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Episode #153 — “I’m absolutely certain that certainty is bad!”

Our brains are wired to perceive uncertainty as a potential threat to our survival. In response, we seek out certainty wherever we can find it, preferring certainties – no matter how painful or uncomfortable they may be – to the unknown and the uncertain.

Without awareness of this, we ignore facts, reasoning, and arguments – however compelling – that threaten our certainty. Though certainty addiction appears in many areas of life, nowhere more prominently than politics and religion.

Remaining deeply entrenched in certainties leaves people unwilling or unable to question them.

“Certainty is a cruel mindset.
It hardens our minds against possibility.”

— Ellen Langer

Those willing to do the deep work of questioning must bring the wisdom of doubt to bear on all our certainties and beliefs. How else are we to unearth possibilities previously hidden by our collective addiction to certainty?

Once trapped by certainty, we close ourselves off and fail to question our own beliefs and assumptions. That’s when we stop listening to others. That’s when we “listen to win” or “listen to fix.” Both of those options further cement us in the sense that we know better than … everyone else.

When I find myself feeling “right” (seeing others as “wrong” is the dead giveaway), I ask myself: “What do I believe?” This shifts me out of the mindset of knowing and creates space for other, new, different beliefs. The second step is “Where am I wrong?” When I take ownership of a role in the moment and open up room for shit, I welcome uncertainty and expose my underlying assumptions that have led me into the quicksand of certainty. Lastly comes the time to “listen to connect” and “listen to learn” — to suspend my judgment and let the understanding of the issue at hand be shaped by my core beliefs and those of the others involved. This is how I release myself from the quicksand created by certainty addiction.

Where are you trapped by your certainty?


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