Lawyers generally do not like uncertainty. They are trained to think in facts, to be precise and exacting. It is difficult to think reductively and accurately about a constantly shifting target, which uncertainty is.
However, lawyers are actually well equipped to manage uncertainty. They are intelligent, skilled at research and risk assessment, trained in critical thinking, experienced at tackling difficult challenges that can take years to resolve, and used to keeping up to date with a fast-changing landscape of information and its implications.
Brexit has caused shockwaves in Europe and in the UK. But this is not the first time lawyers have faced uncertainty in their working lives, and it will not be the last. True certainty is a myth – after all, what is certain but death and taxes?!
And uncertainty can be a force for positive change. In a profession which is traditionally cautious and historically slow to change, the uncertainty around Brexit could be viewed as a positive catalyst to
re-examine and change long-held ways of doing things.
Uncertainty reduces inertia, increasing the likelihood of innovation and making you more agile. To deal with it takes emotional intelligence but it builds resilience, flexibility and adaptability, bringing benefits in terms of engagement, productivity and performance. It enhances vigilance, creative thinking and anticipation about what the future might hold. It also makes you appreciate what you have rather than taking it for granted, and forces you be in the present – to be, to reference another key trend at the moment, mindful.
In this article, I look at how to stay focused and positive in the face of uncertainty.
How to stay focused
- Define your personal values with a coach; they act as a guiding light in decision-making to help you to stay focused and on track, whatever the changing external environment.
- Have someone hold you accountable; a boss, colleague or coach.
- Create SMART goals that motivate and inspire you and others, and a clear step-by-step plan to achieve them. Set clear deadlines by when things have to be done.
- Get clear about what you need and want from your career in the the future. Develop a clear and compelling vision and purpose, so that you are always moving towards your career / business horizon, whatever the external weather.
- Define clear personal and professional learning objectives to help focus your continual professional development.
- Create projects, or break programmes into projects so they feel achievable and less daunting, reducing the likelihood of overwhelm and procrastination.
- Define your career key performance indicators – get clear about what success and fulfilment mean for you.
- Plan and review your priorities against a shifting landscape regularly. Create a career plan A, B and C to cover all eventualities.
- Block out time to look at trends from high quality sources and their likely impact on decisions and choices.
How to stay positive
- Develop the habit of positive reframing – train your brain to see the positive in any situation, however negative.
- Banish irrational negative thinking with facts – do research and gather information just as you would for any legal matter. You can only base a recommendation on the information you have at a particular time.
- Watch your language – words that you use influence how you think and feel. The term ‘Brexit shock’, for example, is not conducive to a positive attitude.
- Keep an emotions diary to monitor your mood and what affects it. Look at what influences your mood negatively and what you can do to control it, or how you can react to it in a way which has a less negative effect.
- Do projects that you find fulfilling, such as pro bono work, to counter-balance negativity.
- Do some scenario-planning – what is the worst thing that could happen, and what is the likelihood of it happening?
- In your personal life, focus on things which will positively influence your mood: listen to uplifting music; watch positive and upbeat TV or films; read true stories about people who have overcome adversity. Laugh – watch comedy and spend time with people who make you laugh. Practise ‘going with the flow’ – plan nothing and have no certainty for a day about what you are going to do.
- Remind yourself about how everything is always changing: this is the ebb and flow of nature and life.
- Recall positive breakthroughs and positive achievements – these will shift your mindset, because emotions are influenced by thoughts.
- Take breaks to recharge.
- Avoid looking at too much news / media.
- Keep a gratefulness diary. Write down daily three things you feel grateful for.
- Spend time with positive people.
Ask yourself these questions to think around the topic of uncertainty.
Uncertainty reduces inertia, increasing the likelihood of innovation and making you more agile
- What is uncertain in life and how is this useful and relevant when I think about the legal sector post-Brexit?
- What skills and qualities do I possess to help me manage uncertainty for myself and for my clients?
- In the past, when I dealt with an uncertain time, what was my strategy to navigate a safe path through? What can I learn from this?
- What are the positives about uncertainty for me, eg will it help me question my decisions more, so they are more robust?
- If I were a consultant to myself, what would I advise about how to tackle uncertainty?
- If uncertainty was a client, what would be my best practice approach?
- What is the best way for me to make uncertainty feel less uncomfortable?
- What specifically is it about uncertainty that I dislike?
Online exclusive: How to stay resilient
- Do a mindfulness course to learn the skill of being present rather than living in the past or worrying about the future.
- Read books / watch videos about resilience and how to develop it.
- Read autobiographies of people who lived through adversity and uncertainty and came out the other side eg Nelson Mandela, who was a lawyer.
- Develop a ‘turbo boost’ button in your mind to inject extra resilience when times feel challenging – access positives memories from the past when you felt at your most resourceful. These are proven to change your physiological state – this technique is used by top athletes to create winning strategies.
- Keep things in perspective – look for comparison at challenging times in history or what groups of people have dealt with.
- Associate fully / connect with positive experiences; disassociate / disconnect from negative experiences.
- Focus on what you can influence and know without doubt, not what you can’t / don’t.
- Do personal development to build your self-awareness and emotional intelligence so that you are best equipped to manage yourself through other challenging times and read between the lines with colleagues less equipped to do so.
- Look after yourself – make a good diet, sleep, rest and exercise a priority. Your body is an engine which needs good fuel and maintenance.
- Develop habits and behaviours that create and maintain resilience.
- Develop healthy self-esteem by transforming any negative / limiting beliefs about uncertainty, ambiguity, your attitude to it or yourself. An experienced coach is very useful to fast track this awareness.
- Avoid black-and-white thinking all the time – train your brain to notice the ‘shades of grey’ in between.
Grasp the nettle
Uncertainty is here to stay. Are you going to choose to lose or choose to win with uncertainty? The one thing that we can control in an uncertain world is our attitude. You have all you need to deal with the uncertain times we live in. Lawyers are well equipped to deal whatever happens. All will become clear – or as clear as it can possibly be. Do your best, be your best. Choose wisely. Your clients need you.