Book Review: Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance

Photo of Uncertainty bookUncertainty—we all have to deal with it in life and in business. And, as the book Uncertainty says, it “will freeze you in place if you let it…unless you know how to use it to your advantage.”

Author Jonathan Fields draws on research, science and his own personal experience to show us how to do just that—use uncertainty to your advantage.

Right away in this book, Fields introduces us to the three “psychic horsemen” of creation:

  1. Uncertainty
  2. Risk
  3. Exposure to criticism

How a person, especially a businessperson, handles these three things determines whether you and your business will be successful.

As Fields correctly states, “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas and creations.”

Giving Us Tools

Certainty anchors

“A certainty anchor is a practice or process that adds something known and reliable to your life when you may otherwise feel you’re spinning off in a million different directions.”

Rituals and routines are examples. Your certainty anchor might simply be following the same schedule every day—wake at a certain time, work at certain times, eat at certain times. Fields explains how to identify the rituals, routines or other anchors that might work for you.

Creativity hive

Handling judgment and constructive criticism is crucial to being able to get through the entire creation process—whether you’re creating a work of art, a new technology or a new business.

Building your own creativity hive—or finding one to join—is about being around people who who are similarly creating and who you can share the process with. This includes having mentors as well. Your “hive” can be online or in person. Startup incubators are a good example of the sort of hive Fields is talking about. He also mentions Scott Belsky’s Behance network.

Attentional training

When dealing with uncertainty, it’s very important that you have something that grounds you. Fields introduces readers to different types of attentional training—daily contemplation-driven practices that require a focused awareness.

Such practices include:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis and self-hypnosis

Active attentional training is participating in an activity that gets you “in the zone.” If you’ve been there, you know what I am (and he is) talking about. For me, I used to find this zone in an art studio. Once I started drawing and shaping and shading what I was drawing, hours could pass and I would barely notice time because I was so focused on what I was doing.

Rock climbing is another activity I find works. You’re so focused on your next hold or your next few holds, you’re not thinking about anything else but climbing. All the day’s cares fade away.

Fields uses the example of trail running. You have to stay so focused on the obstacles on the trail, that the rest of the world “ceases to exist.”

Relief: Peace of Mind or Loss of Anxiety?

Have you ever made a decision to walk away from something and felt good about it? Are you sure you made the right decision?

Fields brings up an important question: Is the euphoria you feel simply a relief from anxiety of dealing with building a business—dealing with uncertainty? Or is it a sign you’re at peace with your decision?

How do you know?

There’s a touching moment in the book (pages 155-157) in which Fields is talking to a client, Anne. Anne feels restful and “like a weight has been lifted” after deciding to shut down her business.

Fields asks her to visualize herself two years in the future, pretending that everything she wanted to have happen in her business has happened. He asks not only how it feels, but where in her body she is feeling the response. Then he asks, “Do you still want it?”

It’s a powerful moment. And it represents a snapshot of what this entire book is about. Sometimes we need a different perspective to know for sure in which direction to head. This book gives perspective and reminds us that uncertainty is a tool. It’s a necessity that means you are creating something new.

Uncertainty is not groundbreaking, but it is eye-opening. Reading it should make you more comfortable with uncertainty, and you’ll gain instruction on how to use it to your advantage.

The book is not “brilliant and subversive” as one reviewer says. But another back-of-the-book reviewer sums it up perfectly:

Let’s face it—the leap of faith required to follow a dream is usually accomplished by gut-wrenching, knee-quaking, soul-shaking fear. Jonathan Fields knows this—but instead of offering an empty pep talk, he delivers daily practices that can help you transform fear and uncertainty into confidence and creativity.

True. But don’t take our words for it, read the book for yourself and see what you think.

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