26 September 2023

Making decisions in the face of uncertainty

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It’s easy to freeze-up when faced with decisions that don’t have obvious answers. Travis Bradberry* outlines strategies for dealing with these uncertainties.

Our brains are hardwired to make much of modern life difficult.

This is especially true when it comes to dealing with uncertainty.

On the bright side, if you know the right tricks you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and handle uncertainty effectively.

Our brains give us fits when facing uncertainty because they’re wired to react to it with fear.

This worked great eons ago, when cavemen entered an unfamiliar area and didn’t know who or what might be lurking behind the bushes.

That’s not the case today and this mechanism, which hasn’t evolved, is a hindrance in the world of business where important decisions must be made every day with minimal information.

Successful people are able to override this mechanism and shift their thinking in a rational direction.

It requires emotional intelligence (EQ) and to boost your EQ, you have to get good at making sound decisions in the face of uncertainty, even when your brain fights against this.

Fear not — there are proven strategies you can use to improve the quality of your decisions when your emotions are clouding your judgment.

What follows are some of the best strategies that successful people use in these moments.

They quiet their limbic systems:

The brain’s limbic system responds to uncertainty with a knee-jerk fear reaction, and fear inhibits good decision-making.

People who are good at dealing with uncertainty are wary of this fear and spot it as soon as it begins to surface.

Once they are aware of the fear, they label all the thoughts that try to intensify it as irrational fears — not reality — and the fear subsides.

Throughout the process, they remind themselves that a primitive part of their brain is trying to take over and the logical part needs to be in charge.

They stay positive:

Positive thoughts quiet fear and irrational thinking by focusing your brain’s attention on something completely stress-free.

You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about.

When things are going well and your mood is good, this is relatively easy.

When you’re stressing over a tough decision and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge.

In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small.

The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative due to the stress of uncertainty.

They embrace that which they can’t control:

We all like to be in control.

People who feel they’re at the mercy of their surroundings never get anywhere in life.

However, this desire can backfire when you see everything you can’t control or don’t know as a personal failure.

People who excel at managing uncertainty aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s causing it.

In other words, successful people live in the real world.

They don’t paint any situation as better or worse than it actually is, and they analyse the facts for what they are.

Don’t be afraid to step up and say:

“Here’s what we don’t know, but we’re going forward based on what we do know.

“We may make mistakes, but that’s a lot better than standing still.”

They focus only on what matters:

The people who are the best at making decisions don’t waste their time getting stuck on decisions where the biggest risk is looking foolish in front of their co-workers.

When it comes down to it, almost every decision contains at least a small factor of uncertainty.

Learning to properly balance the many decisions on your plate, however, allows you to focus your energy on the things that matter and to make more informed choices.

They don’t seek perfection:

Emotionally intelligent people don’t set perfection as their target because they know there’s no such thing in an uncertain situation.

When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure.

They don’t dwell on problems:

Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state.

When you fixate on the problems that you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinders performance.

When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance.

They know when to trust their gut:

Our ancestors relied on their intuition — their gut instinct — for survival.

Since most of us don’t face life-or-death decisions every day; we have to learn how to use this instinct to our benefit.

Often we make the mistake of talking ourselves out of listening to our gut instinct, or we go too far in the other direction and impulsively dive into a situation.

People who successfully deal with uncertainty recognise and embrace the power of their gut instincts.

They’re able to identify when they’re being overly influenced by their assumptions and emotions or by another person’s opinion, for example.

Their ability to filter out the feelings that aren’t coming from their intuition helps them focus on what is.

People who deal well with uncertainty take the time to practice their intuition.

They start by listening to their gut on small things and seeing how it goes so that they’ll know whether they can trust it when something big comes around.

The ability to strategically manage ambiguity is one of the most important skills you can cultivate in an increasingly uncertain business environment.

*Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. He can be contacted at talentsmart.com.

This article first appeared at talentsmart.com.

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