7 Mental Tricks To Manage Uncertainty
Fruitcakes in the kitchen
Fruitcakes on the street
Struttin’ naked through the crosswalk
In the middle of the week
Half-baked cookies in the oven
Half-baked people on the bus
There’s a little bit of fruitcake left in every one of us
In my lifetime, I never dreamed we would be slammed with five frightful international events: the battle with the Coronavirus pandemic, the rapid education of race, a widening political divide, a possible economic depression and a struggle for political realignment.
How much uncertainty can an individual take before one turns in to, as Jimmy Buffett says, “a Fruitcake?”
Uncertainty affects EVERYONE, but not everyone goes into a worrisome, depressive, fruitcake tailspin.
I am gearing this article to those of you who are having a difficult time dealing with the uncertainty of one or more of these events.
Some of us, like me, are less prone to the anxiety of the unknown. I relish it and look at everything as an adventure. That does not mean I do not experience anxiety. Coronavirus has upped my concern about our family and friends staying healthy. And, I worry about all the people who are dealing with economic uncertainty and riding the chaos of emotions.
There are those who like all their ducks in a row, everything in its place. Since uncertainty is triggered by lack of control, perceptual or real, or lack of information, the control freaks are the hardest hit.
No matter how you are affected by the anxiety and uncertainty, know this – what you are feeling right now is completely normal and worrying is the natural response.
Life fact: Our brains give us major or minor hysterics when facing uncertainty because they are wired to react to uncertainty with the knee-jerk reaction of FEAR.
While uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life, uncertainty has mushroomed.
While many things are out of your control, your mindset is the key to coping with facing the unknown.
The good news is that, if you have the right mental tricks in your toolbox, you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and handle uncertainty effectively.
Here Are a Few Tricks To Manage Uncertainty
MENTAL TRICK #1: Resist trying to make sense of things too soon
Be aware of your fears, notice when you start to worry, step back immediately and say to yourself, “Isn’t that Interesting.” You will be amazed how much you can quit worrying about the unknown.
However, rushing to try to fill in the blanks of an unknown future can be both frustrating and self-defeating.
Here is a tough piece of news: “Sometimes there is no reason for what happens.” And, if you run the “doom & gloom” tape trying to find a reason, you will diminish your spirit and negatively impact those close to you.
Isn’t that Interesting.
MENTAL TRICK #2: Focus on what you can change and let go of the rest
LIFE FACT: What you focus on determines your mental state.
This is a trick I teach all my coaching clients. Whenever you are in a state of high agitation and worry, grab a piece of paper and pen or go to your computer.
a. As quickly as you can, list EVERYTHING that is troubling you until there is nothing left to list.
b. Review your list and immediately cross out everything over which you have no control.
c. Circle everything over which you have some control.
d. Write one small action step you can take now to control what you can control.
The beauty of this mental trick is that you will IMMEDIATLEY reduce your stress by focusing on the things you can control. By shifting your attention to what you ‘can control’ and taking action, you WILL reduce your anxiety.
LIFE FACT: You can easily develop the skill to switch from your emotional fear-based limbic brain to your rational, logical brain.
MENTAL TRICK #3: Calm your mind and move back to your logical brain to reduce your anxiety
The reasonable advice is to eat well, exercise, sleep well, wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
Just as important is to spend 12 minutes, twice a day for the next month, listening to my relaxation exercise. The link is below, and it is my gift to you.
MENTAL TRICK #4: Reach out to others and create your own buoyancy circle
I have made it point to reach out to others, both friends and acquaintances, and let them express their concerns. EVERY call has made a difference with a hearty “thank you” coming back.
What I discovered is that a simple call not only buoys someone’s spirits, it buoys yours as well.
So, contact others and dialogue, which means you really do not blame and play the victim, but rather take the role of expressing kindness and concern. It will work miracles.
MENTAL TRICK #5: Use the media; do not let the media use you
Most coaches advise staying away from the constant bombardment of the media.
I have a different suggestion. Use the media to stay informed.
This takes a shift in thinking. Watch from an impartial view. Let the news flow over you without believing everything.
I believe that ignorance is not bliss and that the only way to manage your thinking and therefore your reality is to ‘be informed’ of everything possible. The more you are informed, the less out-of-control you will feel.
MENTAL TRICK #6: Have contingency plans
Muting the negative impact of uncertainty is as much about planning for failure as hoping for the best.
The more you are informed, the clearer it will be for you, to plan for failure. Ask yourself, “What is the worst-case scenario and what steps can I take ‘now’ to weather the worst?”
I cannot give you suggestions for this as your life is so vastly different from mine. However, I can give you a couple of ideas from those who have successfully managed uncertainty.
a. Experts at managing uncertainty are not afraid to admit they could be wrong. That opens them up to making rational, detailed, and transparent contingency plans before taking action.
b. They know and accept they are not always going to make the right decision.
c. They know how to absorb, accept, and understand mistakes so they will make better decisions in the future.
d. Successful life livers never let mistakes get them down for too long.
MENTAL TRICK #7: Set small goals
Setting goals is rough enough without the pandemic and other discouraging events. Now, it is more important than ever for you to control your environment.
It is important not to put too much pressure on yourself. But if you are feeling motivated to tackle new goals with the extra time you may have, you might need some help on how to start.
a. Make a ‘wish list’ of everything you have been wanting to do if only you had the time. My wife is cleaning out closets and drawers and, as she says, “finding a happy home” for all the ‘stuff’ that has been taking up space. I’m foraging ahead on a book and nurturing my vegetable garden. I’ve also lined a number of books up that I have been meaning to read.
You may want to learn a new skill or choose a goal that contributes to others. One of my daily goals is to give away one of my products to someone who is having issues being motivated or in need of spiritual uplift.
b. After your wish list is complete, go through and pick two or three of the most important or interesting things that you have been meaning to do. Keep your list short so you don’t get overwhelmed.
c. Take one small step once a day to move towards completing your goal. The brilliant author Dan Pink, while researching his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us discovered that people are best inspired at work by making meaningful, day-to-day progress.
d. Celebrate every ‘small win.’ This is so particularly important. I always break a goal down into small steps and, after completing a step, celebrate.
Apply all or a few of these mental tricks and you will avoid becoming a fruitcake, guaranteed!
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.