Not Much Is for Certain. How Are You Responding to Uncertainty?
Spoiler alert: I don’t have it all figured out but I do have one tool you can use related to strengths which I’ll address at the end.
There seems to be a lot of buzz and advice around being comfortable with–accepting?— instead of responding to uncertainty. For example, here are 3 sources I found:
- Being Comfortable with Uncertainty by Tony Fahkry
- The Benefits Of Being Comfortable With Uncertainty by Art Markman
- Why You Need To Get Comfortable With Discomfort and Uncertainty by Gary Korisko
While the “problem” might be clear, as well as the case for the “solution,” I’m not sure the HOW is really addressed. To be comfortable can be a stretch if you’re nail-biting and on edge–like going from 0 to 100 mph. Can we instead strive for responding well to uncertainty? That’s my approach for this post, and for life.
The Problem of Uncertainty
The pull and expectation to know the way forward is strong for some of us here in America. We are, after all, an outcome-driven culture. (And doubly so if you are an executive.) We not only want to know what to expect in the end (the probable) but we also want to be able to foresee every step of the way there. (And perhaps this is not unique to America, but is a predominately Western mindset?) The question is, “How is this obsession with KNOWING affecting our daily lives, our happiness, our experience of the present, and our relationships with ourselves and others?” And if the answer comes back that’s not where we want to be, then what changes can we make?
While I agree that “being comfortable with uncertainty” is an ideal space, I’m not sure Western philosophy really tells us how to get there. Or what to do. Maybe responding to it is perhaps the best we can do at times. It’s one thing to say “Be comfortable,” but without the steps outlined, there is no making it a reality. Also, the steps might be highly individualized.
Some of the advice from the sources might be helpful, but quite general:
- “surrender to the natural order of events by leaning in to our fears and insecurities.” (Fahkry)
- “reason with your anxieties by perceiving them with a logical mind instead of becoming embroiled in them.” (Fahkry)
- “Remain present in your body when anxiety threatens your emotional wellbeing.” (Fahkry)
- “focus on the processes by which you live your life, rather than the outcomes” (Markman)
- “trust the process you are engaging in, rather than focusing primarily on the current outcome” (Markman)
- “find colleagues who seem to thrive in uncertain times. Take them out for coffee and pick their brains” (Markman)
- “step back and reflect on the time and opportunity you’re wasting.” (Korisko)
- “if you’re in this situation – you are not a slave to it. Change your mind. Start over. Reboot.” (Korisko)
- “instead of running away from it as fast as you can, stop and see it for what it really is: Opportunity and growth.” (Korisko)
- “acknowledge them [uncertainty and discomfort] as a sign that something is going right.” (Korisko)
A Possible (Practical?) Response to Uncertainty: Strengths-Based Reasoning
For me, using strengths is the way forward. With uncertainty, as with everything. Grounding ourselves in our unique Clifton StrengthsFinder results can give us personalized solutions. We can create mantras as responses when uncertainty arises–and the fear that stems from it. Depending on our strengths, we might generate long lists of ideas (Ideation) or trust that we are exactly where we need to be (Connectedness) or develop tools to evaluate the possibilities (Analytical).
I often ask clients some version of “How can your strength X help you with this?” or “What does your strength X have to say about this?”
Asking those questions of yourself allows your strengths to take the sherpa role and lead you up the mountain. Perhaps some “comfort” lies in acknowledging the wisdom of this sherpa and doing the work of trusting and appreciating your unique strengths. Which of your top 5 signature themes can be your “Uncertainty Sherpa?”
I’m not suggesting this is the silver bullet solution–or the only one. Strengths is simply another tool you can draw from. Others might be meditation, relaxation techniques, or exercise. What methods or approaches are you using in responding to uncertainty and fear?