Your brain is a prediction machine, meaning that when things don’t go as planned, there can be significant consequences. You’ll have experienced this many times. That tight feeling in your chest when receiving adverse news. That sinking feeling when a decision you made starts to look like a costly mistake. That anxiety when your schedule changes at the last minute. We’re all human. However, learning to cope better with uncertainty could have benefits in the short and long term, leading to more significant success with less stress.
Sam Conniff is an entrepreneur and creator of the popular book and concept, Be More Pirate, encouraging rebellious acts of positive change. More recently, Conniff has created Uncertainty Experts, the world’s first interactive live documentary scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and increase creativity. Piloting in May 2021, the documentary was described as a “brain-expanding experience” by Netflix. Conniff argues he can prove someone’s tolerance (and enthusiasm) for uncertainty is key to their success.
With the help of academics and scientists, Conniff created the Uncertainty Score to help participants understand and improve their uncertainty tolerance. The test marks candidates across various areas, and I spoke to Conniff to understand its components and potential.
Uncertainty leads to breakdowns or breakthroughs
“I’ve always had an entrepreneur’s appetite for adventure and thought I was good at embracing the unknown. But I’ve learned that everyone, including me, has a threshold.” Conniff described how the pandemic took him from a promising and profitable venture to reaching near insolvency. Within those twelve months that “completely pushed me into my outer limits,” Conniff said he “entered into a hyper-vigilant, high arousal state of alertness and nervous energy and fell into exhaustion, indecision and anxiety.”
Knowing he wasn’t alone in this struggle, Conniff decided to begin interviewing people who lived with uncertainty every day but had turned it to their advantage. Interviewing willing participants, including refugees who had become CEOs and gang leaders who had become business leaders, he learned “that uncertainty can either shut us down or light us up” Whilst turning their stories into an interactive documentary and online course, Conniff learned that the Concept of uncertainty, throughout history, has shown to be equally capable of driving people to break down or break through.
Your body’s physiological response to uncertainty
Uncertainty affects the nervous system automatically. When danger is sensed, a short-term warning system primes us with chemicals to make us stronger and faster in response to immediate threats. “But these chemicals are not designed for long term use,” Conniff explained, and remaining with high levels of adrenalin and cortisol isn’t optimal for business performance. “As most entrepreneurs know, prolonged exposure to stress is a killer. From bone strength to attention span to sex drive, relentless cortisol release will put you on your knees.”
Conniff described this cycle of threat to hormone release back to threat as “uncertainty fatigue.” When your body is tired of dealing with and responding to uncertainty on a regular basis. Conniff says “awareness of this is critical because it’s the start of the comeback.” We are now forced to alter our perception of uncertainty. Put simply, your body cannot go on living in this cycle. It has to find a way to break through.
Paradoxically, holds potential for both pain and possibility. This potential lies in your uncertainty tolerance. Rather than just the avoidance of pain, uncertainty opens opportunities reserved for those who embrace the unknown.
Working with scientists including specialists in neuroscience, Conniff put together a robust set of scientific assessments to measure uncertainty tolerance. “The assessments combine qualitative and quantitative methods along with aspects of experimental psychology.” Once launched as an immersive and interactive experience, presented as a documentary, Conniff and his team were able to build “a detailed psychological intervention showing statistically significant results against randomised control groups.”
The test’s design allows them to measure open-mindedness, preference for predictability, decisiveness, comfort with ambiguity, risk-taking aptitude and more. Their experiment in uncertainty, which came out of uncertainty, “was all of a sudden helping thousands of people get better at uncertainty.” They proved that uncertainty tolerance is a trait that can be developed.
From the research, Conniff knows that not only is “uncertainty the number one driver of anxiety, but it is also the number one driver of humans at their problem-solving best.” Uncertainty is certain, what matters is how you respond to it. Whether a climate crisis, a global pandemic, team member troubles or client retention, “this fragility is all of our opportunity, and the answer to how we respond will be in our tolerance to uncertainty.”
Conniff added that, “If correctly harnessed, far from being the underlying cause of so many of our problems, uncertainty could well be seen as the most valuable tool entrepreneurs have for unlocking a possibility.” Our heightened sense of problem-solving means we find new opportunities and new answers. We discover solutions in places others have missed, leading to business breakthroughs, unique insights and game-changing inventions.
Raise your uncertainty tolerance
The tests Conniff and his team put together have practical implications for how individuals can raise their tolerance for uncertainty. It’s simply in your trained response to the concept. You can train yourself to accept and even welcome, simply in whether you think of it as something that will harm you or help you. The next time you feel anxious or fearful of the future, be mindful. Aim to see the opportunity instead of the dread. Believe that this uncertainty will help you, which all the research points to. While others are burying their head in the sand, wishing it to pass, you’ll be welcoming a new future with open arms. It’s this future that those cowering and hiding will miss.
As Conniff says, “Uncertainty is inevitable. How you respond is up to you.” With more visibility over the world’s events, uncertainty can seem like it’s more frequent than ever before. So if uncertainty is certain, equip yourself to handle better anything thrown at you. Train yourself to love it. Every time you write a plan, accept it as the rough draft it is: subject to change, adaptable to new information and probably not going to manifest in its current form. ing to uncertainty with open arms and responding an eagerness to explore is how to get the benefits without the downsides.