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Creating Certainty in Uncertain Times

by | Apr 2, 2020 | emotional intelligence, leadership, resilience

These are challenging times. Human beings crave certainty, and that’s what makes the current Covid-19 pandemic so unsettling. This contagion has brought unprecedented uncertainty. While we know how the virus is spread and that eventually scientists will find a vaccine, we don’t know when exactly that will happen. We can’t put a date marked “back to normal” on our calendars. It’s an equal opportunity virus, infecting old and young alike, and the symptoms manifest differently in different people. We don’t know if, when, or how it will show up in our lives. Without widespread testing, we don’t know if we, or someone else, are an asymptomatic carrier. There is genuine fear.

On top of that, businesses are closed or faltering, and many are worried about their jobs, paying their bills, getting food, staying healthy, helping distant family members, etc. It’s a long list of concerns. We might say that Covid-19 and its effects are synonymous with uncertainty. There are a few things we can do to bring some measure of certainty to our lives in these most uncertain of times.

Shift your mindset. In the present moment, so much seems out of our hands. So, focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. You can control such things as washing your hands, when you wake up or go to sleep, what you eat, what you wear, what you read, what you watch, the news you consume, etc. The goal is to create a modest sense of control in your daily life. You can also control your attitude; do you want to be frustrated, angry, reactive, or kind, open, generous.

Set new habits. We are creatures of habit. On a personal level, the pandemic has interrupted many of our daily routines, whether it was hitting the gym first thing in the morning, a regular yoga or exercise class, or meet ups with friends. Without those personal routines, we feel rudderless. We can seek to develop new habits and routines to keep us grounded, e.g., stretching or meditating in the morning, expressing gratitude before bed, trying new recipes, rediscovering old hobbies, etc. Habits are personal so find something that will work for you.

Adapt. Too many try to do the same things (such as work) in the same way as before without taking into account changed circumstance. As most office work moves online and physical distancing becomes the new normal for in-person jobs, we need to adapt how we interact and work. Grocery stores, a truly essential service, have done a masterful job, all things considered. So have a variety of other occupations. Think through what makes sense as you adapt to these new circumstances.

Increase connection. Today it is more important than ever to increase connection with our family, friends, and work colleagues even via the phone or web because our normal ways of connecting by sharing physical space and exchanging words are less accessible than ever. A coach recently posed the question as to whether we can increase emotional connection in this time when the normal means of connecting have decreased. This is a worthy aspiration to strive for. It reflects a need to recognize the humanity in each person.

Be there for others. It is helpful to step outside of ourselves to be there for others and think about “what do they need from me at this moment?” Parents need to be there for their children, teachers for their students, doctors for their patients. We all have a role helping others. In my role as a professor, I think about what students need from me, such as structure, focus, and continued learning at a time when their learning experience has been upended. It helps.

Practice self-care. Just as the airline safety briefings before takeoff say, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This too is easier said than done. A useful question to ask yourself “is what do I need right now?” Self-care might mean stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, listening to music, or stretching. Whatever it is for you, that question has the power to move us forward each day.

As we navigate these unprecedented times in our multiple roles as leaders, managers, employees, and parents, remember our goal is not to be perfect but to be better for ourselves and for others who rely on us. Creating some scaffolding to increase certainty in our lives will help us do that. In that process lies the opportunity for discovery and learning.

A future post will provide tips for managers.