“A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction” is the web’s definition of doubt. It feels like a contradiction to who we are. As humans, we tend to go through our lives being certain even when we don’t feel it deep inside.
Just think about it. We always explain our actions by sharing the certainty of a future outcome we believe in. Even when it is wrong. When in conversation, we share our thoughts with certainty. The tone of our voice transforms our opinions into something much greater than maybe they should be.
Doubt is very complicated within its own life. We use it, at times, as a mechanism to protect us. When we hear things that we don’t want to hear but need to hear. The strength in our doubt for what we heard, stops us from listening. Making another person’s point of view irrelevant in our minds so that it doesn’t hurt us as we blindly go on with our life.
As an opening to centering our thoughts prior to our next steps, doubt can have extreme value. It can keep us from traveling down dead ends and gross miscalculations. Science and its scientific method uses doubt by first acknowledging its existence.
When something new or different is stated, science would say “ok, you may be right”. Creating a doubt that what we currently believe to be true, may not be. Then science goes on to challenge by saying “now prove it”. It then uses its multiple tools such as: blind studies, placebo use versus a new drug’s trial results, research tests, or validation to name a few.
Validation is a technique of using something else to confirm what you believe to be true. When the stove temperature display says that the oven is at 300 degrees, a way to validate this is to put a second thermometer into the oven to see what temperature it reads. If they are the same great. If not you have a problem and your doubt has served you well.
Too many of us listen to conversations and acquire new information without ever validating what we heard, to see if it is reasonable or true. We never doubt what others tell us or what we read on our phones. This is a strong explanation for why fake news can be so dangerous. In a meeting the other day, I heard someone emphatically state something that didn’t appear reasonable. Yet they said it with such conviction to infer that my doubt in their words was absurd.
We need doubt to help us separate fact from opinion. Truth from falsehoods.
We are never taught to validate new information we receive. If one co-worker believes there is a problem, do we check with three others independently to see if they will share the same issue? When reading something, do we search the web for more information or look for disconfirming information?
Doubt becomes an even more powerful an ally when it is paired with curiosity.
Validation takes time. It also takes patience. Not to jump at what we first hear. Silently, doubt powers the strength needed to validate and to be patient before we take our next steps. Doubt demands us to be more curious to find what we missed or what is really not true. A side benefit of this approach is that we are given the opportunity to deeper learning that may open up new possibilities or dissolve obstacles once we understand things better.
Of course, you can’t validate forever. This leads to indecision and that is not what I am suggesting. Using doubt to our advantage is for us to independently quickly test a couple of times what we just heard or read. Determining first the value of our discovered new information. Discarding what is not true, reasonable, or accurate. And then deciding how to proceed.
Carpenters may have said it best when suggesting “measure twice and then cut once”. Doubt is what should remind us to do this repeatedly. Especially when we feel so certain.