The Brain Craves Certainty: But Is It Holding You Back?

Imagine you’re living in pre-modern times, and you have a nearby creek you collect water from. The creek is a mile away from camp and you have to walk through bushland to get there.

The first time you walk the trail you would be “on alert” - ready to react to potential threats. However, the more you become familiar with the trail, the more relaxed you become - as the brain likes to conserve energy for when it otherwise might need it.

If you’ve been walking that same trail for weeks, but suddenly there’s an unfamiliar rustle in the bushes, your attention will be drawn to it and your body will instantly go into fight/flight mode!

If it turns out to be a rabbit (instead of a saber-toothed tiger) then your nervous system will return to pre-existing levels of arousal after a short time. Being in constant “fight or flight” would be exhausting after all!

Our brain is constantly trying to predict the near future - and establish patterns, habits, and routines to conserve energy!

It does this by automating many of our behaviors, and “disregarding” much of the available incoming information.

If the brain is presented with stimuli outside of its prediction, it draws our attention to the stimuli for assessment - so that we may assess the situation and respond accordingly. Without this ability, we would become overloaded with information, and wouldn’t be able to function!

As such, the brain craves certainty!

The brain craves certainty for more effective prediction, so there’s less of a drain on resources. Problems can emerge, however, when we meet this need for certainty in unhealthy and disempowering ways.

If we meet our brain’s need for certainty by hardly-ever leaving the house, then we will likely miss out on many of the magical experiences of life (not to mention the long list of brain-health benefits of getting outdoors or having an active social life).

Whilst this example probably doesn’t apply to most of us, there are less dramatic ways in which we can meet the brain’s need for certainty that could still be holding us back from a more self-directed, positively engaged life of meaning, achievement or fulfillment.

Certainty is about comfort. It’s about what is known. It’s about being able to predict what will happen next.

If there’s a particular area of life you’re feeling stuck in, do you think opportunities to break-through exist within the realm that is certain? - or perhaps opportunities live outside of that realm, in the land of uncertainty!

Of course, one of the best ways to shift into uncertainty long enough to explore new opportunities, to explore possibilities and to learn something new, is to consider what it would be like.

What would it be like if you stepped into the unknown just long enough to learn something new?

Our brain will always try to meet its need for certainty, so it can conserve energy for when it needs it the most. And whilst this “mechanism” can have a strong influence on our lives, it doesn’t mean that it controls us!

By seducing our brain into considering the unknown, with strategic questioning, we can have more control (even more certainty) over uncertainty - where opportunity, possibility, and new-learnings live - and perhaps the answers we’ve been looking for all along!

Thanks for reading.

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