What You Think You Know Is Killing You

Certainty kills learning and innovation

We all want certainty in our lives. We want things to be black and white. We want our beliefs and assumptions to be true because in certainty lies safety and security. But given we’re all flawed yet wonderful human beings, is certainty even possible?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that absolute truth doesn’t exist. I believe it does. But I believe that absolute and complete truth lies with God. And that we as His Children are still learning and developing. And as we assume certainty and absolute knowledge, we become rigid and limit our ability to learn. We put a limit on God’s ability to teach us. 

I remember how all-knowing I was as a teenager, arguing points with my parents. I was also all-knowing for the first half of my career and I had a lot of success professionally and financially.

Four realizations that changed my life

But then I realized these important truths:

  1. What I thought to be certain wasn’t certain. There was another side to the coin I wasn’t considering.
  2. Counseling with others and getting their perspective made me smarter and even more successful. They lifted and inspired me and helped me look at things through a different window.
  3. Counseling with others gave them an opportunity to develop as well, as my perspective was different from theirs.
  4. Believing in my own certainty and rightness strained my relationships with others.

Emotions distort reality

We’re living in a time of high uncertainty and stress, more for some than with others. Our minds attract beliefs that we want to believe. For some it’s overconfidence, while for others it’s destructive beliefs that bad things will happen to them or that they aren’t good enough. Both are opposites and both are not accurate of reality.

Since COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds right now let’s look at a good example of misplaced certainty. In the US according to a Gallup survey, 57% of Americans fear getting the COVID-19 virus more than they do experiencing financial difficulty (48%), even though the stay at home and lockdown initiative has led to more than 20 million Americans filing for unemployment compared to 35,000 deaths due to the virus. Young adults fear the virus more than older adults even though older people have by far the greater risk of serious illness or death.

Two clarifications: First, I am not saying that losing a job is equal to dying, I’m simply addressing an inconsistency in how we’re viewing risk. Second, I’m only using US data because I don’t have reliable global unemployment numbers stemming from COVID-19.

One secret to emotional health

Emotional health or resilience is strongly correlated with our ability to be curious and non-judgmental. When we’re curious and exploratory, we’re open to change and for things to be different than we assume they will be and potentially different from how we last experienced it. Being curious recognizes that the world and our experiences change daily. It’s recognizing that we’re spiritual beings having an earthly experience and that each day we should be learning and improving instead of trying to get things right. Getting things right will be seen as learning and evolving and improving from yesterday. And this mindset allows us to accept that we aren’t perfect beings but evolving and learning beings with divine potential.

I’d love to hear what you think. Comment below if you’d like.

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