Uncertainty surrounds us. We don’t have to look far to see its impact. Daily doses of news regarding COVID-19, stock market volatility, and business closures remind us that we live in what the military coined as a VUCA time: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
Collectively, we’re experiencing rapid transitions on an unprecedented scale. Remote worksites are rapidly become the norm, borders are closing and social distancing has become a common term in our lexicon.
Managing our response to uncertainty and choosing how we will face each day during this challenging time greatly impacts us as individuals, as well as the collective. In this volatile time, how we think and show up matters.
Here are some thoughts to help you and your teams navigate this time of ambiguity:
Decide what you can and cannot control. Many behavior scientists and psychologists agree that identifying what is within your control creates a sense of self-efficacy. This process allows you to channel nervous energy in a positive direction. What actions can you take today to improve your situation?
At the same time, explore ways you can adapt to what is out of your control. Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” What are ways you can adapt to things out of your control? In order to adapt, how might you limit negativity and positively connect with others? How can you adjust your expectations and improve team morale? You might find some of the following ideas helpful in situations requiring adaptability.
Stoke a sense of optimism. Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania has spent the majority of his career studying positive psychology and optimism. He defines optimism as a belief that with effort, you can impact the outcome. Years of research illustrate that those with a stronger sense of optimism handle set backs with greater ease and are more resilient.
To cultivate optimism, focus on three things: your thinking, your language, and your successes. If you look at a difficult situation as temporary and changeable over time, you’ll be much more likely to make impactful choices to successfully change or adapt to it. Remember, everything is in a state of motion, and ‘this, too, shall pass.’ Avoid absolute language such as never or always, and make use of the powerful word ‘yet.’ For example, I have not transformed this situation yet. Last of all, set specific, process-oriented goals, which are dependent on your effort, not on matters outside of your control. And celebrate small successes. By acknowledging incremental wins, you’ll boost your optimism.
Engage in the power of giving. Last Sunday a customer at the Coaches Bar and Grill in Ohio left a $2500 tip on his $30 tab, a sizable gift to help the workers who had just learned that their restaurant was closing due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Nothing creates a sense of wellbeing during turbulent times like giving. Harvard Business School professor, Lara Aknin and her team of colleagues researched the impact that giving has on people across the globe. They found that the positive psychological effect of helping others in need is universal, and in terms of happiness and satisfaction, the act of giving can create an effect of doubling one’s income.
There are many ways we can give during uncertain times. Sending a thoughtful message to a co-worker, saying hello and making eye contact with a store clerk, writing a positive review on Yelp, or volunteering to run to the store for an elderly neighbor are all ways we can give, and at the same time reap emotional benefits.
Find Beauty. When did you last pause to look at a snow-capped mountain, smell the scent of blooming lilacs or watch a stream of water cascade over a waterfall? Taking time to engage in a sense of wonder and to experience awe and beauty has transformative effects. According to Dr. Dacher Keltner of UC Berkely, engaging in beauty, wonder and awe gives people the sense that they have more available time, while increasing feelings of connectedness and positive mood. It’s even been shown in some cases to reduce chronic inflammation. To learn more about the powerful impact awe, wonder and beauty can have on us during times of transition, watch his video, Why Awe is Such and Important Emotion.
I will leave you today with a gift from world-renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. He is recording and posting some of the songs that give him comfort during these days of anxiety. I hope you have a chance to listen to his touching music.
I wish you the best during this ambiguous time,