Three Types of Certainty

Peak performers live their life with a high degree of certainty that they can achieve their goals. There are three different types of certainty: 1) opinion; 2) belief; and 3) conviction. Opinions are formed through transitory perceptions and it is easy to reformulate opinions based on new information and inputs. The fleeting nature of opinions make them a bit precarious as a useful tool for achieving goals. For instance, going out for a long run with just an opinion of successfully completing the run, you can easily be sabotaged to a new opinion of inadequacy when you begin to feel fatigued and/or feel like quitting.

Our beliefs are much stronger. Beliefs are often attached to emotional occurrences (ex. not wanting to be overweight) and/or reoccurring events (ex. habitual exercise) which create stronger neural pathways in the brain (than opinions). It is possible to change our beliefs as well but it requires more effort than merely changing an opinion about something. Using the same running analogy, a belief can help you push through fatigue because personal experience and prior accomplishments create resolve.

The highest form of certainty is our convictions. Throughout history many have achieved incredible successes through conviction, where others have created incredible chaos. Using the running analogy, a runner with a conviction to finish might push through an injury to complete a race (at considerable risk).

Convictions are extremely empowering (for better or worse) and can operate indiscriminately of ethical boundaries and common sense. There is much debate in psychology about the formation of convictions. Classic nurture versus nature arguments are applied throughout broad topics ranging from religious convictions to prejudicial ideologies. The truth is there’s still a lot we don’t know about how people develop their concepts of certainty.

What we do know is that certainty is needed to help drive decisions and initiate tasks. This should be intuitive… if someone can’t make up their mind this indecisiveness usually leads to inaction, and a lack of action is the quickest way to get nowhere. Peak performers create positive certainty by creating experiences and references that strengthen their beliefs and convictions. In the beginning this can be as simple as gathering information and talking to people that have previous knowledge. Eventually it requires taking continuous action. Action advantageously strengthens certainty and moves opinions to beliefs, and beliefs to convictions, which of course leads to more positive action. This loop creates powerful cycles that lead to continuous improvement.

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.
— John F. Kennedy