You don’t need to be a mountaineer to be familiar with uncertainty. We all deal with it in our professional and personal lives, especially during these times of pandemics, wars, economic turmoil, and a never-ending negative news cycle.
It’s human nature to dislike uncertainty—and actually prefer something bad (but certain) to happen. Case in point: a 2016 University of London study1 published in Nature found participants displayed less stress when they knew a bad outcome was coming (in this case, an electric shock) than when they were uncertain whether or not the shock would come. In test after test, the researchers found that any element of unpredictability significantly increased people’s discomfort.
Another study on uncertainty found that when securities traders were under stress, their thinking tended to become slow and impaired. The more urgent the response needed, the greater the impairment.
When we face the unknown, we become more risk-averse and slower in taking action. This is not sustainable. Clearly, we need to develop healthier ways of dealing with uncertainty and managing our discomfort around it.