Review: Uncertainty

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

UncertaintyAll of us have fears and doubts about what we’re doing and where our future is headed. I know I certainly have those fears and doubts. I constantly wonder if I’m making the right choices with what I’m doing, professionally and personally.

Uncertainty is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, paying heed to it is the right move and it’ll keep you on a better path. However, there are a lot of times where uncertainty shouldn’t keep you from doing something and getting past uncertainty is the key to success. In those situations, it’s best used as a guide to where you want to go.

Jonathan Fields, the author of this book, does a great job of digging into how to overcome uncertainty and how to use what it can teach you for greater success in almost any area.

Why Uncertainty Matters
No one on Earth has all the answers to all of the questions. Uncertainty is simply a part of life. The biggest difference between success and failure at anything is how we address our uncertainty. If we address it by running and sticking with what’s safe (and this applies for everything from political opinion to career choices), we fail. If we address it by digging into what we’re uncertain about, even if we don’t necessarily make a big change because of it, we succeed. Uncertainty isn’t an opponent. It’s a guide.

What Uncertainty Does to Us
Uncertainty makes us afraid, not only of our own failure, but of the judgments of others. “What will my friends think if I announce to them that I’ve changed religions or political beliefs?” “What will my parents think if I tell them I’m thinking of quitting my job?” We also fear loss, in a sense that the results of the change we’re going to take on are going to be worse than what we have right now. All of these things bundled together make uncertainty an incredible source of angst.

The Myth of the Fearless Creator
No one does anything of significance in the world without some fear in their gut. There’s no one out there, no matter how they appear, that does interesting or great things in their life without some doubt residing within them. The key difference between success and failure is how you use that fear and doubt. Do you use it to withdraw? Or do you use it to guide you to success?

Find Your Certainty Anchors
The first step in this process is to figure out your “certainty anchors.” In other words, what things are you absolutely certain about? What experiences are ones that you can rely on? What things can you rely on, no matter what? Simply put, once you figure these things out, you can always rely on these things and experiences as examples of your own success. For example, I know I can succeed with paying down my debt, so this experience of success shows me I can handle other things that require willpower.

Build Your Hive
For something to be successful, you’re going to need criticism and suggestions for improvement. The only problem is that it’s easy to hear suggestions and criticism from sources that might not have your success in mind. The best way to handle this is to find a group of people that you genuinely trust – and genuinely trust you – and be completely open with criticism within this group. Everyone in this group is honest with each other and also encouraging of each other, offering criticism only in the sense that it should improve whatever the people are doing.

Socializing Creation
This idea of a “hive” works even with the creation of an idea. There’s nothing wrong with throwing out a concept to a group of people that you trust and receiving their feedback on your concept in order to build it into something greater. For example, if you have a trusted friend, you could throw out a business plan or an exercise plan or a change in philosophy that you’re considering and that person would offer you genuine feedback on it – and you would do the same for that person. If you have a collective group, even better.

Train Your Brain
One key to making something challenging work is to adopt the ability to focus specifically on that thing. This involves cutting out distractions from both your broader life and from the specific situation. Fields also discusses the benefits of exercise in achieving this, pointing to a lot of studies on the benefits of exercise for mental focus. There’s also some discussion of the benefits of a “growth” mindset versus a “linear” mindset, which basically means that you’re more interested in learning how the process works than always getting the right answer.

See the Forest
Some of our biggest doubts fall into the heat of the moment. What will this person think of me? What do I need to be working on right now and how do I know if it is right? These are instances of seeing the trees, but not seeing the forest. When you’re caught up in immediate doubts, look at the broader picture of what you’re trying to achieve. Does it matter what this person thinks of you right now if you’re building a better you? What task can you take on that has the best chance of building something great in the long term?

Own the Story Line
We often visualize stories of failure when we’re imagining what could happen in the future. Rather than believing those stories, we need to use them. What things happen that cause this kind of failure? What can we do to make sure they don’t happen? The more negative story lines you eliminate, the more positive the story line of your reality is.

Is Uncertainty Worth Reading?
This is the best personal finance or personal growth book I’ve read this year. Period.

Every single one of us struggles with uncertainty in life and this book is loaded with food for thought on how to deal with that uncertainty. I can say without hesitation that some pieces of this book have made me deeply rethink how I address some of the more challenging areas of my life (exercise) and some things I’ve been afraid to tackle (writing projects).

I recommend this book to almost anyone. Put it on your library request list or pick it up at a bookseller soon. It’s a really worthwhile read.

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