Keeping pace in the face of uncertainty


Under the quaking of economic uncertainty, most of us expect the worst as we scramble for firm ground.

Whether the current economy is affecting us personally, professionally, or both, the effect is much the same.

How is the USMCA (U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) going to play out? What is 2019 going to look like for our businesses and investment portfolios? It’s natural and wise for us to plan for possible outcomes.

But we get into trouble when we become too wedded to perceived outcomes.

Our reaction to uncertainty goes back to the time we started walking upright as a species.

We have evolved to be hyper-vigilant, expecting the worst to happen. This “negative bias” (assuming the worst) kept us alive when humans were being hunted by hyenas, tigers and other predators.

Even though we don’t live in that world anymore, our brain continues to fire with the same strong negative bias.

It’s important to recognize this, as most of the decisions we make in the fog of fear are unproductive.

Most of the decisions we make in the fog of fear are unproductive.

Fear, and our reaction to it, causes tunnel vision as we become fixated on our perceived threat. Uncertain economic times are frightening exactly because they are uncertain. 

Because of our evolutionary mental hard-wiring, uncertainty causes us to react in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.

Focused on the idea of a threat, we fail to see the bigger picture and miss potential opportunities.

The most beneficial thing we can do when this fear response arises is to recognize we are experiencing fear. Don’t react. Recognize the experience as a natural response to a “perceived” threat. Allow the fog of fear to settle before making any important decisions.

I confronted this personally in March 2017 when I was told The Surrey-North Delta Leader newspaper was combining with the Surrey Now. When I was offered a position as a reporter with the new merged product, I felt a measure of relief. However, I was self aware enough to realize that relief I felt was coming from a place of fear and that I should allow that response to settle before making a decision. 

It took 90 minutes for me to know with absolute clarity that I needed to part ways with my 22-year media career and push forward with my own business.

Building on a lifetime practice, I upgraded my skills and now teach mindfulness to individuals and organizations in finding that clarity of decision making, while building resilience, reducing stress and increasing productivity.

When our natural aversion to uncertainty arises, we can recognize the experience as fear and allow it to settle. Absolute clarity will follow when it does.

Make a decision within that clarity and don’t become attached to any particular outcome. That keeps our eyes open to so many more possibilities.

Economic uncertainty can actually be a good thing. It can push us into as-yet unexplored markets and open our eyes to new ways of doing business.

It is by no means a comfortable experience. But with the right approach, it has a marvellous way of seeding renewal.

Kevin Diakiw