How to thrive in uncertain times

Do you feel despair when headlines bombard you with bad news? Uncertainties about the economy and unemployment rates may be overwhelming. Yet you can flourish despite not knowing what to expect. Dan Gardner, author of 'Future Babble', explains how you can change your thinking to cope with uncertainty


How to thrive in uncertain times

1. Understand your craving for certainty.

We naturally need to have a sense of control and not knowing what comes ahead is unsettling. So to ease our anxiety we seek information about the future through religion, conspiracy theories, superstition and more rationally, through experts' predictions about what comes ahead. And when an expert predicts that something will happen in five years and it does, the media call them a guru. But if five years pass and nothing happens, it’s just forgotten. Our brain tends to select the bits of information that matches our preconceptions and ignores the rest. And even though experts' predictions keep failing, they are attractive because they satisfy our psychological craving for certainty.

2. Identify which type of thinker you are: hedgehog or fox.

People deal with uncertainty in different ways. According to professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Phil Tetlock, there are two types of thinkers. ‘Hedgehogs’ are uncomfortable with complexity and uncertainty, while ‘foxes’ accept that the world is a complex place and feel more comfortable with uncertainty. Foxes think more analytically than hedgehogs, and tend to gather information from more different sources. They consider the possibility of change and failure and are more likely to accept that they could be wrong.

3. Learn how to think like a fox and let yourself go.

Fox-like thinking is based on humility. Foxes accept they cannot predict the future and so make better decisions with more positive outcomes, even when their prediction is wrong. You don’t need to be accurate to make good decisions. You need more flexibility to live at ease. If you accept that human judgement is fallible, you become more appreciative of your own mistakes. A good exercise to encourage humility and flexible thinking is to write down your own predictions about what you think will happen; hide the paper away; and review your predictions after a few months. You will notice you can fail, just like everyone else.

4. Stop seeing the present as your destiny.

We often make predictions by extending our present moment to the future. When things are good in the present (you have a job and the economy feels solid) you don’t worry too much about the future. You believe it will look just like today, with your salary going just a bit higher. But during periods of economic crises an expert might say things will only get worse. And everyone might think and act like so. But these dangerous predictions based on status quo only create unnecessary fears. Just remember things do get better. We can also adopt a more flexible attitude: when times are good remind yourself it could get bad and be a little cautious; but when times are bad remind yourself that things can get better and be more cheerful.

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Read How to develop mental grit on LifeLabs

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