We live in uncertain times, in a world that is not only changing exponentially, but one in which we’re increasingly less certain of what tomorrow will bring, let-alone able to confidently predict and plan for possibilities years into the future.
Whilst much has been written on the topic of managing change, there is less acknowledgement that our fear and anxiety arising from ambiguity can be as damaging, if not more so, than when we experience change. Change is often easier to cope with when we know what we’re changing to, even if we don’t like it. When we don’t know what to expect, we tend to make stuff up, which more often than not, is an unrealistic, unlikely or exaggerated version of what actually happens.
Whilst human beings are the only species to have evolved the capacity to think about the future, we’re actually quite bad at it. We overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening, we exaggerate the degree and duration of their impact on us, and we underestimate our own capacity to adapt and respond to negative events. This leaves us feeling fearful, vulnerable and full of self-doubt, which actually takes away our ability to analyse our situation, identify strategies, weigh up options, plan solutions and take positive action to manage the uncertainty.
Whilst we can do much in our personal and professional lives to control our environment, our circumstances, and our destiny, the reality is that often, we can’t. Life is unpredictable. Our company gets bought out and we don’t know if we’ll have a job any more. Our mother finds a lump, and we don’t know what the diagnosis will be. Our Department is restructuring to make cost savings, and we’re not told what we’ll be doing in the new structure. Our spouse seems disengaged from the relationship and we don’t know what it means for the future.
Next time you’re faced with uncertainty, even if the future seems out of your control, here’s some strategies to help increase your level of comfort:
- Try to think through all of the possible outcomes that might occur, not just the worst case scenario
- Using past experience and known evidence, try to weigh up all the possible outcomes and decide which are the more likely – get someone trusted and impartial to help you with this if you’re having trouble being objective
- Consider how each scenario is likely to impact you, now, in the short term and in the long term – identify both positive and negative impacts
- Challenge your predictions – even if the worst case eventuates, will it be as bad as you think it will be twelve months down the track?
- Think of a time in the past when you were faced with an uncertain future and a difficult outcome – can you recall how you got through it, and then remind yourself of the strengths and skills you’ve already developed that enable you to cope with challenging circumstances?
We all confront and deal with uncertainty and ambiguity every day – no matter how much we try to control our environment and circumstances, nothing is ever as certain as we like to believe.
If you’re worry about the future is impacting on your well-being or your ability to manage in the present, consider getting some input from a coach or psychologist to develop your resilience. Building up your physical energy, social supports and emotional coping skills are all within your control, and will help build your capacity to maintain health, well-being and productivity in the face of an increasingly uncertain, changing and challenging world.
Staff Development for an Uncertain, Changing and Challenging Workplace
See more about PB Performance Coaching’s Resilience At Work programs here.