Written by Claire Holmes, 11/04/2020
A Practical Approach
Just as with any other skill, dealing with uncertainty takes time and practice – here are some ways of starting to build our ambiguity ‘muscle’ by thinking about our strengths, to relieve our stress around uncertainty:
- Break projects down into small steps – begin by tackling tasks with low levels of uncertainty. When a car ahead on the road stops suddenly, the driver who thinks broadly “what should I do?” is likely to be ineffective, whereas the driver who thinks “I need to swerve left now because there’s a car on the right” is well equipped to respond. Like the driver on the road who has enough information to calculate his or her response, if you focus on a single, manageable aspect of a task you are unlikely to be overwhelmed by threat responses. Take baby steps, and over time you can build up to bigger challenges.
- Focus on problem solving and have awareness of and trust in your unique abilities to solve problems as they arise. Think about how you naturally approach problems. Are you someone who tends to rely on intuition when resolving problems? If so, trust this intuition. Or do you take a more analytical approach to identify the root cause of an issue and systematically find solutions? Who are complementary partners, who approach situations with a different way of thinking, who can help you solve problems?
- Feel the fear and do it anyway. Sometimes we have to ‘take the plunge’ and ignore our brain’s natural impulses to avoid uncertainty. Even if acting impulsively doesn’t come naturally to you, think about what you need in order to be best prepared for taking action. Reflect on significant decisions you have made in your life and determine what steps you took in order to feel ready to act – did you talk through others to get their opinions? Did you systematically evaluate different scenarios and obstacles? Did you simply listen to what your gut was telling you?
- Be curious, not judgmental. As with learning any new skill, learning to feel comfortable with uncertainty may not feel easy or come naturally at first. Failure is merely ‘success in progress’. Stripped of emotion, ‘success’ means we got what we wanted, and ‘failure’ means we didn’t. If we label and judge ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in this way, it just causes us to feel good or bad instead of feeling curious, and this judgement gets in the way of understanding. Develop a more factual, objective way of thinking about what has happened – this is the basis for asking the questions that actually take us forward – ‘how did things come out that way?’; what do I need to adjust/do next?’; ‘what resources will help me?’. Study the structure of both failure and success, as this is the key to development – if we become curious, we cease to be victims and we take control once again. Remember, we are always the cause and never the effect of what is happening around us!
- Redefine success. Especially in the early stages of practice. Success can be as much about managing the ambiguity as it is about achieving the final result. Make managing the ambiguity your goal and celebrate each win along the way.
- Manage Stress. Although this is an enormous topic in itself, the key is in identifying what stress management techniques work for you - and what works for each of us is dependent upon our strengths. We only have two choices in life generally – change the situation or change our mindset and reaction to the situation. And it’s only the latter approach that we always have complete control over. Therefore, an awareness of the ways of thinking and behaving that come very naturally to us, and the needs and potential vulnerabilities that we each have with the unique way in which we are each wired, is invaluable in managing stress, choosing our mindset and reactions, and thriving in uncertainty.
- Communicate to Collaborate. We must all communicate to create a perception of certainty that enables us to thrive. We each experience the world in a unique way according to our unique mental maps informed by our strengths and experiences, but not a single one of us is a mind reader. We must therefore be as explicit as possible about what is going on inside our heads – we should share our plans, rationale, fears, explanations of how we are thinking about things and why we might do things a certain way, without ever assuming that what applies to us applies to others. Communication works both ways, of course - we should gather as much information and feedback from others as we can, in the moment. Human beings are social animals, and at the most basic level, we rely on one another for our survival, communicating and collaborating – and this has never been as apparent as it is now in these unprecedented times.
In part 3, we'll explore how a Strengths-based approach can help us to thrive, despite uncertainty.