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An Uncertainty Practice

By Randall Buskirk

MON JUN 28, 2021


What if you developed an Uncertainty Practice? A deliberate practice in which you consciously play with not being sure about what you are doing or what is going on?

(That’s my whole life, you say. Good for you.)

Fine tune it. Become less sure about more things. Put yourself in situations that are less predictable. You might want to “titrate” it, as they say. Work up to more uncertainty and more predictable unpredictability.

Turn it into a game or a form of play. Become a beginner. Try to learn something new. See something new. Hear something new.

This occurred to me when I was thinking about how I used to play guitar. I practiced not knowing what I was doing until I realized I knew nothing. I would put on a jazz tune, maybe Miles Davis or Wes Montgomery, and try to play along. That quickly got me to that jazz state of not knowing.

The growing pains were frustrating, but the practice laid down new, if shallow, grooves in my brain. I’m still not very good, but I’m better for having done it.

By deliberately choosing an Uncertainty Practice, you can shift from a fixed mindset toward a growth mindset. And that is good for the brain. When a rigid mindset encounters uncertainty, it usually results in contraction and more harmful stress. When a growth mindset encounters uncertainty, it can result in expansion and evolution, a gooder form of stress.

Where might you choose more uncertainty? Choosing sets the boundaries for your practice. You might start with a time boundary. Start with 5 minutes, for instance, the length of a song. Gradually expand that boundary, maybe eventually from morning until evening.

Or a space boundary. Set aside a safe-enough area for being uncertain. A practice space—a yoga mat, for instance. A small dance area. A chair or desk where you can sit and write as a form of not exactly knowing. Maybe eventually you expand that boundary until you can practice it anywhere.

Or how about an identity boundary within which you can practice not being certain about who you are? Become someone else. Another form of yourself. Become your brother or sister. A neighbor. Become a stranger. Maybe eventually you expand that boundary until you are something like everything and everyone, consciously.

Maybe an Uncertainty Practice is exactly what the times are calling for. Get better at welcoming uncertainty. ‘Cause it is welcoming you.