How We Wind Ourselves Up Via Our PACES – Part 3 – Need for CERTAINTY – Caroline Ferguson, Mindset Trainer

How We Wind Ourselves Up Via Our PACES – Part 3 – Need for CERTAINTY

By Caroline Ferguson | PACES

Do you HAVE to know what’s coming next? Does not knowing how to do something, or how things will turn, out fill you with anxiety?

The third of the five classic ways I’ve identified for how we humans wind ourselves up – which I refer to as our PACES™ – is linked to our desire for things to be comfortable and easy (see this post) but it’s worth separating out because it deals with a very specific form of discomfort:


As humans, we have an inbuilt need to know:

  • what’s going to happen next
  • that we’ll be safe and that things will turn out alright
  • that we’ll get the results we want
  • not just what needs to be done, but HOW we’re going to do it
  • that things won’t be difficult or painful
  • that we’ll be able to cope with challenges.

I’ll hold up my hand and admit that I was that person. I always wanted to know what was happening next and that things would turn out OK.

For example, when I was driving and my passenger was giving me directions, long before the next turn I’d HAVE to know which way I was supposed to go. I’d get really agitated if my navigator was chatting and not paying attention to the route. Control freak? Moi?

The need to know is hard-wired into us. 

When we feel uncertain, it can bite us in all kinds of ways and the consequences – in terms of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour – can be very uncomfortable.

Uncertainty about what to do next, how to do it, or how it might end up, can result in us feeling anxious. It can also trigger anger or lead us to freeze or panic. Control issues are rife too – control freaks go to great lenghts to avoid the pain of uncertainty.

Avoidance and procrastination are also common concequences of feeling unsure. Although we know we should do something, our minds demand compelling proof that the effort of taking action – and the discomfort of uncertainty and change – will be worthwhile.  Without that detailed evidence, we just can’t get motivated.

So if you find yourself engaging in distractions like browsing social media, burying yourself in busy-ness, ticking umpteen low priority tasks off your ‘to do’ list, comfort eating or watching endless TV, maybe it’s not about laziness.

Your behaviour could be a way of warding off the discomfort of not knowing what to do next, how to do it, or even if you’re capable of doing it at all.

Here are some typical thoughts that pop up when you feel uncertain:

  • I HAVE to know how to do this…
  • I NEED to know how it turns out…
  • This has to work out – it just HAS TO!

And as usual when we’re demanding anything (in this case, certainty), it’s our BELIEF about being sure that’s really winding us up, not the uncertainty itself.

When we’re triggered by uncertainty, our minds fill with thoughts like:

  • It’s awful not knowing what’s going to happen!
  • What do I do if things turns out to be really hard? I can’t bear the uncertainty!
  • Suppose I can’t cope with whatever happens? That will mean I’m useless.

The result? We feel agitated – threatened, even – and we doubt our ability to make things happen, or to cope if they don’t go well.

What impact do you think these kinds of thoughts and feelings will have on YOUR ability to cope?

They’re certainly not going to make you feel confident of success, are they?

So, in an uncertain world, how do you get over your need for certainty?

The reality is you’re never going to have all the answers. There is no crystal ball – the world we live in doesn’t come with certainty bolted on.

Given that it’s impossible to avoid ‘not knowing’, the best way to manage is to learn how to tolerate uncertainty so that it disturbs you less.

You ALREADY KNOW how to cope without having all the answers. You’ve done it all your life and you always find a way. If you really couldn’t cope with uncertainty, you’d be dead by now (and what is absolutely certain is that if you’re reading this, you’re not dead).

It’s this evidence of your own resilience and your confidence that you will be able to cope – regardless of whether you know the outcome or not – that will enable you to manage uncertainty.

Here are 4 things you can do to help you become more resilient when faced with not knowing:

Task 1:  Tune in to your thoughts when you have bad feelings. Ask yourself: “Do I feel like this because I don’t know something?” Tuning into your thoughts isn’t something that comes naturally so make a deliberate effort to listen to what’s going on in your head, especially when you feel challenged. Try to be curious about your thoughts, rather than critical or judgemental.

Task 2:  Tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Instead of avoiding the feeling, or worrying yourself sick, give it space and sit quietly with it.  What does the uncertainty feel like? Explore its edges. When we allow a feeling, rather than trying to push is away, often it loses some of its power to disturb us. This happens because, on a subconscious level, thinking about it proves we CAN cope with it. That understanding that we are resilient can help us get “unstuck”.

Task 3:  When you feel uncertain, ask yourself: “What is the best outcome in this situation? What do I need to do, learn or acquire to make that happen?” Once you start start answering those questions, you have the beginnings of an action plan. You may not be certain of the everything working out but you’re no longer floundering and unsure about what you need to do next.

Task 4: Take the actions that will lead you towards that best outcome. Taking the right action gives us back the power that uncertainty takes away. Follow your plan and keep putting one foot in front of the other in baby steps. When you feel anxiety rising again which it may well just sit with it and then refocus on the action you need to take.

In my next blog, I’m going to look at the fourth of our PACES™ – the ways in which we wind ourselves up – which is our demands around SELF RULE. Whether it’s through our need for autonomy, or to have aspects of our identity recognised, there are plenty of ways in which we disturb ourselves.

Please share and comment if you’ve found this useful. If you’d like some help in figuring out which of your PACES and getting in your way, and how to stop them from sabotaging you, do get in touch.


About the Author

Caroline is a Mindset Trainer and speaker who works with sensitive, high-potential leaders who know they were born for something more. She shows them how to beat mindset blocks and habits, such as limiting beliefs, low self worth and procrastination, that are preventing them from making a bigger impact.