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Minimum Viable Certainty and Optimal Performance

Optimal performance is operating as best as possible. It is achieved when we are in Flow, a state in which the sense of time blurs, we have a sense of effortless effort, and we get out of our own way. This is true of individuals and teams as well. To perform optimally we need to be fully absorbed in a task, concentrating on a clear goal.

We need certainty about where to channel our attention to let go into full absorption. And, we need to be able to accept uncertainty to avoid the distractions that come when we are not comfortable with it.


Attention and Focus

Concentration is a requirement for Flow. It is the ability to stay focused on a chosen object, a goal, an activity, or a task. But if we look more closely, we see that concentration needs focus and attention.

To sustain focus on a task you must be mindfully aware and persistent. That is what makes it possible to recognize distractions and remain focused by coming back to or staying with your task.

“According to Amisha Jha, a neuroscientist, there are three kinds of attention:

  • Open attention—using a floodlight to see or be objectively aware of what is occurring in a broad expanse. This is mindfulness.
  • Focused attention—shining a flashlight or laser to direct light on a chosen object. This is concentration.
  • Executive attention—deciding what, within the field of open attention, to attend to and what to do about it, regulating responses with mindful awareness and discernment, avoiding distraction. This is the effort required to sustain open and focused attention.”[1]

Focused attention—concentration—elicits and cultivates the experience of resting comfortably in the present moment. Open attention or mindfulness makes you aware of experiences and movement, telling you when you are distracted.


Certainty About The Goal

A clear goal is needed to focus attention. If the goal is fuzzy or constantly changing the ability to perform optimally is lost. We know this from experience in project work and life in general.

Once we start on a task, the more we are uncertain about where we are going – the goal – the more we are distracted.

When the goal changes, particularly if it happens frequently, we not only have to shift our attention, but we lose confidence in our leadership. Shifting attention we lose momentum. With a lack of confidence in leadership, we lose motivation.

While goals are subject to change when they are well thought out, they can be relatively stable.



Imagine a team of U.S. Navy Seals on a mission. If their target is changed in the middle of the mission, they will be less able to focus on the objective. If it changes more than once, they will likely lose trust and confidence. Their performance will suffer.

The same is true of a project performer or team faced with frequently changing goals and objectives.


Minimum Viable Certainty and Performance

But the need for certainty goes beyond goals. To perform optimally we need certainty about our next steps.

When goals are broken down into short-term goals, the objectives needed to be met to accomplish the goal, then each objective can be accomplished with greater certainty. The shorter the task, the fewer risk events can occur.

In a recent article, A. Poje states that “Recent research and the wisdom of the SEALs suggest that minimum viable certainty might be the key to achieving our highest potential.”[2]


Ultimately, one of the few things we can be certain of is uncertainty. Anything can change at any moment. Minimal viable certainty refers to the period during which certainty is high. We can create windows of high certainty, periods during which we can be relatively (though not 100%) certain about what is going to happen.

Navy SEALs, need very short periods of certainty. They seek a minimum viable certainty of 5 minutes or less. While skiing, the skier doesn’t look at obstacles but instead finds and plans for the path of certainty. That kind of planning is moment-to-moment. You sustain momentum and avoid hesitation and unnecessary thinking.


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Creating Certainty Windows

Executives, managers, and individual performers often feel the need for some certainty when there is a barrage of priority changes, and interruptions like emails and ‘urgent” calls while they are expected to hit planned target dates.

Each new message amplifies uncertainty. Sometimes it seems there is no way to get into Flow.

In project work our minimum viable certainty window is much longer than it is for the skier or the Seal – it may be hours, days, or weeks instead of seconds or minutes. Even in an environment with constantly changing priorities and interruptions we can plan and create windows of certainty.

While we may have a six-month project plan we can make our personal or team plan for a month, a week, a day, or even an hour out. In that window of certainty, we can focus attention and perform in Flow. Then we can regularly step back to adjust the longer-term goals and objectives.



While we need some certainty, we must be comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty and confident in our ability to accept and adapt to whatever happens.

That comfort and confidence allow us to eliminate the worry that uncertainty brings. Instead of expecting things to turn out the way we’d like them to we focus and remain fully aware of what is happening now and in the next few moments so we can respond rather than react.

Minimum viable certainty is enough to keep you on your game, performing at the highest level possible.


To create a certainty window, turn off the interruptions, carving out the uninterrupted time needed to fully focus on the task at hand. If you can’t do it 100%, prioritize the interruptions so that you are increasingly likely to give yourself and your team the uninterrupted minimal viable certainty needed.

While you can never be certain, you can create stability by taking control of your situation as best you can. And you can cultivate the acceptance and resilience you need to be comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty and anything that comes up.

When you strive for optimal performance, mindfully focus on the now and let go of distractions like worry and interruptions. Find the minimum viable certainty that works for you in your environment.

[1] [1] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, 2023, p.135-136.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.