The term, “attached,” above is from an Eastern wisdom context for “attachment” to mean “fixated on” or “obsessed with.” This is different from a Western context that tends to mean “bonding with.”
Knowing v. Discovering
Clarity says, “This problem deserves your attention,” while certainty tells you, “Wait until you know the answer.”
Here’s the rub: the essence of VUCA and the nature of change reveal that we can never know all the factors of any endeavor. In fact, we discover some of the most important variables after we’ve moved forward with our effort.
If we become attached to certainty, we will miss critical signs, patterns, and possible opportunities to alter, question, or clarify our direction.
Sure, we may produce our “expected” outcome, but we may be headed for a cliff. Or, we may miss critical opportunities to learn, innovate, and grow in ways that produce a different or more sustainable result.
The wise person realizes this: nothing is fixed or permanent. The best-laid plans or thoughts are subject to influence. Only a clear mind—unattached to an outcome—can be with the uncertainty that opens us to discovery.
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki points to this level of openness: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”
So, how do we move forward in uncertainty?
Unclear v. Uncertain
There’s a big difference between being unclear and being uncertain.
Being unclear is not knowing which step to take.
Being uncertain is not knowing what the outcome of taking that step will be.
It’s important to distinguish between the two and to be able to recognize whether it’s a lack of clarity or the fear of uncertainty that’s getting in the way.
Unlike certainty, clarity isn’t reached via a tortuous route that can involve our identity or ego. When we personalize outcomes, our ego conflates being certain with being right. We then filter out ideas that question our desired outcome, ignore feedback we do not wish to hear, or deny data that “gets in our way” that we do not wish to see.
According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D., “To create a feeling of certainty, the brain must filter out far more information than it processes. In other words, the more certain you feel, the more likely you are wrong.”
And here’s an important paradox: the more self-assured one is of an outcome, the greater the chance of being caught off guard or paralyzed by fear.
Because clarity is not an emotional state, it is unclouded and unhindered, with the humility to choose the best next step.
- Those who are clear expect to be wrong or surprised and can choose in the face of change.
- Those that must be certain before acting find themselves trapped—unable to act until they are certain.
A time-tested truism states that the only way to predict the future is to create it. Develop yourself to embrace uncertainty: use the result of each step to pave the direction to that future, now.
What You Can Do to Embrace Uncertainty
The good news is that you possess the clarity required for any effort. We simply need to let go of any attachments to goals and outcomes and to trust our choices. These practices offer support:
- Find a mindful practice that creates space in your life for reflection, introspection, and inquiry.
- Notice any disappointment. When it occurs, first, discover any expectations. Then practice tolerating uncertainty by letting go of any attachment to expectations or to the outcome.
- Learn to distinguish between being unclear (not knowing which step to take) and being uncertain (not knowing what the outcome of taking that step will be).
- Practice differentiating outcomes as a fixed event or result from direction as a way forward from one’s intention, purpose, or commitment.
This post complements the blog post: Clear Thinking Cultivates Wisdom
To join our Learning Community, CLICK HERE to receive our Wisdom Weekly Digest.
Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.
As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.