There’s a bit to this one so please stick with it 🙏

Human beings crave certainty. We love routine and predictability. Uncertainty is a form of discomfort that sits nicely alongside fear, conflict, and risk. We are wired to avoid these types of discomfort because of the indiscriminatory way they cause us to react. Exposure to discomfort can cause a range of physiological responses we just don’t enjoy. Things we’re all familiar with like your heart starts racing, you feel an adrenaline rush, or you get anxious. The fight, flight or freeze response might kick-in or you might just get angry or irritated.

Consider this, you’re waiting at the departure lounge at the airport and your flight gets delayed an hour. That hour passes and your flight gets delayed another hour. You might start getting a little stressed, almost certainly a little annoyed. Your plane continues to get delayed until it finally gets cancelled. When we’re being subjected to the constant delay, we have no control. But when our flight is cancelled, although it’s a pain, we are now able to act and get our situation back in control. The uncertainty of our predicament ends, and we feel better.

A regular dose of uncertainty is actually very good for us. The more we get exposed to it, the better we become at dealing with it and its most definitely a skill that can be trained.

The high-altitude climbing Sherpas of Nepal are masters when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. Not surprising when you consider uncertainty is perhaps the one constant of mountain life. It’s the very reason that mountain environments are a fantastic teacher. They are dynamic, ever changing, unpredictable, and often hostile.

When they’re working on the world’s highest mountains, Sherpa mountaineers are regularly negotiating changing weather and climbing conditions. Are those conditions safe, stable, unstable, or lethal? Do we have enough equipment or too much equipment? How’s the health of my team members? Do we have enough food/energy? Any time-critical decisions we need to make? Dealing with uncertainty on big mountains is a constant and it demands focus, concentration, and courage.

The Sherpa people of Nepal are very skilled at dealing with uncertainty because they get plenty of practice at it. Probably more than they’d like!

The great news is there are plenty of extremely effective tools and techniques we can use to mitigate the discomfort we feel when uncertainty strikes. Same goes for fear, risk and conflict and we’ll examine these later. The Sherpa people of Nepal default to these techniques automatically and no doubt subconsciously. Like uncertainty is a part of their everyday life, so is their adept manner at dealing with it. We can do the same.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken to that lament the way “the kids of today are wrapped in cotton wool”. The growing trend to steer our youth away from anything that might see them fail or experience discomfort is concerning, and I love this quote by New York Times best-selling author and motivational speaker Joyce Meyer…

“But if you only plan your pleasure and you don’t ever plan on having any pain, if you spend all your life trying to avoid everything that’s uncomfortable, I can just tell you right now you’re going to have one wretchedly miserable life.”

Some of our most valuable life lessons flow from failure and exposure to discomfort. It can be bitterly painful and depressing to fail, especially when you’ve committed so much to be successful. But to nurture our constant cycle of development and growth, we need to appreciate and keep opportunities alive for failure. Because it’s how we learn to respond to failure that ultimately determines if we’ll succeed.

So, we need the presence of uncertainty in an activity for it to qualify as a resilience building experience. If you’re unsure, ask yourself this simple question: “Is the outcome of the experience or activity pre-determined?” If the answer is “yes”, then while it may well be difficult or challenging, it won’t be an experience that develops your resilience.

Put simply, the potential for failure needs to exist. And yes, the school music soiree can qualify as a resilience building activity, but it first needs to satisfy 3 more criteria. Stay tuned for Step 3 next week.

Nepalese child giving thumbs up