But instead of reducing our anxiety and making us more certain, the internet has exposed us to all of the conflicting interpretations of its data and to data that is factually wrong which we often have difficulty distinguishing from the truth. Noticing when you are confused is the first part to knowing when you are working from faulty assumptions, a situation common to the Information Age. Then, once you have started to learn where your blind spots are and how to navigate them, you need to practice spotting your assumptions. Assumption based planning is mostly used by businesses, but you can use the same tools in your life. Once you get a handle on both those sets of figuring out blind spots and assumptions, try reversing your assumptions to help you explore the idea space of what possibilities there are, and how probable they may be.
Being forced to assign a probability a numerical value emotionally divorces you from the anxiety and paralysis of trying to weigh decisions, taking the decision making away from the emotional limbic brain and putting it in the prefrontal cortex, where we plan things and use our executive functions without as much emotional involvement. It is a huge piece of how you can deal with uncertainty without it making you crazy, and as such is an invaluable skill for navigating the internet. Or just for being a person.
So how do we deal emotionally with never being certain of three quarters of our operating assumptions? Well, first we have to maintain our social networks as a form of preemptive damage control. We have to err on the side of caution at all times and act ethically so that when we do mess something up, people will give us the benefit of the doubt about our intentions. Natural laws have no pity, but if you were acting in good faith to keep people safe, most people will forgive you when you get stuff wrong as long as you fix it later. And second, as you get faster and more secure in making decisions while dealing with the presence of uncertainty, you'll start to become more familiar with how much thought is productive and how much is just dithering and overthinking. You'll be able to draw a boundary on knowing when “good enough” is actually good enough without either oversimplifying or making things more complex than they are likely to be just so that you can put off having to make the decision.
We have to deal with the vulnerability of openly not knowing stuff, and there are three tactics that make the drowning feeling of not having solid answers bearable.
- You don't have to be perfect, and that's good because you're not going to be. Accepting that a certain batting average of failures to successes will help you to see and count both circumstances without beating yourself up or congratulating yourself on what is out of your control. Give up on the illusion of always being in control, and you will acclimate better to the Sea of Doubt.
- When you’re dying, most individual decisions won't seem that important, so look at all decisions as though you are looking at them from your deathbed to get a more accurate reading on how important this is outside the context of the immediate moment. Performing a post mortem on the decision before it takes place will let you spot some kinds of mistakes that are only visible when viewed from hindsight.
- Be okay with things having costs. Lots of folks run around like headless chickens because they can’t deal with ever paying a price for things, like nothing is supposed to hurt or be difficult. Your problem is not that you have problems; your problem is that you think there's something wrong with having problems.