40. Uncertainty: No Wonder You Feel Like Such a Train Wreck!

When the future is unknown we tend to unravel, but is this the only option? While our brains are not trained to settle down in uncertain conditions, it is possible to survive and even thrive when life, and work, is up in the air.


Our hosts on Crina and Kirsten Get to Work do some metaphorical spelunking into our brains on uncertainty – and most importantly – what to do about it.  How can you have joy, meaning and ease in your work when you are experiencing uncertainty?  Crina and Kirsten will tell you how.

First, an exploration of our brains on uncertainty . . .

According to a 2014 study in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, uncertainty disrupts many of the habitual and automatic mental processes that govern routine action. This disruption creates conflict in the brain, and this conflict can lead to a state of both hypervigilance and outsized emotional reactivity to negative experiences or information. In other words, uncertainty acts like rocket fuel for worry; it causes people to see threats everywhere they look, and at the same time it makes them more likely to react emotionally in response to those threats.  And that is no good when it comes to meaning, ease and joy!

And there is lots of uncertainty at work:

  • Meetings with no agenda
  • Meetings where you’re put on the spot
  • No regular check-ins with your supervisor or your team
  • Unclear expectations
  • No control of outcomes
  • Unsafe work environment
  • Being the “only”
  • No clear measurements of success
  • Arbitrary decision-making
  • Constantly shifting priorities

And or course our wonder women will not leave us holding the big ugly bag of uncertainty.  Crina’s “go to” response to uncertainty is to plan or plan not to plan and COVID has presented her with many opportunities to use her coping strategies for uncertainty.  Kirsten tends to rely on radical acceptance in the face of uncertainty – to accept what is  – or  – is not.

Here are some other strategies to deal with uncertainty:

  • Prepare for different possibilities (a riff on Crina’s planning).
  • Become a feeling observer.
  • Get confident about your coping and adapting skills.
  • Utilize stress reduction techniques preemptively.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Don’t expose yourself to too much news 
  • Choose as much as you can to be with people who are calm, authentic and optimistic

And as always – the good reads:

How to Cope With Uncertainty

Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety

Why we’re hardwired to hate uncertainty | Marc Lewis