Managing Ambiguity Amidst A Global Pandemic

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Jen Kelley Senior FarWell Advisor Project Portfolio Management
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Have you ever had to be MORE agile than you’ve been in the past 3 weeks? One of the characteristics of agility is the ability to manage ambiguity. It’s safe to say that none of us has experienced pandemic-level ambiguity in our lifetime! So, how do we manage ambiguity when everything around us feels uncertain?

It helps to understand how the physical body responds to ambiguity. Uncertainty creates fear and very often, anger. When we experience a loss of control, the mind loves to fill in the blanks with forecasts of doom and frustration over what we’ve lost.

Become Aware of How the Fight-or-Flight Response Affects Decision Making

Fear creates tension in the body and stimulates the nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. Shoulders tighten. Blood pressure spikes. Heart rate increases. Breath becomes shallow. Even the most seasoned leaders will find decision making and focus nearly impossible when their bodies and minds are contracted.

PAUSE to Regain Focus and Respond

When you find yourself stuck in a swirl of unknowns, PAUSE. Ask yourself, ‘What is really going on in this moment?’ Instead of fueling the fear with more negative thoughts, try these PAUSE exercises to help alleviate stress and improve focus.

Get Grounded – Step into the Present Moment

Get grounded. Literally. Stand or sit with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Tune in to your senses. Notice the environment around you.

When you bring your attention to the body, you immediately bring your mind to the present and away from future projections. This stimulates your body’s “rest and digest” mode (the antidote to fight or flight).

Stand there and take 3 slow breaths. Relax.

Name It – Acknowledge the Strong Thought or Emotion You are Experiencing

When you are experiencing a strong thought or emotion, name it. This immediately disempowers it. Allow yourself to sit with your experience for a bit. Resisting or ignoring only strengthens the thought or emotion.

The more you practice naming and allowing thoughts and emotions, the more you strengthen your resilience.

Frame It – Investigate and Learn from Your Experience

Focus on what you CAN control around you.

  1. What can you learn from this feeling or situation?
  2. What would be the opposite of this emotion?
  3. What’s going well in this moment?
  4. Is there a new idea here?

Know Yourself – Observe Your Current State

How do you know when anger or fear is present? Where do you sense it in the body? Take time every day to observe the current state of your body, mind, and emotions.
Know your habits and your tendencies. This allows you to respond rather than react when things are uncertain.

Bottom Line – Have Compassion for Yourself

This is a new experience for human beings around the planet. Practice these simple techniques frequently, throughout the day and you will strengthen the neural pathways in your mind – cultivating a bit more ease amidst the ambiguity.

With ease, comes space for problem solving, creativity, and joy.

Managing ambiguity also requires courage. If you are courageous, there’s 100% chance you will “get your ass kicked. You will know failure, and setback and disappointment.” – Brené Brown, in her recent interview on 60 minutes. This will not be easy. We know this.

Finally, reach out to your team and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Together, we are managing ambiguity, one day at a time.

We’re In this Together

FarWell invites you to connect with– and reach out– to Advisors on LinkedIn for support and guidance. Follow FarWell on LinkedIn for more articles on how to lead during times of disruption and crisis. Thank you for your courage and compassion. We’re in this together.

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