Pretending to know how you got here, how this existence came about and what your role and place in it is, will give you an air of certainty, no doubt.
If you are really good at this, you can even fool yourself not only others, and really believe that you know, that you have certainty.
Lying to yourself about having certainty and no doubts about what to do with your life might seem admirable, courageous or virtuous. It’s definitely a profitable strategy in the zeitgeist of the 21st century.
But if you look at it more deeply, you come to find that it’s a defense mechanism.
Pretending to be certain is a strategy employed to stabilize a personality that’s otherwise unstable, cover up vulnerabilities that can’t be defended and to avoid seeing oneself and being seen by others as incompetent or powerless.
Many of today’s successful leaders and public figures, will pretend to have certainty, not only when faced with difficult choices, but also essentially as a modus operandi, developing unquestionable certainty as an essential feature of their identity.
This saves them from a continuous existential crisis and helps them act swiftly and in a bold, often provocative manner that draws attention. If and when their decision or statement turns out to be wrong, they often simply correct course, say “Sorry, I was wrong” or just come up with a reasonable explanation – and be just as certain about the new thing to do without blinking an eye. And when that turns out to be a dead end, they simply repeat the process.
As a leader, certainty is not only profitable, but it’s expected. It’s the mark of a good leader. If you don’t know what to do and you are not willing to pretend you do, then don’t become leader – sings the choir of cynical leaders and their blind following, which includes all of us some of the time.
The fact is, if the score of such leaders is only slightly better than random, say they are right 60% of the time, chances are they can explain the other 40% away, since they tend to be good communicators, and their confidence is exactly what convinces us that this time they are really right, even if they were wrong last time. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, right? We are only human…
And what we see is certain and competent leaders, who can grow up to the demanding task of making tough choices. What’s intriguing is these kinds of authority figures, who always seem to know what to do, are never held responsible for lying about their certainty. Even if they are held responsible for a specific bad decision on the odd occasion, they carry on pretending the same level of certainty as if nothing happened.
Their apology is nothing but empty words, without any substance. How do we know this? Because in the same breath, they’ll say something very different or the exact opposite of what they had said or done, with the exact same, unquestionable certainty. They can’t afford to show any sign of humility and doubt even when they would have every reason to, because that would render them less of an expert, less of a good leader and the other guy might just take their place in the hierarchy.
If they actually meant their apology and seeked redemption, they would willingly offer their place to the next guy or at least shut up for a good while and speak with a tone of humility next time. That’s rarely the case, but when it does happen, it validates not only the apology, but also what was said before the wrong call and what would be said afterwards.
Make no mistake, most of the leaders who employ this strategy do so unknowingly and as an inevitable consequence of their narcissistic personalities. They also pay the price for any of the advantages they gain exactly by having such personalities and suffering the consequences, not being able to love for instance. The very fact that such personalities have a higher chance of becoming a leader speaks volumes of our entire society, and what’s wrong with it. These people couldn’t rise to the top and get away with murder, often literally, if we didn’t cheer for them along the way.
We are the ones who lift them up.
The alternative behaviour to faking certainty is admitting to yourself and others that you can’t be certain about almost anything.
Only losers and people with poor acting skills will take this one. Plus an insignificant group in terms of numbers: people with integrity.
No wonder, by doing that you easily run into analysis paralysis, and you may end up handing over the decision to somebody else, while bearing the responsibility for its consequences and at the same time you risk being seen as incompetent and losing face value.
Being uncertain and especially showing it to others is risky business. So is not going with the herd when they linch somebody for showing uncertainty.
So what are you to do?
Notice that the people who are always certain about what to do are full of bullshit.
While they may have more information and competence than you do, their certainty is most likely not a reflection of that excess knowledge, but a socioeconomic strategy to take a position in society, where we listen to and pay for what they have to say.
If you feel you might be one of them, it’s unlikely, because if you were. you’d not be reading this. But if you are one in a million, who is ripe for refurbishing your personality, then do just that. Seek help from a therapist who will help you fill the vacuum in your psyche by building trust, intimacy and love and on that foundation, a new personality who dare to show us more of who they really are.
On the other hand, if you find yourself on the doubtful side of the scale, analysis paralysis may be a real danger for you. Realize that in most cases, not making a decision can cause more harm than making a bad one.
Also, stop taking the talking heads you see all over the public space, and the hyper confident people in your social circle as your reference.
The only relevant reference is yourself.
Pick some small, inconsequential decisions and make them quickly as if you knew what to do while knowing you are only guessing. Don’t fake it till you make it. Instead, try it in tolerable portions and see how it feels. Just appeal to your curiosity. One decision at a time. Gradually increasing the stakes.
Notice that with most decisions, 10 years of deliberation will get you no more certainty than 10 minutes.
Try this while choosing what to have for lunch next time. Give yourself a 10 second time limit for deciding and learn to live with the consequences.
The goal is not to get better at pretending that you are certain.
Rather, remember that the apparent certainty of some people is just a facade and what you want to get better at is not certainty, but making quicker decisions, which you can, by training yourself with unimportant choices. All the while, remain honest about your doubts and welcome them as an inherent aspect of the human experience.