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5 Tools to Convert Uncertainty Into Rocket Fuel

Feb. 2, 2016 Psychology Today

As kids in Hawaii, we encountered new adventures every weekend—new underwater caves, trails, and cliffs from which to dive. Every new challenge inspired excitement and uncertainty—much like the rewarding steps we take in our lives and professions.

Cliffs were an especially prickly animal, for example. We would first swim the pool below for jutting rocks, examine the flow of the waterfall or surf, and test for undertows. During our climb, we then would examine the possibly perils on the trip down. At the top, we would find the surest foothold from which to dive. When it came time to jump, we used the reassurance from our extensive reconnaissance as fuel. Then, there was the increasing rage of wind in our ears, and sploosh!–the exhilaration of having pushed through the uncertainty coursed through our veins like a life-giving drug.

Those of us always conquering the next goal use uncertainty—wittingly or not—to take the right steps toward our best lives safely and smartly. What’s more, those of us who embrace it know it as part of a magical process. Working through uncertainty is much like sales professionals who know that every “no” is a small victory—one more step toward “yes.”

Conversely, uncertainty paralyzes so many who don’t brave it properly. Here are some ways to turn the nuisance of uncertainty into virtue in your life.

  1. Ask yourself what makes the future more dangerous? Would you ever find love? Would you get a job after you graduated high school or college? Would you survive learning to ride a bike? Most of these things likely worked out well for you, but weren’t you just as worried about them as you are now about the future? So what’s different? Evidence. We’ve survived the past. But the past was a series of little moments to be lived just like the future. There is no reason to be any more scared of each future tiny moment you will experience than the present moment or the one that immediately preceded it.
  2. Work your best- and worst-case scenarios like world class athletes and the Navy SEALs. Phil Jackson (history’s greatest NBA coach), Art Shell and Gene Upshaw (NFL Hall of Famers), Jack Nicklaus (PGA golfing great), and Mary Lou Retton (Olympic gold medal gymnast) all visualized their successes over and over before reaching them. Beyond programming the minds of his players into naturally moving toward and achieving their goals, Phil Jackson says that visualization extracts you from the stresses of uncertainty and brings you to your “safe spot,” where you choose fight instead of flight. Speaking of fighting, Cade Courtley, former Navy Seal and founder of Seal Survivor attests that in their training, SEALs repeatedly play out all the worst-case scenarios, physically and in their minds. This gives them the courage to handle a mission from which over 99% of us would surely dart in retreat.

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