#2 – UNcertainty

Last week, we started a series on the 6 Core Human Needs that tie us all together as human beings.  These are the 6 Core needs that influence all our decisions and actions – the needs that, if unmet, can produce some rather interesting behaviour in us all.  In the name of understanding how we operate a little better, and how to lead our teams more effectively, we’re going to continue to unpack these 6 Core Needs over the next few weeks.  Last week, we looked at the need for certainty.  If you missed that, you can find it here.
The need for certainty is what calls us to look for the things we know for sure – the constants.  It’s what drives us to seek control, stability, comfort and predictability.  Certainty is what grounds us and allows us to go forward with confidence.
The second Core Human Need is……Uncertainty!  Yup, you heard me.  Balance is the name of the game and too much of a good thing would mean we’d never get off the couch.  Too much certainty leads to boredom and lack of reason to live, and so in our humanness, we seek variety – something to make our hearts beat a little faster.  You’ve heard the expression “Nothing grows in a comfort zone.”?  Well, the need for uncertainty is how we counteract stagnation.  Let’s unpack this tricky need a little further.

Meeting the Need for UNcertainty

The need for uncertainty is probably a large part of what fuels every embryonic pilot’s passion for aviation.  In my opinion, aviation is about as perfect a mix as you can get to satisfy both certainty and uncertainty.  There are enough buttons, dials, switches, rules, procedures, methods and calculations to make aviation a VERY routine, secure and predictable operation….and then there’s everything else.  Flying aircraft is the antithesis of an “office job” – you never know where you’ll be from day to day, what the weather will be like, who you will fly and what their needs will be, how different aircraft will assert their “personalities” and demands on you etc.  Uncertainty is a given in aviation – there’s always something to blow you off course and make your day exciting.  The excitement of uncertainty is why many airline pilots look back at their memories of their early years of bush flying experience with such nostalgia – and would happily return there if it paid the bills.
As Humans, our need for uncertainty or variety is what elevates our heart rate and excites us about life.  Too much drudgery and we fall asleep at the wheel of our lives.  In a normal daily scenario, the balance of certainty and variety isn’t too hard to satisfy.  We like to know some things for sure because it satisfies our need for control, but we also like to have choice when it comes to other things so that we can balance.  If you’ve ever tried to control every aspect of a toddler’s day, you’ll understand that they push back against that control and seek the balance of uncertainty that satisfies their curiosity for life.  This isn’t something we grow out of, it’s just that we do it differently as we get older.
We meet our need for uncertainty in many small ways every day.  We go out to eat so that we can choose from the variety on the menu.  We give ourselves a variety of music to listen to on the way to work to satisfy our mood.  We choose to book certain people into our day so that we can interact and bounce off them.  We choose to program our day with different types of work and play.  We go to the gym because it both fires us up and releases our tension.  Some play golf because it provides them with variety and the ping of that one souring, sweet shot keeps them coming back next week.  Some couldn’t think of anything worse than playing golf because they judge it to be too predictable and need to be challenged in a different way.
When it comes to the balance between certainty and uncertainty, our humanness means that we like to “choose our variety”.  That means we like to have control over the uncertainty – go figure! 😉 We like surprises, but only the nice ones.  That toddler still exists in all of us – and if we don’t have enough play in our lives to get us excited every now and again, we’ll start to push back against the confines of certainty. 

The Unmet Need for Uncertainty

When our lives become too certain, this can result in conscious or subconscious behaviour in our attempt to regain balance.  That behaviour can look like anything from a slight restlessness and irritation with your environment, to procrastination (because it means you’re loading your own deadlines and therefore creating your own pressure / uncertainty), to acting out, to behaviour that destroys the status quo – be that meddling in work affairs, or creating discord in your family. 
Making sure that our need for uncertainty is met in healthy ways is vital, or we may subconsciously start to create uncertainty in less healthy ways.  There are a million different ways that the need for uncertainty shows up, so if you’re dealing with some less-than-desirable behaviour in yourself or in another, ask yourself whether it may be a plea for balance.  Often, we volunteer for positions that curtail us in ways we hadn’t anticipated.  These positions may seem exciting at first, but when they become familiar, may lack the latitude for us to create the small degree of variety we need on a daily basis.  Over time, the internal pressure builds up and much like a pressure cooker, that pressure must go somewhere or eventually, we’ll explode.
If you’re receiving pushback or undesirable behaviour from a member of your team, ask yourself whether they may be trying to meet either of these first two needs.  Funnily enough, the behaviour may look similar in both instances – so you may need to do a little detective work to figure out whether they need stability or variety to make them happy.

