What you should do when you don’t know what you should be doing – even the title sounds confusing doesn’t it?
I was going to write this blog during Lockdown but then things started to ease and I thought maybe we would all feel a lot more sure of the future but recent events have shown that many of us feel so much more unsure now.
For me, Lockdown has not been too painful. It’s been really difficult at times for sure but I have not experienced some of the hardships or tragedies that others have, not directly as a result of Covid-19 anyway. Thankfully. So I count my blessings – a note on that later.
We are living in a time where many of us are still unsure and I wanted to write something which would help us to understand why it has such a big impact on us.
My own experience is that I have days of lack of motivation, no matter how much sleep I get I still feel tired a lot of the time and then I have days where I have loads of energy and think that I am through the other side. Sometimes I wake up with a feeling of anxiety, something which used to happen to me years ago but which now has no apparent basis, and then I remember that there is actually nothing to feel anxious about – other than the uncertainty.
Cast your mind back to March and the beginning of Lockdown? What was your reaction when you went to buy groceries and the shelves were empty? Did it take you a few days to realise why everyone was buying toilet roll? For a vast majority of people, this caused panic. It caused panic because we didn’t really understand what was happening and we didn’t have an end in sight. We were uncertain.
So what is the impact of long term uncertainty?
Well, it’s like continually sailing a boat in a storm with a wind which constantly changes direction and no land to be reached.
In #normaltimes, we are able to take some action. Once we have figured it out we can then use strategic planning to feel that we have gained control of a situation.
Currently, we are uncertain about our physical safety, the protection of our loved ones, the impact on our business and how the future will pan out. Who really understands the rule of six in all situations and what will Christmas be like? We have many questions.
Everything is in a constant state of change – as a result, we are in a state of alert and, overall, what we feel is uncertainty.
We crave the opposite of uncertainty – we crave certainty.
A study published in the journal Nature in 2016 showed that all measures of stress, objective and subjective, are at their highest when uncertainty is highest. We are most stressed when things are most uncertain. This study discovered that uncertainty is more stressful than predictable negative consequences. That is – it’s more stressful to not know if something will hurt than to know that it will hurt.
The brain’s striatum, often called the reward centre, is in play here. It is involved in steering our behaviour towards positive outcomes and away from negative ones.
When the outcome is most uncertain it quickly goes into stress mode and takes the action to assert certainty and control. It’s an instinctive effort to regain control.
We have a natural impulse to control our futures. The horoscopes and the mystical services market are worth around £1.7bn globally. This is just a tiny indication of what people are willing to pay to reduce uncertainty. We want to be certain about our future.
We live in a world where we have been trained to expect that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. Apart from receiving an Amazon parcel a few hours after ordering it, we no longer can.
We are under the impression that we control events in our lives, but we do this retrospectively.
Take shopping for food as an example. Very often you will make a list, but even if you don’t, you will have a plan in mind. As you shop you will place things in the basket randomly. These random, spontaneous choices later become the things on your list. They are the start of a pattern we create. We convince ourselves that we are in control by making that choice, but actually only the initial act was random, it’s the start of a pattern.
As consumers, we look for recognition in the design or text of something. We want to know what we are buying. In our businesses – uncertainty doesn’t sell. How you communicate with your customers at the moment is critical.
So, we need to feel secure and safe about the future.
Through gaining certainty we are looking for predictability – predictability establishes boundaries and that makes us feel safe and leads to trust.
What about variety and surprise?
Uncertainty is a basis for surprise and fun in our lives and creates new experiences and feelings.
By attempting to control everything we reduce our creativity because we fall back on pre-approved patterns or formulae. Through letting go of control and perhaps being ‘vulnerable’, we can open the way to creativity and the unexpected.
In the middle of Lockdown, the delivery company, Hermes, experienced a year’s growth in sales in just five weeks as a result of more traffic. Whilst writing this, Amazon announced they will create 7,000 new jobs to keep up with demand. I expect they were surprised.
So what should you do when you aren’t sure what you should be doing?
Here are seven strategies to ride the storm:
- Embrace uncertainty. Accept that this is how it is right now. Remember that letting go of control can bring new experiences. Be with the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing rather than trying to assauge it.
- Notice the beauty in your life. Be grateful for what you have. Have a gratitude practice and do it every day. It may be a journal or something less formal like a reminder on your calendar to notice the good things in your world, family, sunshine, birdsong; in your business unexpected sales, a random new customer, total loyalty of staff etc.
- Be aware of the progress you are making – however small and appreciate yourself for it. It’s not easy right now!
- Do not compare yourself with others – you will only see what they present on the outside and their level of happiness and their stimulus may be very different from yours. From a business point of view – focus on your brand and what you stand for. Do not deviate from it just because you see others doing something different to you – only do it if it fits which your brand and you can see that it will be effective. Stand by what you stand for.
- You can take control of what you feed your mind. What you think about, you become. Jim Rohn said, “Every day, you have to stand guard at the door of your mind.” The longer you hold things in your mind, the more you start to accept them unconsciously. Negative things will not serve you well.
- One of the things which can ease our discomfort with uncertainty is community bonds. It’s really important to spend time with your tribe.
Thursday night clapping for the NHS was so impactful because it was a positive act of thanks and it connected us with our neighbours, friends – our community.
- Be clear with your customers. Communicate what you are doing in your business – how you are planning – how teams are going to work together – what communication will be in place – be clear about your working hours even when working at home – be clear about when you are not at work, ask staff what works for them. Be clear with your staff – set boundaries – communicate certainty – tell your staff what you have put in place for them to come back to work, social distancing, handwashing etc. Be clear about expectations around behaviour. Probably most difficult of all, be clear with your friends and family, especially your children. Convey certainty in what works for you and what doesn’t. Let them know your intentions. Remember that boundaries create predictability which creates certainty, which creates trust and security. People will go into the realm of the unknown if they feel they are in good hands. That applies to your family and your customers.
I hope this has been helpful to you. Stay safe, stay well.
If you would like support with uncertainty then please just book a Discovery Session.