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Beating Uncertainty in Business, Even if You’re Bad at Basketball

09 Nov 16
Aaron Wallace
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Uncertainty, Bringing Productivity to a..

 The Prophet Inside Your Brain

Our brains are hardwired to scan the environment, detect patterns, and make predictions. Understanding what your friend is saying in an environment that’s too noisy to actually hear the words, is the by product of the prediction machinery in the brain. Your brain even gets imperceptibly happier every time you correctly predict where your foot will land when you are walking. Yet of course we cannot predict everything accurately, and when that uncertainty creeps in, psychological pressure multiplies.

To quote David Rock, “When perceived uncertainty gets out of hand, people panic and make bad decisions.” Have you ever been walking to a meeting in an unfamiliar area, and large portions of the map wouldn’t load on your Smartphone? Instant anxiety. And then what do we do?  We stand there indefinitely, waiting for it to load.  We do this because in the face of uncertainty, the brian enters a unanimously inconvenient no-decision mode.

 It’s like taking a road trip to Seoul from Shenyang

We then stand there, waiting for several minutes, hoping that it will finish loading, when we could simply ask someone else on the street or in a nearby office for directions.

How does this show up at work?

  1. New boss comes in to “shake things up”
  2. New ERP, CRM, OS, or any other IT changes
  3. Is what I wrote in this report, actually what my boss was looking for?
  4. Will I be rejected again during this next sales call?
  5. Will the higher ups accept my proposal?

First I want you to know this, the longer you stay in this no-decision state, the worse it is for you.  Your brain is going to drain excess energy, by remaining on high alert attempting to update information regarding the decision.  The problem is, we can’t always have the most relevant, high quality information that we want, can we? So let’s briefly explore a couple of options that you might have to deal with these scenarios effectively.

Thoughts from a NLPer

1. Turn ambiguity into risk.  Risk is an uncertain outcome with certain probabilities.  Ambiguity is an uncertain outcome with uncertain probabilities. Researchers now know that the brain processes risk with much less overwhelm than it processes ambiguity, which means whenever possible try to downgrade ambiguity to risk.

Talk to your mentor, someone who has been down this road many times before you, and ask her how things might turn out.  Get them to help you to assign likelihoods to the various possible outcomes.  Bonus, if you discover that this particular uncertainty can’t be measured, even that knowledge itself puts your brain at ease, so that’s a fantastic finding.

2. Alternatively, you can change your focus to what you are certain about.  Of course, you don’t know if upper management will respond to your intrapreneurial seizure positively; they may reject you.  But you can be assured about your own performance, can’t you?

You may have heard about the experiment that proved that visualization has enormous advantages.  A psychologist took three groups of basketball players. One group practiced 20 minutes per day shooting free throws.  The next group visualized shooting free throws, perfectly, for 20 minutes per day.  Third group did nothing.  The group that actually showed up and physically practiced only improved one percentage point more than the visualizers!  24% improvement versus 23% improvement.

You can do the same. Watch, listen, and feel feel yourself delivering the perfect pitch. Your smile is bright and wide.  Your stance is powerful, yet non-threatening. Your voice modulates in tone and volume to emphasize various points.  Your metaphors are tight, and your energy is infectious.

Maybe you see the people asking engaging questions.  You might see heads nodding almost imperceptibly in agreement.  You could also see yourself fluidly dealing with objections, just as planned, feeling more confidence by the minute.

Let me hear your thoughts below!

If you been stuck before like I’ve described above, then you know how relieving it is to get out of the uncertainty.  Share this article with a friend or  colleague so they can experience the same good fortune.

Now, I’m curious, what happens to your level of certainty after you’ve spent 15 minutes practicing this perfectly in your mind?  What other other ways have you discovered to tame uncertainty? Let me know what you think in the comments below, even if you aren’t convinced by visualization yet, we can open up an interesting dialogue about it.

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