Startup Tip 64: How to keep moving forward in the face of uncertainty

Girl Preparing to Pool DiveUncertainty is a natural part of the startup life. It’s where the excitement comes from, where the magic happens and its a place where we live a lot while building our startup. While there’s nothing wrong with uncertainty, the problem is that it can be uncomfortable. And most of us don’t like to be uncomfortable. 🙂

To achieve anything or to grow in any way, you need to be prepared to face uncertainty. In fact, if you think about it, all the big life changing things you do have a fair amount of uncertainty attached to them – starting a business, having your first baby, moving to a new city or job, going back to study etc.

“The quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.” – Tony Robbins

Meaning that if you don’t like uncertainty at all, you won’t take any risks in an effort to keep your life safe and contained. And that sounds like a recipe for mediocrity (and boredom!)

Sometimes uncertainty can get you down or send you into a negative spiral and make you unproductive. If this is happening to you, either there is too much uncertainty in your life all at once and/or the uncertainty is feeding off negative beliefs, that you may not even realise you hold, that are undermining your confidence.

The good news is that we can increase our tolerance for uncertainty. And it starts with how we think about it.

Personally, I was going through a period a few months ago where a lot of things were up in the air. There seemed to be a few of those life changing events round the corner (not the baby one though! 🙂 ) I found myself feeling really overwhelmed with it all. Here’s the process I used to deal with it.

Action: Overcome  Uncertainty

The value in this exercise is in thinking through it and writing down your thoughts. So stop now and grab a piece of paper (or your favourite electronic device). Don’t save it to do later (you never will.) Do it now. It will take you 2 minutes.

1. Identify what you are feeling uncertain about:

Make a list and write down everything that is bothering you, no matter how big or small

2. Identify the underlying fear:

For some things there may not be a fear, it may just be something you need to handle. But for many things you may be surprised to learn that there is some level of fear behind them. It doesn’t have to be rational (or even seem very important), just write it down anyway because it could be subconsciously holding you back. If you do this exercise with a few different situations, you will probably discover a few common underlying beliefs that influence the way you think about different situations. Realising that you apply the same unhelpful thinking to many situations is great. You can replace it with a more helpful belief which will make a big impact for you in lots of situations.

3. Identify any assumptions you have made

Also identify whether the assumption is true, incorrect or needs more information to validate it. If it is incorrect, give yourself a counter argument. If you need to validate it, what action can you take to do that? If it’s true, what action can you take to get a different result?

4. Create new (more helpful) beliefs and actions

It’s important to  replace the unhelpful beliefs and fears we identify with new beliefs and actions to take that will allow us to move forward. So what new (more helpful) beliefs can you take on and what actions do you need to take? Consciously repeat these beliefs to yourself as you tackle the things you are feeling uncertain about.

 Join the Conversation:

Let us know in the comments how you did with this process. Or tell us about your strategies to overcome uncertainty.


  1. Filan says:

    What hapened since May 2013? no posts at all? oh yeah, you got caught in uncertainty :p

  2. Hi Susan,

    I was reluctant to comment as this post was written in May, but I can see you’ve recently replied to the above comment. I’m happy to hear your relaunching because I really like the site and content.

    Back to this post…. The fear, uncertainly and the out-of-comfort-zone feeling is what starting and running a business is all about. You take risks and have to make the decisions.

    What splits the success stories from the failures is how much someone lets their uncertainly control them.

    A great quote I once heard was

    “Feel The Fear, But Do it Anyway”

    Thanks for the great read


  3. Thanks for the kind words Naomi.
    I think you’ve summarised the post pretty well there!

  4. vijayalakshmi says:

    Hi Susan,
    It was very hard work for me to list out the four points inside me.Your article truly made me to think about what my uncertainties are, and work at it.
    I always been in the situation of uncertainty till now.

    Thank you for the post.


    • Hi Viji,
      Congratulations on doing the work! It is hard – but then anything worthwhile is. 🙂 I hope that you find that having worked through these things gives you a positive path forward. Let me know how you go.

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