Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Addiction to Certainty

Food and Connection

Two years ago, I saw an interview with Tony Robbins, a popular motivational speaker who talked about six core values that drive behaviour. The values were significance, love, growth, contribution, certainty, and adventure.  According to Robbins, everyone values a particular cocktail of the combination. When I thought carefully about the list and put them in order of what I believed I valued most, I put them in the following order:

  1. Love/connection
  2. Significance
  3. Certainty
  4. Adventure/Uncertainty
  5. Growth 
  6. Contribution
Over the past few months, while in the process of making significant life changes, (changing my work position, moving homes, focusing on simplifying my life) I have been reflecting on my choices and past decisions.  Although certainty is number 3 on my list, when I look at how I make life choices, what keeps me up at night and what increases level of anxiety, I actually behave and make choices based on certainty.  

What I think I value and what I actually practice are not the same thing.  I think I value love and connection, but in practice, I value the idea of the sure thing more than love, more than significance and more than the desire to grow.

I want to know. I want to feel secure. I want to know that my health is good and that I am loved. I want to know that all my family is loved, healthy and cared for. I want to know that I will have a steady pay check, a roof over my head and a secured retirement. 

I realize that most of my decisions are based on my need to feel safe and secure and that all is well in my world.  

Funny thing is, the more I have come to appreciate my overwhelming desire for certainty, the more I have appreciated that I really don't have it.  No matter how well I take care of myself, I can still get sick, no matter how secure I think my job is, there is no promise that I will have it until I retire. No matter how much money I accrue or invest, it can all be lost. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the idea of Certainty is an illusion. It's an illusion, because whatever pain we try to avoid, or plan to overcome, in the end, the whole protective tower of security can come tumbling down.

Certainty is an illusion.  

I am no stranger to addictive behaviour and as I work to keep my coffee consumption down, I know that I am not even grazing the real mother load of my addictions.  The truth is, I am an addict and my drug of choice is certainty.

My need to control the outcome, to plan, organize and schedule safety is remarkably futile, yet I continue to try!  I know I am not alone in this is a recurring theme in both my energy work and counselling practice.

So what can I do to overcome this? What can WE do to overcome our collective desire to keep our worlds known, controlled, safe and small? Keeping in mind that I am working on this with you, here are a few practical suggestions:

Photo by Jill Philipchuk
1. Stay in This Present Moment.  Easier said than done, I know. "Anxiety is fear of the future and the future is not real", my fellow energy practitioner, Ann Liden, reminds me. Certainty is about controlling an outcome and that is always about the future.  When we focus on the here and now, we focus on the only real certainty we have - the present moment. For me this is about anchoring myself in what already exists. For the vast majority of us, this present moment is not too shabby.  Say it out loud.  What's really happening right now?  I am breathing, I am fed, I have a roof over my head, I am loved, I can walk, I am alive. Acknowledge your present moment experience and focus on everything that is working for you right at this moment.

2. Cross Crawls - This is a simple task that does big things in your brain. It essentially helps you to integrate both sides of your brain and helps you stay connected into your body.  Donna Eden Energy Medicine has a quick youtube demo of this activity. This is a great activity to do when you feel yourself spin down into your "pit of pitifulness". We experience worry, fear and overwhelm in our bodies and it is important that we use our bodies as one of our strategies to work with these feelings.

3.  Get Connected. Invest in relationships!  Don't wait for a crisis or setback to develop relationships.  Spend focused time every day building connections and staying connected.  Put a timer on for fifteen minutes if you have to, and use that focused time to call, email, text or plan focused time where you are building connections.  This is time that should be used to listen or focus on the lives of those around you. Schedule curiosity. Every Tuesday go hang with your daughter in her bedroom and find out what brings her joy. Email a sibling you don't see often and take them out for a coffee (Oops, there I go talking about my secondary addiction!) or a tea, perhaps. Find out how your friend's salsa lessons are going and get them to demo a move or two.  Take the opportunity to practice your own curiosity and listen.  These small investments in time and curiosity will always pay you dividends.

In the end, appreciating and showing up for what we have right now, will take us much farther than the illusive glitter of certainty.  The one sure thing we have is this moment, and the more we are able to show up and respect the now, the easier it will be to untangle ourselves from the false promises that certainty provides.


  1. Great post Emi, there's a lot in here that resonates with me. It's interesting when we really try and look at ourselves objectively to see whether our aspirations actually align with our actions.

    Certainty is without doubt an attractive drug, and I wonder to what extent we as humans are 'hardwired' to value it? Our survival as a species is largely predicated upon the need to know how things work, what food we can / can't eat, what is dangerous / not dangerous etc. It's therefore reasonable to assume that our need for certainty is buried deep within our psyche, no matter how much we would like to think of ourselves as radical and creative.

    Being conscious of the notion that our need for certainly is both a fundamental construct and at the same time an illusion is a powerful tool for helping us live in the moment. If it is possible to accept the idea that nothing is certain, it should be easier to reduce our fear of change as we become aware that change is the only certainty. Breaking our addiction to certainty is probably harder than giving up smoking (or coffee), but achieving and really internalizing this realization should ultimately lead to a life less dominated by fear.

  2. Thank you for your response Tony! Your last words for me are what resonate strongest. For me, it is in fact the invitation to stop reacting to stories based in fear and to get comfortable with our experiences of discomfort so that we can remain in the present moment. And so the journey continues!