The Overmet Need for Uncertainty

It seems pertinent in this instance to speak not only of what it looks like when this need is met or unmet, but also what happens with your cup of uncertainty runneth over.  In an ideal world, we become adept at meeting out own need to balance certainty and uncertainty.  We create both security and variety for ourselves which keeps us happy.
Now, I’m not sure about people in the rest of the world, but I know that in my part of the world, uncertainty has risen to giant and uncontrollable proportions that are well out of any of our control on a daily basis, so let’s address this.  I’m fairly certain that any of us used to living in Southern Africa are predisposed to a slightly higher or differently programmed need for uncertainty than those who live in “1st World Countries”.  Our water doesn’t always flow, our lights don’t always come on, and many of the other parts of our lives are just as uncertain.  But we “make a plan” – and in fact we thrive on making a plan.  We balance ourselves with the awesomeness we know our lives contain because we’re blessed to live where we do.
However, without rehashing all the gory details, there is a tipping point at which this need for uncertainty unbalances and, when the degree of uncertainty is out of our control, it may become impossible for us to rebalance.  Lights don’t come back on.  Money doesn’t get paid or isn’t enough.  Inflation takes care of any profit we may have made whilst we simultaneously marvel at those who unashamedly walk away with millions.  Do you feel your blood pressure rising just reading this?  If you do, then take a deep breath and consider what I’m about to say here – because the ultimate responsibility for yourself (and in part for those you lead) still lies with you.  You have to balance – so here are some considerations.
If you feel yourself turning inward, losing energy, getting snappy, unable to make decisions or in some way feeling paralysed, you may be subconsciously trying to balance an overallocation of uncertainty.  Stress is designed to get us off the couch – we all need a little stress in our lives.  Stress helps us flex and grow.  But in order for stress to do this for us, it causes a chemical reaction in our bodies that we can’t control – a release of certain chemicals that allow us to meet that stress.  Millenia ago, these chemicals helped us escape a sabre-toothed tiger by elevating our heart rate, dilating our blood vessels to allow more blood to flow, increasing our rate of breathing to ensure that blood flow was oxygen filled, and by directing the blood away from our less vital organs and processes toward our muscles so that we could flea or act.

Now, we know that it’s possible for life to create that same degree of stress in us and that, if prolonged, the effects of those chemicals constantly coursing through our bodies can be detrimental to our performance and to our health.  Stress is a chemical reaction, and over time, it numbs us, dulls us, beats us down and paralyses us.  Worst case, it physically incapacitates us.

Yes, the show must go on.  Yes, we must still put food on the table.  Yes, we must still maintain our relationships both at work and at home.  What we need to remember is that we are primarily responsible for maintaining our own balance.  You.  Me.  We are responsible for ourselves.  And if we cannot operate, we cannot be useful humans.

Manage your behaviour.  Manage your lifestyle.  Be aware of the balance you need and fight to meet it.  If you’ve ever listened to the safety briefing given by a flight attendant before take-off, you’ll have heard them say “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will fall from the panel above you.  Put your own mask on first before assisting fellow passengers.”  This could not be more relevant – you can’t help others if you’re incapacitated yourself.
  Watch this video on the subject – share it with your team – take it home and share it with your family.  (Thank you to the friend who shared this with me!)

Ask your team how they’re doing.  Who’s running out of air?  Who needs to put their own mask on first and how do they need to do that?  We may be in survival mode, but what do we actually need to do to survive and make sure we’re still here tomorrow.  Our teams don’t work without people.  Our business don’t run without teams.  Neither do our families.  Take care of your people.  Provide the oxygen and make sure they have their masks on.  Acknowledge what you’ve achieved under pressure and give credit.  Lift, rest, recover.

by Christen Killick

June 24th, 2019

Next articles in The 6 Core Human Needs series:
#3 – The Need For Significance
#4 – The Need For Love & Connection
#5 – The Need For Growth
#6 – The Need For Contribution
6 Core Human Needs – The Bottom Line

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