If there is any certain thing in the world, it’s that everything is uncertain. Yeah, I know—a bit of a gloomy way to start an article about how to stay focused. But much like the only sure thing about your life is that one day it will end, we need a similar level of awareness about our day-to-day. As we grow older, things don’t get simpler; they get more complicated. The world itself gets more volatile. Uncertainty is everywhere. So, how are you to keep the focus on your goals and dreams if life keeps throwing metaphorical wrenches in your wheels? In this article, I am exploring several tips that will help you maintain focus during uncertain times and answer the question, do you have to?
Uncertain Times Never End
The US Army loves acronyms. One of my favorites is FUBAR, which means fucked up beyond any repair. Somebody must’ve been in a real pickle when they came up with that one.
But that’s not the acronym I’m interested in for this article. I’m talking about VUCA, which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.
What do they mean?
Volatility in life refers to a lack of consistency in the way people view or react to others or situations. Practically, it means that it’s impossible to anticipate how one would respond, thus generating a lack of uniformity. If volatility didn’t exist, you’d be sure that people would react and judge the same way given the same variables. But that is not the case.
Uncertainty, especially in volatile situations, means that the predictability or availability of information is lacking. You don’t have enough data to estimate what the outcome of an event could be. Think about things such as the elections, a disease, or even a car ride. There is not enough certainty in those events to estimate the outcome.
Complexity refers to the multiple facets and interconnections of all aspects of life. Conflicting thoughts, conflicting information, and expectations create a multi-interconnected network that continually needs to be reviewed by your brain. You need to consider all the events and social cues and all the feelings and motivations you have. On top of that, you must be mindful of the same for all the people around you. Sound like madness? It is.
Ambiguity adds another layer of fogginess. The lack of information or the lack of clarity in communication creates ambiguity. When things can be interpreted in multiple ways, the decision-making process suffers. We feel lost and question our decisions because none of them seems to be a slam-dunk. There are always other ways, so how do we know we chose the right one?
Our VUCA Life
Life doesn’t get easier by itself
If you analyze the brief descriptions of the VUCA terms and try to project them over your existence today, you’ll probably agree that they apply to almost all aspects of your life. I believe that each term represents a facet of how our life works today, but I like to wrap it all up in the term “uncertain times.”
Although that definition uses only one of the VUCA terms, I think it properly encapsulates its essence.
If you try to chunk your life into groups of ten years and think about how your life felt across those periods, how would you qualify its evolution? Did it get easier? If so, which parts of it got easier? Have you gained or lost control in your life? Which levers have you got a grip on and which have slipped out of your hand?
I bet that you can identify things that you were most certain of and other things that you were totally uncertain of in each decade of your life. Even that shift of the areas of certainty is another layer that adds to the volatility of your life and of those around you. On top of that, your uncertainty is amplified by that of the people in your life. Although you feel certain about something, your wife, children, parents, or best friends might not.
In the end, your entire life becomes a balancing act of managing all of these balls in the air. And just when you feel like things might be turning around, you get the damn 2020.
Uncertainty In 2020 And Its Effects
In January of 2020, everybody in the world began hearing about a strange virus in China’s Wuhan province. Little was known back then, but the scientists warned that it seems to be a dangerous virus that jumped from an animal into a human.
As I am writing this one year later, almost one hundred million people have been infected, and more than two million lost their lives to the disease.
During the pandemic, countries took drastic measures such as closing businesses, requesting people to work from home, and switching children to online learning.
I can’t recall anything that felt so volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous in the forty-five years of my life so far as those first few months of 2020.
And this was just the icing on the cake, sort of speak. In the United States, 2020 was an election year where we saw one of the most contentious and dividing elections in many years.
Across the globe, nations collided, and hurricanes ravaged the shores.
Not to mention that we’ve seen people such as Kobe Bryant, Ruth Ginsburg, and Chadwick Boseman pass on and leave this world.
For all intents and purposes, 2020 was a fucked-up year. Nobody felt safe or secure; there were no assurances about tomorrow. It seemed as though the entire world was crumbling around us.
