How to deal with the uncertainty of running a business

Today we’re going to talk about uncertainty in business and how goals that emphasize learning will keep you engaged in your business for the long-haul.

We often hear “engagement” used to talk about your audience but we also need to turn the microscope around and analyze your engagement. The way you interact with your business can either increase or decrease your level of uncertainty – a major source of stress on you as a business owner. If you aren’t careful, uncertainty can take control of your goals, your priorities, and your motivation. Uncertainty accompanied by disengagement leads to acting out of fear – picking a route with least resistance even if it is in the opposite direction of everything you care about.

But uncertainty paired with effective learning habits? You gain the capability to move forward with confidence even when you can’t see the path.

Uncertainty is certain. Business is not exception. I'm helping you build some awareness around two behaviors we tend to exhibit because we're letting uncertainty run the show. Learn how to deal with uncertainty and how to take back control of your focus and your drive.

How do we typically respond to uncertainty?

For our ancestors, uncertainty kept them moving from place to place – to find food, shelter, a good water supply, new potential mates, etc. It also kept them abiding by tribe culture unless they knew they could overpower the strongest of the group.

These actions had proven to keep them alive. Survival was uncertain and the brain had a special response that helped motivate the person to pursue certainty. We call that response stress.
Today we are able to stay in one place for long periods of time (generations upon generations) but our brains are still pursue the safety of certainty. In the presence of uncertainty – where we perceive the need to outweigh our available resources – we see a rise of cortisol and a focused pursuit of something that makes us feel secure.

Often that looks like focusing in on the details instead of figuring out the more important problem.

I talked about this recently as we considered why we reach for social media when we start to stall on a project. It’s also true in any number of other instances, like binge-reading blog posts on how to grow your email list or downloading 10 different guides to launching your first online course. But herein lies a problem. Our brains dislike uncertainty but often our response to that stress is to turn to something that only gives a moment of security. Then, when we attempt to re-enter work mode, we find that the problem has not been resolved.

What happened? We failed to proactively address the heart of the problem and instead hyper-focused on minute details that only matter when the biggest issues are covered. It’s like making the best gravy known to man but forgetting to cook the potatoes.

There’s another way this happens: when we only do the bare minimum.

Copying someone else verbatim, getting client work done just so you can cash in, solving a problem just enough to get it out of the “urgent” category – these are bare minimum efforts. And you deserve more in life.

So how do we do it? How do we tackle this problem of uncertainty proactively instead of these passive methods like focusing on details or doing the bare minimum?

We train our brains to look for growth.

Certainty involves a sense of control. And what better way to assert control than to acquire the skills you need to overcome common obstacles in running a business?

Here’s the why behind our maladaptive habits in the face of a problem:

  1. When the panic button is hit or we’ve been hacking away at a difficult task for a while, our brains look for happiness. So it uses pre-formed habits that previously resulted in a boost of happy chemicals — like eating fat + sugar (aka a donut) or getting virtual high-fives.
    Related: Why you keep obsessing over social media
    How to stop obsessing over social media
  2. These pre-formed habits have taught our brain that reward is immediate. So we derive less pleasure from the pursuit of understanding because it takes a while and usually involves first experiencing some sort of pain (physical, mental, emotional, etc).
    Related: When vulnerability makes you feel like crap

It’s time to take action:

  • Build awareness around the types of problems + circumstances that send you running for donuts.
  • Practice stopping and sitting with that feeling – the one that makes you feel a little jittery and fidgety.
  • Compile a list of personal case studies – highlights of how you’ve grown over the past few years, stories of clients you’ve impacted, your favorite memories of when you overcame a significant trial, etc.
  • Ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” Link the overcoming of this problem with your biz + life aspirations.
  • Establish a routine for getting your head in the game. Play epic music, watch a video clip of your hero telling her story, curate a list of quotes from people who have overcome major obstacles.
  • Then tackle the problem systematically. Don’t just start swinging wildly like a newbie – you’re growing into an expert, remember? So start practicing like the experts. Identify the problem, gather relevant concepts, and find a viable solution. (I told you how to do this over here.)


Uncertainty rises when you let your gauge of success be how many followers or even how much money your work has brought you. Those metrics puts your capability in someone else’s hands. By instead aiming to understand the system you’re working in and assessing where you fall in the stages of development, you take back control of your focus and your drive. There’s a lot you simply cannot be certain of in life, but you can stack the deck in your favor.


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©2020 Alisa Nelson | All rights reserved | All content, layouts, designs, and graphics are my own unless otherwise noted.

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