Peak Mind Pro: Dealing with Change and Uncertainty

Nov 16, 2022
dealing with change and uncertainty

Navigating times of uncertainty and change can be difficult. Here's why and what to do about it.

These are uncertain times.

Sure, but aren't they always? 

Whether we're talking recent community or global events or the ever-evolving world of business, life is full of uncertainty and change, and that can be hard to navigate, especially without the right mindset and skills


The Illusion of Certainty

Our brains are amazing biological machines designed to keep us alive. Understanding how and why they work the way they do holds the key to being able to embrace change and uncertainty with more ease and effectiveness.

Unless there's an obvious reason to suspect otherwise, we tend to assume that things will continue on as they have based on our previous experiences and what we've been taught. In other words, we experience a sense of certainty. We know what to expect and how things are going to go. We know that we are safe and secure.  

Certainty, however, is an illusion. We never truly know what is going to happen tomorrow, next quarter, or next year. We THINK we know - we have beliefs - but no one knows for sure what the future holds. 

Still, our brains assume certainty when life is skating as long as usual, and that feels nice for us.  

When something happens, however, that violates this illusion of certainty or clearly introduces an unknown element (say a global pandemic, new policies or procedures, or changes in leadership), we become more acutely aware that we don't actually know to expect. 

It's as though our lives were peaceful snow globes that just got shaken up. We feel out of sorts until everything settles down again.

We no longer have confidence in our ability to accurately predict, anticipate or envision the future, and that makes us uncomfortable. In the face of uncertainty, we become more aware that we don't actually know whether things will turn out ok or not. And, ultimately, we no longer have that perceived guarantee of security or safety.

That makes us vulnerable, so our anxiety systems go on high alert.  


Anxiety and Uncertainty

Anxiety is our built in warning system designed to detect and alert us to potential threats so that we can stay safe and alive. If life and business are trucking along as anticipated, our anxiety systems can relax, taking on a "been there, done that and it's all fine" attitude. When we find ourselves in the midst of change, and the resulting uncertainty that comes with it (even change for the better), that attitude goes out the window.

Venturing into uncharted territory means that anything can happen. We no longer have that illusion of certainty and safety. We don't know what the future holds, if it will be good or bad. There could be so many threats lurking around every corner. Our anxiety systems kick into overdrive to protect us. 


Intolerance of Uncertainty

There's a term, VUCA, that describes conditions that are particularly challenging for humans, those that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Our brains hate VUCA, but some people handle it much better than others. 

In the world of psychology, we use the term intolerance of uncertainty to describe the level of uncertainty it takes to register as "bad" and the ability to handle uncertainty. Some people experience the high alert anxiety reaction to tiny amounts of uncertainty; the slightest bit of not knowing registers as a threat. On the other end of the spectrum are people with very high tolerances for uncertainty. They comfortably embrace not knowing, and it takes a lot more to set off their anxiety systems. 

Think of it like pain tolerance. For some people, a paper cut is excruciating while others barely notice a gaping gash. When it comes to pain as well as uncertainty, we all have a threshold. When things cross that threshold, it becomes hard to handle. 


Dealing with Change and Uncertainty

Navigating change and uncertainty requires flexibility and adaptability, a clear view of what is and isn't in our control, strong anxiety management skills, a willingness to embrace discomfort, and the ability to do so while taking effective action. Fortunately, learning to navigate change and building your tolerance for uncertainty are completely doable, with the right know how and some practice. 

We can develop the mindset and the skills necessary to face uncertainty and change with courage and confidence. 


Actionable Tips 

Intentionally working to increase your tolerance for uncertainty can help you be resilient during VUCA times. 


1. Reframe change and uncertainty as opportunities for growth.

Thinking of uncertainty as an opportunity to experience something new or learn something valuable can help make it more tolerable. Remind yourself that you don't actually have to have all the answers and that you can handle hard things. Your track record for doing so is 100%!


2. Bring on uncertainty!

You can increase your tolerance for uncertainty by intentionally seeking it out or inviting uncertainty into your life. Get creative here. How might you practice being uncertain? How might you practice not knowing...and being willing to sit with that feeling? Experiences like these will build your confidence in your ability to be resilient, and it'll raise your threshold for uncertainty. 


3. Focus on what is, not what if.

In the face of uncertainty, the what ifs can kick in. Because of our brain's natural negativity bias, we tend to focus on what can wrong instead of what can go right, so what ifs are almost exclusively about problems or bad outcomes. Instead of going down the worry path, focus on just the facts right now. What do you know for sure? Leave it at that. 


4. Keep learning and building your skills.

Do a deeper dive into this important topic by joining our webinar Thriving Through Uncertainty on November 29, 2022 at 1 CST. This webinar is free but does require registration. 


Want More? 

Peak Mind co-founders, Dr. Ashley Smith and Dr. April Seifert, offer several related keynote speaking experiences and workshops designed to help your leaders and teams build psychological strength. 

  • Become a VUCA Leader
  • Courageous & Confident: Living Outside Your Comfort Zone
  • What to Do When Life Gives You VUCA
  • Adapt & Conquer: 5 Tips for Overcoming Adversity
  • Breaking Free from Anxiety

Contact us or send an email to [email protected] for more information. 


"The ultimate form of preparation is not planning for a specific scenario, but a mindset that can handle uncertainty."
 - James Clear


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