A temporary state of uncertainty exists each time we encounter a problem, or new information that challenges our prior understanding and that cannot be easily assimilated.
The goal of uncertainty management is not to relieve it and thus remove the challenge and undermines an important growth process that happens as we embrace uncertainty and challenge. Rather, the goal is to transform it into the experience of productive uncertainty by disassociating states of uncertainty from threat or risk.
A state of productive uncertainty can be defined by the following elements:
• Mediated appraisal of being in an uncertain situation
• Inhibiting any initial “fight-flight” Limbic responses
• Appraising the meaning of the stimulus (what is it?)
Related: An Impromtu Example of MindGuiding
Productive uncertainty is the experience of “not quite knowing” coupled with experiencing that no risk or threat is involved with fully engaging with the not-quite-understood situation. Productive uncertainty always has a bit of a playful element to it, along with a bit of stress. A small amount of anticipatory anxiety is more than balanced by our strong desire for exploration – to see what’s going to happen next – knowing we face little if any risk. It’s exciting to be at a crossroads and not be sure exactly which road to take. When people in groups engage in brainstorming sessions they are hopefully engaging productive uncertainty.
Instead of distress we can use Hans Selye’s (the founder of stress theory) term Eu-stress, which is a positive form of stress. The fact that you are venturing into unknown areas is always somewhat stressful, but there is no danger. Selye points out those things like winning a lottery can be stressful but not necessarily dis-stressing. There are many terms we can use: Taking a safe risk vs. a dangerous risk, being challenged vs being threatened.
Uncertainty Management in the Guiding Relationship
One of the vital things that parents do in the guiding relationship is to guide children in how to engage challenge in a productive manner, and guides can measure their success by the extent to which they can provide productively uncertain episodes for their students. Experiences of uncertainty will be frequent as guides introduce more challenging situations that move students past “edge” states. One of the most difficult jobs of the guide is walking a tightrope between offering the student the opportunity to figure something out – to make their own discoveries, determine their own decisional process and apply it themselves – allowing them to engage with uncertainty and not offering enough direct guidance when it is actually needed, resulting in uncertainty becoming overwhelming.
What we want to see is that the student is managing that uncertainty in a productive manner by studying, obtaining information, exploring and experimenting and not avoiding or withdrawing. Here, a student will deliberately making the decision to move out of a comfort area in order to engage in something that is mentally challenging. These moments become powerful memories that that the student will draw from again as they remember that they have made the choice to move towards and actively engage a mental challenge. This becomes as valuable and motivating representation.
Our programs are designed to teach parents/guides to work with the child in how to manage uncertainty by:
- Creating the right environment for students to safely explore and experiment with mental challenges that are one-step ahead of their current level of understanding.
- Experimenting to find the ‘edge’
- Constructing engagements that help the student to differentiate the experience of feeling uncertain and challenged (not-quite-understanding) from risk or threat.
- Helping students capture those moments when they choose to engage with a challenge even though it does lead to uncertainty.