The Perfect Storm – Unsafe Uncertainty

As many of you will be aware, we now partner with Moonstone Associates to offer a “Leading with Safe Uncertainty” development programme. We are passionate about challenging the ‘need’ for certainty, believing that this can limit creativity and innovation. Instead, our belief is that embracing the opportunities that change and uncertainty can bring (and accepting that uncertainty brings tension) can trigger a positive change. In the current circumstances this topic seems more relevant than ever so, in partnership with Jan and Andrew we are offering you this short journal article on experiencing and dealing with what may feel like unsafe uncertainty and how you can use this period of uncertainty to develop and grow both in yourself and as part of your organization.

“Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat,” DSM-5th Edition.

Not only do we feel unsafe as our limbic system reacts to the real threat posed by COVID-19, we are also dealing with the anxiety triggered by our emotional response to uncertainty and change. We worry about family and friends, our finances, social isolation, loss of freedom and control (and of course reduced availability of soft toilet paper!) From our perspective we are experiencing unsafe uncertainty.

For those actively involved in the crisis it is less a question of building resilience, rather of responding to trauma. There will be loss and heartache and perhaps fundamental changes as to how we live (or choose to live) our lives in the future. Yet there is also compassion and dedication, selfless service and sacrifice, innovation and creativity.

Whilst we are grieving for what we stand to lose – is there some learning for us from these current events? Do we have the chance to recalibrate and reflect on what really matters to us? If we can take a breath and pause if only for a moment this helps us to stop reacting and trying to “fix” everything. From this pause we can shift our perspective, see things more clearly and make wiser decisions.

Daosim (Taoism) has a phrase Wu Wei – probably best summarised as ‘an attitude of genuine non-action’. This is in no way advocating delay or inaction in addressing the response to the COVID19 crisis; but rather creating a pause in the reactivity of our own emotion driven reactions.

The STOP tool used in therapy (DBT) to help deal with crisis situations is worth reflecting on, when you feel yourself starting to react:

  • Stop – pause and try visualizing a red STOP sign in front of you. Don’t react when your emotions are hot and filled with energy
  • Take a step back – mentally or if necessary, physically. Once you’ve taken this step back, notice how you’re breathing. Try to take a few slow, deep breaths
  • Observe – what’s going on both inside of you and around you. If there are other people around you, notice what they’re doing or saying. Notice what you’re thinking and feeling
  • Proceed – be present and be aware. Use mindfulness skills to consult your wise mind. and ask your wise mind what to do

Keep an eye out for Safe Uncertainty; creating psychological safety for ourselves and our teams to embrace and engage with uncertainty.

Andrew Porter

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