How Do You Handle Uncertainty?
“Uncertain” is the word of the year. How many advertisements have you seen in the past six months that reference “these uncertain times”?
For months, we didn’t know how COVID-19 spread, or what effects it could have on the body. We still don’t know the virus’s full effects.
For months, we didn’t know how businesses could operate, would operate, or would continue operating at all during the lockdowns. As Peter already said, we still don’t know how the business atmosphere will look in a year’s time.
For months, we didn’t know what would be in the grocery store or how much we’d pay for it. Hand sanitizer disappeared for a little bit, toilet paper was a rare commodity for a month or two… even beer ran out.
Financially, the market was down, now it’s up. Oil was down. Really down. Negative $40 a barrel down. Then it was back up. $2.45 a gallon at Wawa up. Now, Saudi Arabia is indicating oil prices are going to drop again… blame the post-Labor Day drop in traffic and still-slow airline traffic. In terms of personal finance, whether you’re up or down in the post-lockdown recovery, for the most part, depends on whether you were up or down prior to the lockdown.
There is, or has very recently been, an element of uncertainty in almost every single aspect of our daily lives. Not surprisingly, uncertainty breeds any number of emotions in people. Almost always negative. So what are you supposed to do to handle all this stress? Psychologists nationwide (no doubt looking for a bit of free publicity) have offered their tips on what you and I can do to manage our stress and anxiety as we grapple with problems with no easy answers. Or, for most of 2020, no answers at all.
- Focus on what you can control. Instead of worrying about the unknown elements of the virus, focus on the protections that you can control: wearing a mask, washing your hands, maintaining social distance. This helps trick your mind from ruminating on doom & gloom and steers it towards active problem solving. Financially, this may come from moving some money out of an uncertain market and into more stable options.
- Challenge your need for certainty. Ask yourself what advantages you gain through certainty that you lose in uncertainty. Ask yourself how much of life you can ever really be certain about. And ask yourself if you assume the worst will happen if you don’t know the outcome. These are heavy questions, so it’s understandable if you don’t adopt an entirely new world view in the course of reading this article.
- Learn to accept uncertainty. Easier said than done, right? Knowing the negative feelings you associate with uncertainty and how they impact you make them easier to soothe. Financially, this is where Peter’s quote comes in, “Never have more money in the market than you could stand to lose.”
Or, you can follow the advice of a seasoned member of a bomb squad. When asked how he stays calm in a volatile, dangerous, and life-threatening industry, he explained “Either I diffuse the bomb, or it’s not my problem anymore.”