When you feel that way, what happens with your focus?
How Focus Slips Away
Have you ever been watching TV late at night and found yourself fully immersed in the story? You felt so enthralled that it almost felt like you are there, inside the show. The program had your complete and undivided attention and concentration.
And then, boom!—a loud noise coming from upstairs, like something large fell and hit the floor. What did you do? Unless you are some alien, you probably paused the TV, jumped to your feet, and ran upstairs to see what happened.
During those few seconds between the couch and the place where something fell, do you think you’d have continued to think about the plot in the show? After all, just two seconds ago, you were fully engaged in it.
You know the answer: when the unexpected event pulled you out of it, you lost all focus. Your heart’s racing, and adrenaline is rushing through your veins. Your focus has been wholly snatched away and switched to the new event.
Of course, that is an extreme example, and its only purpose is to exemplify a situation. But the reality of life is not far from that. The only difference is that, in your day-to-day, those distractions are not as clear and evident as a painting that fell off a wall on the second floor.
Instead, in life, uncertainty comes in much subtler ways and from many sides simultaneously.
Also, your focus is never so uniquely undivided and profound as when you’re watching a TV show without any other distractions in sight.
The effect, though, is just the same. When there is uncertainty, your instinct is to deal with the uncertainty. You want to flip it to certainty. Much like you couldn’t continue to watch the movie without knowing what fell on the second floor, in life, you’ll find it very hard to keep focus when the general state is volatile and uncertain.
Uncertainty erodes your focus up to the point where you lose it completely.
Why Should You Stay Focused?
The second part of this comes in the form of a question: should you try to maintain focus during uncertain times, or is it better to put effort into reducing uncertainty first and then returning to your focus?
Well, let’s first discuss what focus is.
Focus represents your effort to work toward your vision and goals in life. I understand that not everybody went through a rigorous exercise of defining their life vision and creating goals. Still, even without that type of exercise, you always have something you are aiming for.
Even if it’s mostly subconscious, it’s still there. It might be limited, but it exists. It could be your career, your family, your hobby. We all have something we love and care about and, thus, continually try to keep loving and caring about.
Focus means that you use that vision as a target and keep taking action to bring you closer to it eventually. We could call that long-term focus or stay on track.
Short-term focus is concentrating on a task or activity long enough to see it to completion with the expected level of quality.
Now, let’s remember the two aspects discussed earlier:
- Life is always chaotic, and the more time passes, the more VUCA it gets
- When there’s uncertainty, you lose your focus
The conclusion we can draw from this is that if you don’t figure out a way to regain focus despite the VUCA elements, you will never be able to focus because life’s uncertainty will never allow it.
So, keeping focus is not even a question. It’s a must because, without it, you might as well pack your vision and dreams in a box in the attic and never think of them again.
Instead, it’s vital to create an environment that allows you to maintain your focus on what is essential while acknowledging that the world around you is falling apart. By having such a system in place, the effects of that uncertainty can’t derail you from your path. The alternative is personal doom.
Tips to Stay Focused When Times Are Uncertain
Now that we understand what uncertainty in life is and how it manifests, and the fact that it steals your focus subtly, it’s time to look at some ways you can use to keep or regain that focus.
Revisit your priorities
When there’s uncertainty in your life, you begin to question everything. You don’t know what is affected, what could be affected, and where this all could lead. That’s the time when usually your vision, dreams, and goals turn cloudy. The uncertainty obscures them, and you almost forget about them. After all, let’s focus on getting through this crap first, right?
I believe that’s the wrong approach. Your vision and goals have been thought out carefully, perhaps during times of less uncertainty. You poured love and care and logic into those elements, so they were designed to stand the test of time.
When uncertainty looms, that’s the perfect time not only to go back and review your vision, goals, and priorities but to draw certainty out of them. There’s permanence and future outlook in those priorities, and you need to reconnect with them and reaffirm them.
