3 Ways To Beat The Curse Of Uncertainty
Someone once said that people are more committed to comfort than they are to change. Especially given the fact that with change comes uncertainty.
The reason is fairly simple; uncertainty makes you feel uneasy, out of control and even anxious.
I am reminded of the story of an executive* who, shortly after moving his family to another city, found out that his boss and mentor – who encouraged him to make the move to advance his career, was fired.
If uprooting and moving his family to a new city wasn’t a big enough change, with the arrival of a new boss, he now found himself worrying that he could also lose his job. Unexpected changes like this – especially in today’s business climate, are becoming commonplace.
What would you do if you were in his shoes?
Remember To H-A-L-T
You have likely faced uncertainty at some point in your career and life. Everyone has.
When faced with an unexpected change or a challenging situation, I remember the words that a close friend once shared with me: “Never make a decision when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.” I call it the HALT Rule.
In short, when faced with uncertainty, don’t react. I know that this can be easier said than done. However, taking a step back will provide you with an opportunity to look beyond the initial tide of emotions that can overwhelm you. This pause will empower you to effectively assess the situation and develop a sound go forward strategy.
Or to put it another way, you can turn the apparent curse of uncertainty into a blessing of new found good fortune. You have the power to do that! In this month’s eNewsletter, I will share with you the 3 ways that you can.
1. Don’t Fret; Focus!
Do you fear the unknown or is your fear based more on what might happen?
Think about this seemingly subtle yet significant difference. When the executive referenced at the beginning of this eLetter found out that his boss was fired, he didn’t simply shrug his shoulders and go blank. His first thought was that the new boss might want to replace him. This thought isn’t an unknown, it is a fear of what he imagined might happen.
According to countless studies, 85% of what we fear the most will never happen. While I am not suggesting that your worst fears can’t become a reality, what I am saying is that they aren’t likely to. This is why spending time worrying about what might happen is a waste of energy.
Instead, when confronted with the unexpected, focus on assessing the situation and gathering the facts as to what is actually happening.
Here is how you can stop fretting and start focusing:
- See the potential opportunities. Remember, with every closing door, there is an opening window.
- Gain a “big picture” perspective by adopting an attitude of gratitude. Acknowledging the things that are good in your life will create a sense of balance and calm.
- Seek advice from your coach, mentors and close friends. The perspective of trusted confidantes can help to ease your worst fears, by giving you an objective lens through which to view your situation.
2. Adopt a Contingency Plan
You know the old saying about failing to plan is planning to fail?
Clarify if your fear is generalized or grounded. For example, in October, it was estimated that Hurricane Mathew would make landfall in West Palm Beach, in close proximity to my home on the water. Needless to say, I secured my property, removed all furniture from outdoors and temporarily left Florida. Yes, I was blessed because Hurricane Mathew bypassed my home but I knew my preparedness had been justified.
While it is not always possible to plan for every contingency or unexpected situation that can arise in life, being prepared or having a planning process in place, will put you in the best position to deal with the unexpected. Specifically, there is comfort in foreknowledge, and empowerment in readiness.
Are you ready for the unexpected? There is nothing wrong with having a justifiable fear or concern; but distinguish between a grounded fear rather than a fear based on a sense of fate.
The following steps will make certain that you are prepared to face almost any situation with a cool head, and a steady hand:
- Diagnose the challenges you face. Do an honest assessment of your vulnerabilities. Where in your present situation are you most vulnerable in terms of a looming or present change?
- Like knowing where the emergency exits are in your office building, write down three potential situations that could happen, and then plan your response to each one. Think of it as being your personal fire drill that will guide you to safety in uncertain times.
- Just like golfers keep their mind on their swing and their eye on the ball, your focus must be on the business, upcoming changes and hidden agendas.
- Be willing to adapt or improvise your planned response when the situation calls for it.
3. Face Uncertainty With Confidence, Not Optimism
In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins wrote about the Stockdale Paradox.
He tells the story of admiral Jim Stockdale who, during the Vietnam War, was held captive for eight years. Despite the horrors he endured, and the fact that there was little reason to hope that he would survive to see his wife and family again, he never lost faith.
As Stockdale himself put it, “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Now you might suggest that Stockdale was an optimist. However, it was the optimists according to Stockdale, who did not survive. Rather than facing the dire circumstances they were in, the optimists in captivity put their faith in the unfounded hope that they would soon be released. When it didn’t happen, they gave up.
What Collins took away from the Stockdale experience is that while you must retain a strong faith that you will ultimately prevail regardless of what you are facing, you must also confront the facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
The following tips will help you to be able to do this:
- Adapt your behavior to reduce your distress. That means making small but meaningful adjustments that are both appropriate to the situation and still honor your own values.
- Expand your network. Good networkers use their contacts as a source for information, insights and changes in the political landscape of their companies.
- Manage your destiny. Whatever happens, there is a purpose and it will ultimately work to your benefit if you can see that your experience helps you to build the gift of resilience.
Look Beyond Uncertainty
When you face the unknown with clarity, confidence, and an enduring faith in an eventual positive outcome, the veil of uncertainty will be lifted, revealing new opportunities and possibilities beyond your present circumstances.
In the end, my advice to you is not to fear the unknown, but to challenge it and embrace your bigger future, even if that future isn’t what you had originally envisioned.
* You can read the executive’s full story in my book The Future Of You.