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May you live in interesting times

The world has been expecting another pandemic for a while now (I wrote this book review in 2005) and it looks like this coronavirus is it. Everyone I've spoken to is responding differently; some folks are stockpiling toilet paper, pursuing various theories about vitamins and minerals, or staying away from classes and public transit. Others are approaching this crisis with a "we'll figure it out" shrug: Que será, será.

The difference lies in a person's ability to tolerate uncertainty, a characteristic I recently read about in a New Scientist article [paywall] by Helen Thomson. The good news is, you can change your tolerance of uncertainty. And that's what this newsletter is about.
Armadillo!

Stay cool

A person's tolerance for uncertainty is how well they handle being in a situation with an unclear outcome. Some folks are comfortable with uncertainty; they assume things will be okay or they'll be able to handle the situation if it's not okay. Others are not at all comfortable with uncertainty; they try to control the situation, and they fret about the outcome and its repercussions.

The things you do to control the situation are called "safety behaviours" — things like checking up on loved ones, stockpiling medicines or food, doing research, washing your hands, or avoiding public spaces. Obviously, safety behaviours exist on a spectrum between useful and excessive, but performing safety behaviours that are out of proportion to the risk can actually make anxiety worse.

So what can you do to manage your uncertainty and reduce anxiety?

1. Manage safety behaviours

Pay attention to your safety behaviours and try to keep them in proportion to the risk. Do you have some characteristic safety behaviours that you turn to in times of uncertainty, like going down Internet conspiracy-theory rabbit-holes in the name of research, or ordering gadgets online that promise to keep you safe? Consider whether these behaviours are making you feel better, or worse? Try to gradually cut back if they're not helpful.

2. Practice mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness will help you manage your thoughts and prevent you from getting caught up in worst-case scenarios. It will also ground you in the present, which is usually less scary than an imagined future. If you are terrible at meditation, like I am, try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.

Alternatively, try sitting with your uncertainty without acting on it or ruminating. Let the uncomfortable feeling be, and see what happens.

3. Distract yourself

If mindfulness is not your bag, try the lazy person's alternative: distraction. Take up guitar, watch Parasite again, find a new TV show to binge-watch (I hear Barry is good), start that all-sourdough baking vlog.

4. Talk to others about how they are coping

Your way of dealing with uncertainty is not the only way — and, as we Adler coaches like to say, you're always at choice. Canvassing your friends and neighbours will give you a variety of different perspectives on the situation, and introduce some other possibilities about how to cope.

This can backfire, of course, if you find yourself in the company of people who are much less tolerant of uncertainty than you are. If you find yourself wondering if you should be more worried, maybe it's best to change the subject: Have they seen Parasite yet?

5. Assume the best for as long as possible, and only brace for the worst at the last minute

This is my favourite tip, because it's so pragmatic. Why not assume things are going to be okay, until they aren't? This isn't a licence for heedlessness; you should make preparations for some likely scenarios, like all the adults in the house being sick at the same time, or being stuck at home for a few days. But after your preparations are done, be Pollyanna and enjoy your distractions, at least until the you-know-what hits the fan.

6. Find a silver lining

Finally, you can improve your tolerance for uncertainty by finding a silver lining for the cloud you fear. You can go as dark as you like with this one — I will leave it to your imagination — but on the lighter side, it might be neat to have a few days at home with my family. Fewer international flights will be great for carbon emissions. And we'll learn a lot from this pandemic about how to deal with future viruses and other crises.

What's New

Okay, to be honest, not much is new this week. I'm working on my plans for world domination but I haven't done much to speak of. These things take time.

I had a great conversation today with Kelly Diels about playing big and I realized that I want to work with high achievers: people and teams in technology and the arts who are really good at what they do, and want to be even better. I relish the complexity and precision of a well-executed production, whether it's a movie, a software release, or a heist. I want to be behind the scenes of that kind of action, helping people apply their values and strengths with laser precision. Plus, hopefully, getting free tickets to stuff.

Fun and Interesting

  • Now is a great time to go on a health kick. The New Scientist primer on the novel coronavirus is probably the only article you need to read about preparing for a pandemic (and only reading one article, conveniently, means you don't have to rationalize conflicting information). Coronavirus: What you need to know to prepare for a covid-19 pandemic [newscientist.com - no paywall]
  • Step 763: Solve for the real problem. Jessica Powell writes about how she quit her job — or rather, how she didn't quit her job until around step 764 — and everything that got in her way.  How to Quit Your Job in 837 Easy Steps [medium.com]
  • A little comic strip about a silver lining, by Siyu Cao of Tiny Eyes. I'm a delivery guy [instagram.com]

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or forward it and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

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I live and work on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

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