Here is May’s edition of my monthly ‘Sharpen Your Edge’ newsletter which focuses on strategies and practices for dealing with uncertainty. If you would like to sign up for future editions then enter your email at the bottom of this page.
Welcome to this May 2020 edition of ‘Sharpen Your Edge’
Imagine you are sat at a computer screen in a lab playing a game. The game involves you selecting certain rocks on your screen but with a catch that snakes are hidden behind some of the rocks and if you choose one of them you are given a slightly painful shock to your hand. As you are playing the computer estimates your level of uncertainty for each choice you are making and simultaneously measures your stress levels by monitoring your pupil dilation and perspiration.
This was a study that was carried at the University College London and the results from it found that people playing the game were the most stressed when they were the most uncertain about the situation, more so than when they were more certain about either finding a snake, or not finding a snake. It was more stressful being highly uncertain about finding a snake than being more certain you would find a snake.
Uncertainty, and particularly uncertainty about potential bad outcomes is stressful. Uncertainty is however inherent in trading and investing in the markets, in high stakes performance, and in life. You can’t get rid of uncertainty but what you can do is to develop a mental framework and the mental skills that enable you to navigate periods of uncertainty more effectively. As a high performance coach I have spent most of my working life helping people to perform, and to live, at their
best, in high-stakes, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. Elite performers have developed specific ways of being and doing that allow them to navigate the challenges and demands of such VUCA environments, and to be responsive, resourceful and resilient in the face of change, challenge and adversity.
The focus on this months SYE is on developing both your mindset, and your practice, around performing well, and living well, when there is high uncertainty.
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he is not the same man” - Heraclitus
by John Kay and Mervyn King
I have just started reading the recently released ‘Radical Uncertainty : Decision Making For An Unknowable Future’ by John Kay and Mervyn King, which provides examples of the most successful, and most short-sighted methods of dealing with uncertainty, and offers suggestions for personal and
organisational strategies that will be robust to alternative futures and resilient to unpredictable events.
Interesting article in the Financial Times by John Coates, author of the ‘The Hour Between Dog and Wolf’, talking about the impact of uncertainty on our health https://on.ft.com/2VtMU2b
Trade At Your Best : Episode 6 – ‘Managing Uncertainty’
Uncertainty is a core feature of trading the markets, and combined with taking risk it provides a challenging decision making environment for traders to operate within. In this episode we look at our human aversion to uncertainty, why being able to manage uncertainty effectively is key to achieving your trading potential, and I share several practical strategies to help you to manage uncertainty more effectively within your own trading including changing your mental framework and a
paradoxical technique of ‘planned uncertainty’
Key themes covered include…
Ambiguity aversion – avoiding uncertainty
Why becoming a successful trader requires you to embrace uncertainty
The uncertainty paradox – traders like variety, but not uncertainty
Embracing uncertainty – why acceptance beats aversion for traders
The power of adopting an impermanence mindset to get comfortable with uncertainty
How the threat and anxiety of uncertainty can be flipped to opportunity and excitement
Planned uncertainty – a mental strategy for managing uncertainty
The pre-mortem – a back to the future style strategy for improving trading decision making
I have been delivering a number of online training sessions for my trading, investing and banking clients over the last couple of weeks to help them to develop some practical strategies to both perform well in, and live well in, the current uncertain, challenging and changing times we are experiencing.
The content in the sessions has varied from client to client, but has included a mix of topics from below;
The importance of identifying and focusing on what is under your control
Identifying the strengths and qualities you want to demonstrate, and actioning them
Managing challenging thoughts and emotions
Achieving calm, and composure through breathing-based strategies
Being mentally flexible, and finding the opportunity, and the positives amongst the difficulty
Strategies for getting the stress-recovery balance right, and maintaining physical wellbeing
Building confidence in your coping skills
The importance of connection and support
Adapting to new ways of working
If a session similar to these might be useful for your team/organisation, then get in touch to arrange a call to see how it could look, tailored for your own specific context/needs.
It is important to remember that different people will respond differently to uncertainty as we all have a different tolerance to it. At one extreme of the continuum are people who have a strong aversion to uncertainty whilst at the other extreme are people that enjoy, and even thrive on it. Because we are all different, we all need to find our own individual ways of managing uncertainty
Below are seven strategies that you can experiment with to help you to sharpen your edge around performing well, and living well, with high uncertainty.
Control the controllable and let go of the uncontrollables – increased feelings of being out of control often come with higher levels of uncertainty. Take some time to write down all of the things that you have control over, and those which you do not. Practice focusing on what you can control, whilst also letting go of those things that you cannot control.
Create routines and lists – having routines can bring a sense of control, predictability and familiarity to your performance and life. What routines can you establish for yourself? Even a simple to do list at the start of the day, or a checklist for your trading/investing/decision making process can be helpful.
Accept uncertainty and embrace impermanence – learn to accept that uncertainty is a normal part of life, that you, others and the world are in a constant state of change, that things are impermanent. Practice letting go of the ‘need to know’, and become more comfortable with saying ‘I don’t know’.
Get present – as uncertainty increases it is normal that you may experience greater feelings of anxiety and higher levels of stress, this is often increased by the minds tendency to race into the unknown future; one way to manage this higher level of anxiety/stress is to press pause, take a few slower and deeper breaths, pay full attention to your breath and the sensations of breathing, and as you do so bring your focus into the present moment. Keep it there, focused on
your breath in the moment, for as long as is helpful.
Notice what your mind is thinking - when worries, doubts and anxieties show up, bring an awareness to them, ‘I am noticing my mind is worrying’; ask, what matters right now? Is there anything I need to do to act on my thoughts? If not, then where ask, would be useful to focus right now, or what action would be useful to take in this moment?
Name and tame your feelings – as you become aware of the feeling of uncertainty, and the emotions that come with it, pause, and take a moment to ‘name’ your emotions … ‘I am noticing I am feeling anxious’ for example. Naming your difficult emotions helps to ‘tame’ them, to reduce their hold on you, to allow you to ‘have your emotions, without your emotions having you’.
Lean into the feelings of uncertainty – when you notice that the ‘feelings of uncertainty’ are strong, instead of trying to avoid them or get rid of them, pause, and ‘lean into them’ – what does uncertainty feel like? Where are you feeling it in your body? Take a stance of a curious scientist and explore and be with the sensations of uncertainty within your body for a few moments.