March 17, 2020 10:08 am

Uncertainty and ambiguity are the new normal.

It’s common to feel anxious when things change rapidly or it is unclear what is expected but we don’t have to become driven by fear.

People who are reacting out of fear often are impacted by narrow thinking and mental biases but recent brain science gives us some clues to help us avoid these.

It also offers methods for shifting your mindset so that you can become stronger through change. Understanding a little bit of the science makes it easier to respond thoughtfully to the uncertainty that is pervasive in our current environment.

Minding your mindset

Human beings like to have a sense of control and predictability. Our brains have a built-in threat-detector that is sensitive to uncertainty and ambiguity. This is because changes mean things will not go as we expected and to remain safe we need to determine if the change represents a real threat. This is okay, but it is important to pause and determine if there is an actual threat before ‘automatically’ assuming every change is a danger.

So, how do you get yourself to pause and think?

Here are two tools to mind your mindset that you can put in place today.

1. Label emotions

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you feel strong emotion, labelling your feelings out loud or in writing starts the process of ‘rebooting your logical thinking’. This simple act has been associated with immediate reductions in perceived stress and boosting the ability to think more clearly. Likewise, this same labelling technique is correlated with improvements in memory, concentration and attention – prerequisites for complex problem-solving needed to deal with new challenges.

Labelling emotion enables people to tap into the ‘thinking’ part of the brain instead of being limited to the ‘emotional’ part, thereby creating a ‘neurological bridge’ that helps us use this information more productively.

You can help others with this technique too. People often make the mistake of thinking they must solve others’ problems or somehow rid them of their emotions. In fact, simply listening attentively demonstrates respect, compassion and provides friends and colleagues with the opportunity to begin to think more clearly about how they wish to deal with the issue at hand.

2. Consciously refocus your attention

Asking yourself a few questions and writing down your answers can also help you gain a sense of control and predictability. Prime your brain to pay attention to the broader situation not just the changes or challenges, by asking:
• What has not changed?
• What resources do I have to deal with the challenges I am facing?
• What is one thing I can do to relieve some pressure for myself or others?
• Are there other people in my life who might be in a more challenging situation than me, and how can I help them?

These questions help by refocusing your attention on things you can control and on someone other than yourself. This change in focus helps you to tap into the ‘thinking part of your brain and will help you feel calmer and make better decisions.


In response to the anxiety brought about by COVID – 19, Learning Quest are running complimentary webinars – starting with ‘Coping with Uncertainty’ this Wednesday 18th March.

This is a FREE webinar but places are limited so register online at:

The first session will be 18 March 4:00. Check the website for days/times.

Please share this with your networks and especially with people who aren’t normally able to attend these types of programs.

Dr Connie Henson, author of BrainWise Leadership, runs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through her company Learning Quest. For information, email, call 0410 598 585 or
visit Follow on twitter @LearningQuest

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