If the adage is true that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, how can we be confident when the chance of failing or getting it wrong, so commonly exists? Statistically, definitionally and neurologically speaking - you are confident when you are certain ENOUGH about the truth or success of something.
• We can be confident we’ll ace the project because we’re certain enough about our skills.
• We can be confident we’ll meet our revenue goal because we’re certain enough about the data we used to make our projections.
• We can be confident our team will make the deadline because we’re certain enough, based on our history, that our work is often done ahead of schedule.
At the same time, we’re also aware that we could hit a roadblock in the project we didn’t plan for, that shifts in the economy could impact spending, or a colleague could give notice and leave the team short on resources. Still, we feel confident.
So, what happens when we’re faced with situations where uncertainty is staring us in the face?
If you think you can’t be confident when you’re dealing with unpredictable outcomes, think again. Literally: think again. When you make the decision to be confident – that you are certain ENOUGH about the truth of something – this happens in the prefrontal cortex of your brain. When you’re calm, confident and in control, it’s this part of your brain that determines whether situations are familiar and comfortable, or potentially harmful and scary.
If the situation is a threat, that information travels down to your brain stem which has one purpose: to protect you. This is what happens when we feel too uncertain. When this part of your brain is activated, the impulser to survive is dominating. As a result, you’re more likely to react impulsively versus respond thoughtfully. For example, you might get angry and lash out literally without thinking or you may withdraw to avoid dealing at all with the situation.
These fears don’t have to be tangible, either. Human beings have a built fear of not belonging and being “cast out of the tribe”. We stress and obsess over anything we might say or do that shows us in a poor light. Our brains don’t know the difference between what’s real and imagined. In these moments your brain is focused on its number one priority - to protect you from:
This is exactly what we want to happen during legitimate emergencies, but not when we’re introducing ourselves to new people at work. When you are anxious or feeling rejected, your brain is so busy trying to “calm down”, you can’t take in the information that would help you make a confident decision.
The great news is that we can teach our brains how to make better, confident decisions. In other words, you’ll be certain enough. Here’s how:
• Make peace with what you don’t know. You’re never going to have all of the information you need and your brain is going to tell you that’s a reason to panic. The key isn’t to be confident about what will or won’t happen, but confident that you’ll be okay, no matter the outcome.
• Talk truth to brainpower. Don’t focus on all the ways things could potentially go wrong or didn’t go well after the fact. The less your brain equates decision-making with anxiety, the less anxious you’ll be the next time you need to make a decision and don’t have full certainty on your side.
• Breath to soothe your nervous system. Deep breathing brings your parasympathetic nervous system online, which in turn, calms your body and helps you focus. It’s also how you take the reins from your brain stem and hand them back to the prefrontal cortex where rational thinking takes place. Calming your nervous system tells your brain, “Hey, we’ve got time and resources to think this through.