Why uncertainty scares us


Most people hate uncertainty. It creates anxiety and fear. Will I get a promotion? Will I go to college? Will I win an award? What will an MRI study show? We ask ourselves where the road leads, what is hiding in the shadows on a moss-covered staircase, who is hiding behind a mask.

The inability to know what lies ahead is terrifying. Why? Because our brain considers the unknown to be dangerous. If he doesn’t know what’s around the corner, he can’t keep us safe.

When the future is in question, the brain begins to doubt, makes us act to save. We lose our grip, confidence, and all we strive for is to be safe.

Is there strength in certainty?

Living in uncertainty can turn into torture. To relieve tension, the brain must know where this or that action will lead. Research has proven that we can tolerate pain more easily than uncertainty because pain is undeniable.

The uncertainty that everything is in order at work is worse for health than dismissal. Scientists in England found that research participants who knew for sure that they would receive a painful electric shock felt calmer than those who were told they had a 50% chance of receiving an electric shock.

No matter what happens

Our brain constantly checks and updates our understanding of the world and decides what is safe and what is not. He is constantly on the alert, recognizes, subjects everything to processing, worries. The brain watches over us when we drive on the highway, when we look for our car in a dark parking lot, works with us to ensure that we have time to complete tasks on time.

It never stops. The brain is active, even when we sleep, it works 24 hours 7 days a week, sounds the alarm if it notices something unusual or incomprehensible. When he cannot identify a stranger, an animal or a situation, he turns on the instinct for self-preservation, triggers fears. As a result, we are afraid to fly, or enter an elevator, or even leave the house.

Like an overly nurturing parent guarding a naughty 3-year-old or browsing social media for an eccentric teenager, the brain is always ready to raise the alarm. But just as a parent who overprotects a child prevents him from developing, our super-anxious brain – no matter how well-intentioned he has – prevents us from growing. When we live too long in tension, expectation of something bad, we stop thinking clearly, start to hurt, waste our potential.

Without checking anything, our uncertainty detector mistakenly made us think bad and ruined our lives

The brain hates uncertainty and comes up with explanations, one crazier than the other. A friend didn’t reply to a message, a colleague looked down on us, weren’t we included in the invite list? We assume the worst and jump to conclusions. The brain will do everything to avoid uncertainty.

And after we express everything to the culprit of concern, he or she will look at us in surprise and decide that something is wrong with us. And in fact it is. We abandoned logic for the sake of unsupported assumptions – all in order to achieve certainty. Without checking anything, our uncertainty detector mistakenly made us think bad and ruined our lives.

Look beyond the horizon

While the pursuit of certainty keeps us safe, the “cocoon” that the brain creates can become a prison, preventing us from growing and fulfilling our dreams.

In an effort to minimize harm, the brain fools us into thinking that we are safe, but in fact prevents us from seeing life as it is. It only seems to us that we adequately assess events and our own actions. But this is cheating. In fact, the brain tries to avoid new experiences and prevents us from learning and developing.

Only by accepting the need for change, accepting the fact that life is unpredictable, will we be able to discover in ourselves the ability to learn, we will discover many opportunities instead of dwelling on what is already known.

When faced with a previously unfamiliar plot or a new situation, your brain learns faster.

To get rid of the fear of the unknown, it is important to believe in the worst-case scenario. But at the same time – remind yourself that the unknown can bring unexpected gifts and it is likely that in the end everything will end well. So you can increase your “susceptibility to uncertainty”, stop waiting for the worst and finally take an objective look at the situation and evaluate the positive and negative consequences of actions and events.

Neuroscientists have discovered that uncertainty can benefit the brain because it learns faster when it doesn’t know what the future holds. Under the already known circumstances, he does not need to do anything, he simply follows a learned pattern. But when the situation changes, he has to work.

According to the conclusion of the professor at Yale University Diyol Lee, “when you are faced with a previously unfamiliar plot or a new situation for you, your brain learns faster.” Therefore, it is very important and beneficial to step out of your comfort zone in order to develop your thinking ability, develop mental flexibility and ultimately achieve success.

The road to happiness

Obviously, not everything in life we ​​can change. For example, we cannot undo death. And yet the world is still unpredictable, no matter how desperately we may pretend it is not. And no matter how hard we try, not everything and does not always go according to plan.

By always trying to spread straws, we succumb to fear and continue a fruitless war with ourselves, arguing with life instead of living it. The only way to overcome the uncertainty of life is to accept it with joy.

Whatever life has in store for us, even if it is very scary and difficult, only by opening up to change can we cope with fear and anxiety. On the way to the goal, a lot of interesting and unknown things await us. Perhaps, looking around the corner, we will find many unexpected and beautiful things that we did not expect to find in ourselves, and thanks to this we will be able to become stronger and win.

About the expert: Brian Robinson is a psychotherapist and professor at the University of North Carolina.

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