~ Article written by Shawn Dwyer and L. Michael Hall PhD ~
self leadership
“In my opinion … As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
Albert Einstein

Life is uncertain.

Now while for many of us, that’s obvious, amazing as it may seem, there are many, many people who disagree. They think about things in such a way and sort for things in such a way, that they actually believe that things are certain and that they can be certain. And they want certainty. They want assurances, securities, and guarantees. Some of those who think this way are the people who we say are risk-averse, late adoptors of new things, and/or oriented toward the past. But not all of them. Many are the “average” people who you meet everyday.
Yet the truth be known, just about everything in life is uncertain. Your health is uncertain- you could suffer from an accident or disease at nearly any time. Your finances are uncertain- the economy could take a hit, your job could be made redundant, slander could arise to jeapordize your career, the currency could plummet. Just about everything is uncertain. You and I fool ourselves whenever we start thinking about things as if we know what’s going to happen. I think it was Mark Twain who said that only death and taxes are certain.

Why are things uncertain?

Well that one is easy- change. Everything is constantly changing. We live in a process universe that at the most fundamental level is comprised of “a dance of electrons.” So the things that seem most stable and certain and unchanging, the mountains and continents are themselves in a constant state of change.

There’s also something else- knowledge.

What we know is constantly changing. This is the primary source of uncertainty for us humans- there is very little that we can know with certainty. After all, all of our mental models of the world are but simulations, maps, and ideas and they are plagued with fallible and limited human thinking. What you think you know inevitably and inescapably suffers from the limitations of knowledge itself.
It is forever influenced by your cognitive distortions, biases, and fallacies. And given that you do not even know all of your cognitive limitations and biases, what you think you are certain of is more than likely contaminated in numerous ways.
This leads to one of the inevitable challenges of being human- facing your everyday life and your decisions about your future which is honeycombed with multiple uncertainties. Whether you realize it or not, everyday you face an unknown future. Everyday you face multiple decisions involving all sorts of unknown factors regarding which you have no guarantees and no certainties about how it will pan out. All of this raises certain questions:
How do you face such uncertainties?
How do you handle the limitations of your knowledge in the face of uncertainty?
How do you solve thorny problems or make good sound judgments without full knowledge or understanding of something?

There are degrees of uncertainty

While uncertainty is a challenge and is here to stay, not all uncertainty is the same. In NLP we start from the premise that “the map is not the territory”-but there is a territory “out there,” and much of it can be discovered and mapped so that we can navigate the territory successfully. That’s the value of any map- to guide our thinking, feeling, and actions. And the better the mapping, the better we can adapt, adjust, face, and deal with a given reality. Nor does a map have to be “true” in any absolute sense, we only ask that it be useful. That it works. That we can use it to guide our responses so that we can achieve what’s important.

Mentally Mapping

Now the process of mentally mapping things is the essence of thinking. We “map” things with ideas that we construct in our minds as representations of the world. Yet doing this involves a lot of uncertainty. How accurately are you representing things? How useful are your ideas? Do they lead you to be able to function effectively in a given territory?
And the essence of thinking shows up in how we language things. That’s because we mostly think in language as we use words and statements to encode our thinking. So to the degree that you are thinking effectively and being able to articulate in an effective language your ideas and understandings- to that extent you will be able to construct effective mental models. This is where we are all fundamentally challenged. NLP defines this challenge as that of the inherent challenge of map-making or modeling. Namely, when you create a map, you leave elements out (deletions), you generalize and over-generalize things (generalizations) and you change, alter, and transform things (distortions).

It’s not easy to create accurate and useful mental maps about the territory.

How you think and language and reason determines the quality of the blueprints that you construct. And these cognitive processes involve not only the modeling limitations (deletions, generalizations, and distortions), but other cognitive distortions (the childish thinking patterns that we learn as we learned to think), the cognitive fallacies that we inherit from our families and cultures, and the cognitive biases (that offer us shortcuts in thinking).

Yes, life is uncertain- that much is certain

And there are tools by which you can handle all of the uncertainty in a healthy and effective way. Once you accept this inevitability- then set out to learn how to do high quality executive thinking.
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