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The Neuroscience of Managing Uncertainty

By | David Klaasen | Helping You Create Clarity, Inspire Your People & Drive Performance | Retain your best people | Changing Management Mindsets and Behaviour | Practical Behaviour Analytics

The current levels of uncertainty across the planet created by the Pandemic are wreaking havoc with our brain and putting many people into a state of paralysis. While this may feel shocking it is perfectly normal because your brain is a prediction machine that can’t function without the fuel of certainty.

Jeff Hawkins, founder of the Neuroscience Institute states that the brain receives patterns from the outside world, stores them as memories and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before and what is happening now. He goes on to say that this is one of the primary functions of the brain and the foundation of intelligence. We don’t just hear, we are predicting what we will hear next. We don’t just see, we are predicting what we will see next. There are about 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to at any one time and subconsciously there are about 2 million – that creates a lot of predictive possibilities. 

Addicted to certainty

The brain likes to feel certain; in fact it is addicted to certainty. It desperately needs to know what will happen next, or it will trigger a primary threat response. Many people are so addicted to certainty that they love watching the same film or listening to the same music over and over again because it brings a feeling of safety. There is a little rush of pleasure whenever our predictions are met. We feel safer, the brain creates a ‘towards’ response and we feel more positive. In fact we plan and forecast in an attempt to create less uncertainty and we create repetitive habits or play simple repetitive games like Sudoku to bring more certainty to our lives. This is because uncertainty feels to the brain like a threat to your life.

Uncertainty can also wreak havoc with your decision making. If there is a new project that may or may not go ahead, we have to stall on a number of decisions that depend on that project. The brain likes to think ahead and map out how things will be, not just for each moment but also for the longer term.

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