On Certainty

sureThe question: Can any of us be completely certain about anything?

My answer used to be an emphatic, “Yes!!” I could easily give you a list: food, the sun, air, my husband locking me out of the house :), etc.. But as I run my mouth to convince you of how absolutely certain I am about certainty, a whole list of exceptions kept interrupting me. A simple example is this:  I am certain that when I eat food I get energy. But then I remember what happens when I eat too much, or eat at the wrong time of day, or I eat the wrong type of food, etc..  My “certainty” isn’t so certain anymore.Which made me wonder, “Is that true?”

Before I went  any further on my expedition into the netherworld of absolutes, I wanted to know what some of the common definitions were for this word. The first hit off Google was “…firm conviction that something is the case”, and this entry from Wikipedia struck me as important, “…total security from error.” Both entries gave me pause, because in my experience, when I hear myself say I am absolutely certain about something, I absolutely know I have a blind spot somewhere.

Why is this important? Because the feeling of certainty gives us some valuable feelings. Some of them are confidence, safety, control, comfort, the ability to act, or not to act, etc.. But there is also a dark side to certainty. Particularly, when it is used  to ascribe motives to others, or to reinforce beliefs that are harmful or self defeating – both of which cause needless suffering.

After days of this deep dive, it dawned on me that those prickly things called “Beliefs” are the parents of this troublesome child called “Certainty.” Here is how I think it works: we have an event – which leads to a story about the event – which leads to a belief about the event – which leads to certainty about everything associated with the event – which leads to assumptions, biases, suppositions, and predictions about similar events, about ourselves and about others. In this trail, I believe the essential truth of the experience can be lost, and that doesn’t help me or you(?)lead the life that I (we?) want to lead.

This led me to realize that the goal of certainty in anything can be flawed. So I switched to clarity. What I found was that with clarity as the goal, I experienced more success faster, and with a lot of less suffering.  These two questions: “Is it true?” and “How do I know ?” were game changers.

Yes, there is a method. It is simply called The Work.

The Work by Byron Katie provides a terrific framework around the dark side of certainty. It is an inquiry model that allows us more clarity into understanding why we think as we do, and then uses that inquiry to help us re-frame the dialogue in our heads. The basic model is:

  1. Is it true? (“What makes you think it is true?”)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it is true? (“How?”)
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought? (“What do you get emotionally from that reaction?”)
  4. Who would you be without that thought? (“How would that feel?”)

Try it out and see for yourself. If you are like me, you will have a tool that leads to a better everything – with a lot less suffering and a lot more joy. Totally it is true. I am absolutely certain, absolutely! 🙂

Until next time,

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