dishes for the high school. I always had a job because I had to have a job. There was just no money in my family.
And if I didn’t make money on my own, I couldn’t do some of the things I did in high school. I couldn’t have fun with my friends. I couldn’t have joined some of the clubs that I joined. I couldn’t have gone to college. So I kept working. And it taught me that perseverance too.
And maybe what happens when we get addicted to certainty, we lose that ability to fight hard for the thing we really need to do instead of the thing that is getting us by, doing okay by us and taking off on that next step.
There was a couple of articles, one of which that was in psychology today, talked a little bit about certainty and how our brain likes certainty because it is on the outlook all the time for us to find a threat, find something that’s going to cause us pain.
In the end, what we’re trying to do is to avoid pain and have good things, being able to eat, you know, being able to feel safe at night.
That’s how our brain kept us going when we were living in huts and being chased by tigers. And because we try to be this prediction machine, we’re trying to predict when we’re going to do something that’s going to cause us a threat.
That’s why we get an uneasy feeling when we walk down a street at night, that’s too dark. Or when we got ourselves into a situation where we probably shouldn’t have done that. Gone to a party maybe we shouldn’t have gone to, and suddenly we were feeling that threat.
It’s the thing that causes us to survive and causes us to survive for all these years but that threat prediction that feeling like there’s too many possible outcomes there’s too much information a lot of times causes us just to default back into the thing that we’ve been doing because at least that’s predictable at least I know that if I go to my job every day X Y & Z is gonna happen Now maybe you’re not going to have a good outcome when you retire or maybe you’re not going to be able to pay your bills because you’re just not making enough money or maybe you’re just not that happy.
But that ability to try to predict what’s going to happen can keep us down. So that article was written by David Rock, PhD. I’m going to put a link to it in my show note. But it struck me as something really genius about how our brains in that way can hold us back.
And when we talk about biases, you know, we talked about in the past sometimes about our biases that we think the future is going to be better or the past was better.
It’s bias is a shortcut thinking that tries to tell us what’s the best way to go. That we think what we have always done is always going to be better and that’s called the bias of certainty.and that state will keep us in that position all the time because our bias sometimes can be what’s new is risky and what is always been the thing in my life is a safer choice.
But our brains try to build in this system, he said, that tries to give us this feeling of knowing that we understand what’s going on because that certainty tells us we know what’s going on.
If I go every day to my job, this is going to happen. Or if I exercise the same way every day, I know the predictability of the health I have. The problem is, is we don’t know. So if you worked for a company and you go into work and you think it’s fairly stable and every day is the same, that may be true.
But we see a lot of people who worked in companies many years and eventually get laid off during a bad economic time, find out that it’s not necessarily true that the same activity every day is going to result in the same benefit every day.
They may go into work and find out that their job has been cut, or they may go into work and find out that their job significantly changed.
But somehow in your brain, you think, if I just do the thing I’ve always been doing, it’s going to be fine. It’s going to work out the same way. And yet, then when we start challenging our certainty and start trying to go after different things, suddenly we feel unsettled. If we see our company change, if we see the stock market change, we start to feel very worried and anxious about it. I mean, I know I have too.
And so that uncertainty can cause certain problems with us because we try to avoid feeling that way. We don’t want to feel anxious. We want to feel happy. We don’t want to feel stressed.
We want to feel relaxed and certain But we don’t get that choice We can’t again like I said in the podcast about the future know what the future is going to hold for us And so all we can do is make the next best choice and Do the thing i’m trying to do the thing right now someday i’ll talk about it, but It means taking the next step and even if that causes me To have some bad nights of sleep causes me anxiety, I may actually be preserving the parts of my life I like by taking the next step.
Because if we don’t reach out and we don’t try the new thing and we don’t try to improve our lives, it may not be that we’re going to stay the same.
It may mean that we’re going to take a deep step downwards or have a change that we did not expect to have.
So So let me put that challenge to you.
Think of one thing that you rely on in your life that is causing you to be overly certain that you know because you do X, Y, and Z, everything’s going to be fine in the end.
And think, is there a way I can actually improve that situation, change things up a little bit to make them even better.
All right, everyone. Thanks so much.Again, I appreciate you listening to the podcast.
Please remember to subscribe, tell a friend, let someone know about this podcast, and if there’s anything you have to let me know, you can find me at jill@smallstepspod.
com. I’ve gotten several emails. I’ve answered them all.And if you have topics that you’re interested in or comments about what makes you feel addicted to certainty. I’d love to hear them.
And just remember, our long hike through uncertainty gets better with small steps.
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