A while ago now, I was working with a client who was looking to improve her tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
Together, we came up with this great little mind-hack to keep her sharp, focused, and productive in a complex business transformation.
And today’ I’m sharing it with you so you can start to thrive in uncertain environments – and turn that into your own personal advantage. The ability to take meaningful action whilst others falter will build trust in your leadership abilities and earn the respect of your team.
So here it is…
Video transcript and relevant links
Hey so today I wanted to share with you a little mind hack for dealing with uncertainty.
It’s something that we come up against when we start to transition a business away from some of the ways we used to do things and start to explore new ways of working, new insights, new perspective.
All of a sudden we can be thrown into this world of tumultuous change and we don’t necessarily have all the answers – and sometimes it can be quite a lot to deal with.
So, the story I have for you today actually comes from one of the clients I used to it work with in Melbourne, who has to be one of the most courageous women I think I ever met, like ruthless at looking for feedback absolutely adamant that she was going to make change in herself for better.
She hit me up one day, and she said to me “…look, I come to the office and I’m really struggling with everything that’s going on. It’s total chaos everyday.” She said “I go home at the end of the day, I’m exhausted, I’m frazzled I don’t deal well with the constant moving and shifting and changing. It’s causing me stress, I’m not sleeping well, it’s all getting too much.”
She said “I watch you walk in the door, and you seem to be able to cope with it. What are you doing differently? What’s going on in your head?” I paused, and I thought about it for a moment and then I started laughing, and she said “This’ll be good”.
I said to her “Well… you might see me walking into the office every day and sort of floating through and fixing things here and there and it looks like this facade of coping with it. But I said you don’t get to see me outside of the office.
“So” I said, “if you watched me in my daily routine, the first thing that I do when I head to the office…” – I was living in North Carlton at the time, for those of you that know Melbourne well – and I said “I walk out my door and I get on the number 96 tram which is right outside my door,” and that tram will actually take me pretty much to the door of the office that we were working in at the time.
I said “But I don’t do that. Every morning is the same. I get on the tram, and I take the tram to the Bourke St, corner of Swanston St and I get off at the Swanston St stop. At that point, I turn left down Swanston St, I cross over Little Collins, and then between Little Collins and Collins St, I turn right and I jay-walk, I cross Swanston St.
“I then keep heading down Swanston, make a right turn and cross over Collins at the tram stop at Swanston St there, and head down a little alleyway. At the end of that alleyway is my favourite coffee shop and every morning I go in there and I get my coffee.” I get my little – it was a soy latte at that time – in my takeaway coffee cup and then leave the coffee shop and I walk down Flinders Lane.
“I turn right to head up, towards Bourke Street, I make a left and I walk down the left-hand side of the road – sorry Collins Street – I walk down the left-hand side of Collins Street all the way until I make it to the office. And then I come in the back door and head up, and there we go.”
And I said “…the reason I’m laughing is because I think what’s actually going on is that my body is clinging to the last vestige of consistency, and habitual activity and the last moment of familiarity, until I hit that office and it’s complete chaos and we spend our day working through.” We were at this point where we were fighting a lot of fires.
So I said “Whilst it might appear that I cope well with uncertainty in your eyes, what’s actually going on, is that’ I’ve created all of these little habitual patterns of behaviour outside of the office, which mean that actually we can cope with what’s going on.”
And so then we both started giggling, and I said to her “Ok, so let’s try this. Where can we find ways for you to build-in habitual patterns and behaviours outside of the office? If you know that 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day or longer… is going to be really stressful and it’s gonna ask a lot of you in terms of dealing with uncertainty and not knowing all the answers and that’s really uncomfortable… Then what can we do either side of that to help to build routine and to build-in that sense of certainty for you? Is it your gym routine? Is it your evening meal routine?
“What’s going to do the trick in terms of building-in some consistency, so that when you get to the office you’ve kind of satiated that need and you’ve got the capacity for the uncertainty and the change.”
That was the first thing we did. And the second thing we did was we actually went through and said “Right, for these three things that come up, these three types of problems that come up in the office day-to-day. You are able to go hell-for-leather on your need for certainty. So, the data behind decisions, how are we measuring that, where’s the feedback loop… you’re allowed to dive as deep as you want into needing the certainty around the structure for feedback, the measurement, and data, you GO for it.
“But these other three or four things over here, I need you to really hold back. And that’s the point where you need to start coping with the fact that you’re incredibly uncomfortable about not knowing the answer, but you’ve gotta let the team do their job and you’ve gotta pull back from that and you’ve gotta keep letting go, and let it run its course.”
And so we went through this for the following few months, and the change was noticeable. And so, it’s one of those strategies that I’ve employed again with other clients and it was great to work through it with this person, she was ONTO it, and she really stuck to it.
Within the space of a couple of weeks you could see visibly that the stress was starting to sort of, just, drop back a little bit. She wasn’t quite as agitated and hyper in the office and able to just drop into “ok, that’s outside of my control, but that’s in the category of things that I need to let go of… and these things, we’re going to make sure we’re really certain of.”
So if you’re struggling with uncertainty, by all means, I thought it was a great trick to employ, in terms of just balancing out where you’ve got the consistency and the certainty and the familiarity and then, knowing that you need to step into that space of not knowing as well. Finding that balance within your day.
Give it a go, I would love to hear your thoughts. Have a wonderful week!