In leadership, information and trainings have been developed to help guide the best responses to very difficult situations. A concept created in the late 1980’s and used by the U.S. Army War College seems appropriate in describing our current state of affairs. The concept is labeled with an acronym- VUCA- and it stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
I have been teaching this concept in group therapy, individual therapy, and coaching, as it has been helpful in my own personal attempts to cope as of late. In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga and thrive-focused lifestyle, we learn that our mind-body system is always in pulsation between two extremes. In order to draw the system back to center when we are stuck at one end of the spectrum, we apply the opposite. This teaching is also helpful in our ability to cope with VUCA experiences.
V- Volatility. A volatile environment is one that is teeming with tension and perhaps even on the verge of explosion. Because this feels unsafe, it triggers the stress response in the nervous system, pushing those in the environment into fight-or-flight. To help us cope with this aspect of VUCA, we want to attempt to find the opposite and move toward that, so we are working toward safety. What is one thing we can do in this moment to feel safe in the body or in the environment? Some ideas may be to take a few big breaths counting to the same number on the inhale and exhale, to take a time out from the situation and step outside, to chat with a friend, or to repeat a mantra in our mind.
U- Uncertainty. When we cannot determine the best next step and cannot predict what will happen, we are in a state of uncertainty. Uncertainty can make us second-guess ourselves and look outside of ourselves for answers that should come from within. To bring ourselves back toward balance when we feel uncertain, we must tap into our own inner knowing. We must look at what we have control over and where we can lean into certainty in ourselves. Helpful ideas here may be recognizing the small things we have control over throughout the day (ex. how much water we drink or what time we go to bed) and creating a daily routine that helps the nervous system calm in a state of knowing what to expect.
C- Complexity. Complex environments have many variables and changing one thing has an effect on many others. Individual humans are complex and when we have many complex humans together all acting in complex ways, the situation and our own feelings can be overwhelming to manage. At times our lives are so complex that we do not even know where to start in working toward how we want to feel or who we want to be. To bring ourselves back to balance here, we are working toward simplicity. Breaking things down into the smallest, simplest task or increment of time can be very helpful. Starting with the first step and remembering that we do not have to think about the entire journey right now, simply the first step. Helpful ideas are working for a 1% improvement rather than attempting to change everything at once, determining what the smallest step forward may be, or setting a timer to create a container of time to do even 5 minutes of a task.
A- Ambiguity. When things are ambiguous, they lack clarity. When things seem cloudy, we can often default to filling in what we don’t understand with our own opinions and assumptions. From these assumptions, we act as if we have factual information which can lead to more issues that we will have to deal with later. To bring ourselves back toward center, we are working toward clarity and it can be most helpful to attempt to gather more information. Asking others clarifying questions and then asking ourselves if we have enough information to act are ways to stay centered. Other helpful steps are getting clear on our own core values which will support us as we navigate challenges, and to be clear on our own boundaries around what is ok and what is not ok for us.
As we all attempt to make our way through situations, relationships, tasks, and days that may feel volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, tapping into the opposite can be a helpful way to bring us back toward safety, knowing, simplicity, and clarity.
Take some time this week to observe which of these concepts you may be dealing with in any given situation. Of course, there may be more than one. As we are doing our best to move through our lives as the person we want to become, let’s attempt to do so from a centered place. Let’s notice if we are experiencing one end of the spectrum and work toward our own calm center by applying the opposite.
I will be practicing right along with you.
Chat again soon,