Education Trends: Uncertainty Affects Our Decisions More Than We Think or Acknowledge

5 min read

Edition: January 29th, 2022
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

Uncertainty is uncomfortable for most of us. While it can be bewildering for many, for others, it can be terrifying. (Image Credit: GETTY)

Uncertainty makes nearly every decision-maker uncomfortable. And for some, uncertainty doesn’t just bewilder, but terrifies. As a result, we resist accepting it. In fact, there are those who will do almost anything to avoid having to accept that the future is uncertain.

That’s because accepting uncertainty can be an overwhelming experience . We push it to the forefront of our minds and then we become overcome by the range of possibilities and the implications of not knowing.

As a result, our decision-making process becomes greatly influenced by this uncertainty. We change our behaviour, our choices and even our own beliefs in an attempt to fill in the gaps.

Given our knowledge of uncertainty, why does it affect our decisions more than we think — and more importantly, what can we do about it?

The Perception of Control

  • Most people are control freaks — in different areas of their lives and to varying degrees. If certainty could be bottled and sold, many would queue for hours to get such control in their lives.
  • This desire for control — for certainty — is why we loath the insecurity of the unknown.
  • The control we have over certain aspects of our lives gives us a false sense of confidence. And because we love certainty so much, we embrace the deception.
  • But, uncertainty is never far away. The perception of control can bring us false confidence when making decisions.
  • We can fool ourselves into thinking that incomplete information is complete. Decisions then become binary and we can end up making commitments that we shouldn’t.

Anxiety from an ‘Unclear Future’

  • Did you ever feel that you were certain about a decision, only to second-guess yourself later? Or had you decided on something, but then changed your mind? In both cases, uncertainty played a role in your decision-making process.
  • We don’t always realise how much uncertainty affects our decisions, but it is a bigger part of our lives than we think.
  • At its root, uncertainty is about being unsure of the future — the next step or the long run.
  • It makes us uncomfortable, and so we try to minimise it in different ways. Sometimes, we choose to ignore it. Sometimes we avoid situations that are ‘uncertain’ or ‘risky’.
  • And sometimes we let our emotions guide us. We think we’re making rational decisions when, in reality, our emotions are driving us to make choices we wouldn’t necessarily make if we knew any better.
  • That’s why it’s important to acknowledge uncertainty and take steps to reduce it whenever possible.

Why do we Avoid Dealing with Uncertainty?

  • The first question we should ask ourselves if we want to be better at dealing with uncertainty, is why is it that we detest it so much?
  • The most common reason is fear. Fear manifests itself through anxiety, which, in some can become crippling. The downside of anxiety is indecision, where no decision is made.
  • Then there’s stress. We’re often stressed because time tends to be a factor when dealing with uncertainty as well as other factors such as the people involved.
  • Lastly, there is pressure. Unresolved uncertainty will often build up and make us feel pressured to do something about it.
  • These feelings are a consequence of how we see uncertainty.

The Uncertainty Principle

  • According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it is impossible to measure both the position and the velocity (direction) of a particle with precision. The more precisely one measures one property, the less precisely one can measure the other.
  • The same principle applies to our decision-making, too.
  • Our brains are energy hogs, taking up 20% of all the calories we burn every day. This energy then goes into processing every decision we make in our lives.
  • But decisions aren’t always so easy to make. The more we focus on one aspect of a situation, the more complex another aspect can get.
  • Also, just because we want something doesn’t mean we can have it, and just because we want something doesn’t mean we will enjoy having it when we get it.

Embracing Uncertainty for Better Decision-making

Uncertainty only becomes certain in the outcome of our decisions.

  • When we decide; when we are at the moment of decision, we can factor in uncertainty.
  • We can apply some critical thinking questions to our decision-making process, and consider the impact of what we don’t know.
  • Probabilistic thinking pushes us to weigh up how likely the desired outcome is. You could call it thinking in bets.

Faced with a decision and the outcome you want, would you bet £1,000 against it happening? A process like this changes the way you consider all aspects of your decision. You start to look for facts over opinions, as well as consider alternative choices.

  • The point is this. Uncertainty is a given. So, embrace it, bet with it, and understand how you decide is different from the outcome you end up with.
  • Ignoring uncertainty only leads to poor decisions. Consider how often you make a choice because of the outcome you want, rather than how likely it is to happen.
  • Considering the likelihood of an outcome means you are beginning to embrace uncertainty. The paradox of this is you end up giving yourself more control over future outcomes.
  • Don’t run from uncertainty. Accept it to improve your decision-making.


Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

Career Trends: Setting Career Priorities When Everything is Uncertain

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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