Every day we are faced with an enormous flow of information, to the point that it can become chaotic and contradictory. We are also forced to make dozens of decisions, often without being completely sure of the results. However, while we are constantly conditioned by uncertainty, we tend to have a deep aversion to insecurity and want to reduce it by all means.
Such is the obsession with safety and fear of uncertainty that a very curious study conducted at University College London revealed that people are calmer when they know in advance that they will be shocked. Anxiety increases when they know there is only a 50% chance of getting the electric shock. We often prefer the misery of certainty to probability which includes uncertainty.
How to deal with the different types of uncertainty?
We are used to talking about uncertainty with capital letters and singular, but psychologist Paul KJ Han has listed three types of uncertainty. Since uncertainty is part of life and, no matter how hard we try, we cannot completely eliminate it, it is better to know it thoroughly because different types of uncertainty require different coping strategies.
1. Uncertainty by probability
This type of uncertainty refers to those situations in which it is difficult or impossible to determine the level of risk. We do not know what will happen or even how likely it is to obtain certain results if we make one or the other decision. It is a situation in which many variables that intervene and determine the final results are beyond our control.
In this scenario, we tend to develop an optimistic bias. We think we are less at risk than others and less likely to get sick or suffer trauma. Therefore, before making any decisions, we must make sure we also contemplate the worst-case scenarios. It does not mean being pessimistic, but observing life objectively and contemplating as many scenarios as possible.
The second step is learning to flow. When we don't know the probabilities, we have to open up to the possibility that anything can happen. Therefore, we must prepare for everything and be willing to flexibly adapt to what happens.
2. Uncertainty from ambiguity
Uncertainty due to ambiguity refers to those situations in which we have to make decisions, but we only have inaccurate, insufficient or contradictory information. Consequently, the data we have is not sufficient to make an informed decision. We oscillate between two antagonistic directions because we do not have decisive data.
To address this type of uncertainty, we must start from the awareness that many of the situations we will have to face have a high degree of ambiguity. Every decision implies a gain, but also a loss. Therefore, we must get used to the idea that we cannot always win.
In these cases, it is important to review our sources of information, as some are probably more reliable than others. It is not the same to witness something or to have someone tell you about it. Furthermore, it is not the same as telling you about it from a trusted person or a simple acquaintance. To eliminate uncertainty, it is usually sufficient to carefully evaluate the information that we will give relevance to according to our objectives.
3. Uncertainty due to complexity
This type of uncertainty arises when a problem is difficult to understand, either because it is a new situation or because we lack experience. When we fail to understand what is happening we feel even more disoriented and scared, so the first cognitive step is to try to connect all the dots.
Sometimes it may be enough to ask for advice from a third person unrelated to the situation because they can judge from a more detached perspective. Other times we have to take a psychological distance from what is happening, which means emotionally disconnecting from the problem and taking time to decide.
In other cases it is necessary to investigate further, investigate the causes of the problem and discover the consequences in order to understand what is happening. But we must keep in mind that we cannot always remove the veil of ambiguity, so sometimes we just have to search within ourselves, connect with our intuition and use logic to make the best decision.
In any case, whatever the type of uncertainty, it is worth remembering the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Be patient with anything that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language.
“Don't look for the answers now that you cannot understand because you are not ready to live them. The key is to live it all. Live the questions. Maybe one day away you will find the answers, gradually and without realizing it. "
After all, life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. And uncertainty is part of it.