By working on your priorities with consistency, you deny the power that uncertainty is trying to assert over your life and reclaim control.
Improve your self-care habits
As you fumble to put out fires during times of high uncertainty, often, you drop the ball at taking care of yourself. That’s normal. After all, if your house is (literally) on fire, you’ll jump to the water hose with no worries about brushing your teeth first. I get that.
But since most of the time, there’s no literal fire and even high uncertainty balloons itself in our minds to a much larger dimension than it should be, self-care is a paramount requirement to beat uncertainty at its own game.
Keep up with your routines, despite the chaos. Continue your exercise regimen, stick to your nutrition, and don’t neglect the meditation practice. Those good habits are designed to make you better and more robust, which is precisely what you need to deal with the uncertainty in your life.
Remove yourself from the news
The 24/7 news and the interminable scroll of the social media pages are nothing but a source of anxiety in times of high uncertainty. I’m not recommending here to stick your head into the sand and pretend that all is fine and dandy when the world crumbles around you.
I suggest curating those source outlets and social media information to the bare minimum by limiting them to what keeps you informed.
Once you got the information you need, please stop it. Don’t bask in endless hours of interpretations made by others. The more you listen to the same thing over and over, the more your anxiety will shoot through the roof.
Instead of dealing with your life issues, you are now worried about more problems and new issues. Censor the amount of information you allow into your mind.
Ramp up your daily routines
Habits are the complete antithesis of chaos. Patterns imply routines and rituals, which, by definition, are orderly and structured. If you are a person who understands the power of habits and naturally works at creating healthy ones, you’ll find that your resistance to life’s uncertainly is much stronger.
However, if you find yourself immersed in a chaotic world without proper routines and rituals, it’s not too late to establish them. Of course, it’s much harder to do so when things are already unhinged, but it’s not impossible.
In fact, with a little self-discipline and resilience, the habits you establish despite the uncertainty of life will stick even better than in an optimal environment precisely because you need to fight for them.
When you create a structure to your days, weeks, and months, you create a defense mechanism that acts like a shield against uncertainty. It won’t prevent it or make it go away, but at least it will keep a critical part of it at bay, leaving you with enough energy and strength to deal with the actual chaotic events.
Stay connected with people
Unless you live on Uncertainty Island, you probably share the world with several people. Some of them are, most likely, close to you, such as your family, friends, and co-workers. When times are difficult, it’s helpful for you to get together with those people.
That doesn’t mean collectively basking and moaning about how hard times are, but sharing stories of struggle and provide support for one another. Sometimes when things are tough, and you help someone else, you discover solutions for yourself. That’s because we are more likely to figure out solutions for others than for ourselves.
By tightening your community when times are uncertain and focusing on positivity, gratitude, and opportunities, you diminish the effects of life’s uncertainty. You strip it of its power, and you regain a sense of control over your life.
Stay Focused for Success
Staying focused and working on your goals is always vital, but it becomes critical during times of high uncertainty because those are the moments you get derailed from your path. Keeping your head straight and concentrating on your vision is much harder with there’s uncertainty about tomorrow.
That is why devising several methods to cope with life’s chaos is not only a necessity, but it’s a responsibility that you need to accept and act upon.
Also, you shouldn’t wait for uncertain times to put these systems in place. Instead, create these processes ahead of time, especially when times are calm and you have space for thoughtfulness. Use those moments to craft your systems, and when the going gets tough, you’ll get going, as the saying goes.
More so, don’t be afraid of uncertainty. It’s a part of life. No matter where you are or who you are, it will find you, and it will shake you down. It’s never too late to be prepared.
So, get your gloves on and be ready!
Other Resources on Focus During Uncertain Times
- Finding Focus in Uncertain Times
- Focus! How to Stay Productive in Uncertain Times
- How To Use Your Time Effectively and Stay Productive in Uncertain Times
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What are your methods to stay focused during uncertain times?
- Can you pinpoint some of the biggest challenges you faced while times were uncertain?
- What other tools do you use in your day-to-day to keep yourself focused?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!