This is pillar #1 of a 5 pillar series that I’m writing for adventurous risk-takers looking to change their lives by taking more chances.
Anyone can do something crazy, but it takes a little more finesse to do it great and the steps aren’t as well known as you might think.
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If there’s anything that paralyzes people over and over again, it’s the fear of the unknown. Yet, when it comes to living the lives we truly want, the only path there is to follow is never very well defined.
The natural response of your lizard brain (the part that always tells you to be careful) to uncertainty is immediate fear and rejection. It doesn’t want you to change. The tricky part is that this fear and rejection doesn’t usually broadcast itself in some dramatic display of emotion that you’d only see in a movie. It’s much sneakier and far more subversive.
Here’s what it’s more likely to look like:
- Just 10 more minutes on Facebook
- One more show and then I’ll go to work
- I’m too tired to go out and meet people tonight
- One more day of junk food and then I’ll start my diet
The lizard brain has been a very strong component of our psyches for a long time and it knows all the best tricks to keep you from trying anything that isn’t a sure bet. It knows that it doesn’t have to convince you to give up your idea altogether, it only has to talk you out of doing something crazy right now – to put it off for just a bit longer.
- I’ll work on my music tomorrow. Right now I’m really enjoying this TV show.
- I’ll straighten out my finances tomorrow so I can quit my job. Right now I need to come up with a witty Twitter update.
- I’ll look for a mentor later. I’m really engrossed in this book right now.
It’s a brilliant trick, really, because it can be repeated every day and we’re happy to oblige it. That’s what’s comfortable.
I fall victim to my lizard brain all the time. I face it every time I sit down to write an article. Even this one! Right now!
The only way to beat it is to flip the whole comfort ideal on its head and start working backwards. We have to seek out and embrace uncertainly at all costs. We have to look for opportunities to take risks in everything we do.
Rather than look for more of the same ways to stay comfortable, we have to constantly search for new ways to become uncomfortable. You see, the best way to know that your lizard brain is beating you is by not even realizing that it’s there. When all is calm, he’s resting peacefully.
Checking Facebook, watching TV and reading magazines keeps your lizard brain very happy. Rest assured, though, that he’ll wake right up as soon as you confront him with some crazy idea like selling your art, starting a business, or climbing a mountain. He won’t just wake up, though. He’ll be pissed off.
Sal is pissed off.
Sal is my lizard brain and he’s mad that I’m writing this. In fact, he’s really mad because he knows it’s about him. The best advice I’ve ever gotten about confronting your lizard brain came from a great mentor, Pam Slim. She said the best way to confront the lizard is to give it a name and think of it more as a teammate than an adversary. Boy was she right.
I named mine Sal Mander and made him my pet and it’s made all the difference in the world. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous, but that’s the whole point. By externalizing it and making him my imaginary pet, I can talk to him and thank him for his concern about my welfare – just like you’d pat your dog on the forehead for guarding the door at night.
I can picture Sal sitting on the table across from me, very frustrated that I’m writing about him. And that’s exactly how I know that this is what I should be doing. The more upset Sal is, the more nervous and uncertain I am. And, thus, the more likely that what I’m doing actually has some merit. I can use Sal like a tool to gauge the value of my projects.
The more you try this, the more you’ll realize how fun it can be to face the unknown and try things that aren’t in your comfort zone.
And that’s what embracing uncertainty is all about – not just recognizing or accepting that you have to put up with it to get what you really want, but finding the joy and pleasure that can come from the pursuit itself, because here’s something they never teach you in school: the pursuit has to be fun, because the destination doesn’t matter.
No matter what we’ve been told, nothing in life is guaranteed, even if it seems safe and comfortable. As long as that’s true, we might as well be working on something that makes a difference to us and to others.
Are you embracing uncertainty?