If you have ever felt a bit under the weather and stared glassy-eyed at the myriad of choices of over-the-counter cold remedies available at a pharmacy, you know how overwhelming choices can be.
This “confusion of choice” was recently proven in a study where doctors were asked what they would choose for a patient who seemed to need surgery but had one non-surgical, medical option that could be tried first. Almost 50% said they would have the patient try the non-surgical option. But when the same situation was presented again, this time with two non-surgical options, the percentage of doctors who said they would have the patient try either non-surgical choice dropped to just over 25%!
Choices can be overwhelming.
While we often say we want freedom and choice, we often crave the opposite – the security of certainty. There is a part of us that wants the world to be simple, this or that, good or bad, us or them, black or white, either or.
Seeming certainty is part of why rigid religious dogma and the notion that of a deity in control of everything are appealing to so many people. (Remember: wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true.)
Here is one of my favorite phrases:
Dubium incommodum est. Certum ridiculum est.
Translated this means:
Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Certainty is ridiculous.
(If you want this on a bumper-sticker, click here.)
And this is our problem.
We know that certainty is ridiculous, but we don’t like the option of uncertainty.
We know that the world isn’t certain – there seem always to be a multitude of choices for us to make.
And that creates anxiety. Andrew Oswald, a professor at Warwick University, wrote something I think we all instinctively know. He wrote: “Lack of control is what tends to induce stress in human beings.”
Our perceived lack of control is why we love routines.
(And that’s also why we hate traffic and airplane delays – we’re not in control.)
We need to get comfortable with non-certainty!
Art, science, and religion all require non-certainty. Here’s a fabulous quote by Erich Fromm:
Creativity requires the courage
to let go of certainties.
Creating art requires a lack of certainty. And, science does too. In neither can you start off knowing what it is that you will create or find… for if you knew the exact result at the start, the journey wouldn’t take you anywhere! Beauty and truth unfold as part of a process. And, the same is true with regard God and having a conceptualization of the divine… it’s flowing, fluid, and nothing that can be fixed, doubt-free.
In the language of the spiritual-religious, we are talking about surrender and faith.
We know we ought to be less certain, which means being in less control. However, most of us are horrible at not being in control.
While I’ve writen articles and recorded podcasts about this, I’m no expert. I’m fine with pockets of lack of control – like allowing myself to feel out of control on a roller coaster or to not censor my dreams when they get scary. (This dream one is a relatively new ability for me.) But, as far as letting the universe guide me to where I ought to be, I’m not so willing.
And, to be honest, this topic is very “up” for me right now. There are a lot of UNCERTAINTIES in Jane and my life. I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been with so many unknowns, but I’m not quite sleeping as soundly as my 18 month old.
So let me hereby advocate that we all try again – as absurd as it might seem, let’s try to get comfortable with our lack of control.
Enjoy the ride.
Relax as much as you can.
Neither you nor I are in control.
Of that I’m pretty certain.
(And, yes, I too thought this article is a nice companion to last week’s article Not Do!)