• managing personal uncertainty

Managing personal uncertainty with the SCAT method

Personal uncertainty and entrepreneurship

Uncertainty is inevitable for the entrepreneur and founder. In the words of author Stephen Covey, “if there’s one thing certain in business, it’s uncertainty.”

There are many forms of uncertainty. But perhaps the most dangerous, the one that plagues the founder everyday, is that of personal uncertainty. In contrast to informational uncertainty, which is a matter of needing more information, this other type cuts to the core of person’s sense of identity.

It’s a general uneasiness that hums in the background that, if not controlled, can cause feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. It’s linked to anxiety, irritability, and anger; it’s shown to hinder central and peripheral nervous system functioning; and it’s been shown to limit cognitive processing and hinder creative problem solving. It’s bad for the mind, brain, and body.

personal uncertainty

source – kingshillcbt.co.uk

All is not lost, though. This type of uncertainty can be kept in check. Entrepreneurial success depends not on avoiding uncertainty (that’s impossible) but on learning to manage it effectively.

Here we teach you a highly effective approach for managing personal uncertainty. We call it the SCAT method. This mental framework is made up of a unique set of habit-based exercises that allow a person to rethink their sense of self during moments of personal uncertainty.


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When experiencing uncertainty and the resulting feelings of anxiety, many of us lose sight of the bigger picture because of the brain’s narrowed attentional response. We get stuck. The SCAT method is a way to get unstuck. It’s a way to avoid the mental trap caused by personal uncertainty.

  • Segment yourself into multiple self-concepts/attributes
  • Choose the self-concepts/attributes that are most stable, secure, and organized
  • Add more self-concepts/attributes to see yourself as complex
  • Tie together all the self-concepts/attributes to integrate a cohesive image of yourself

The SCAT method is based off of established academic research. Our team of psychology and neuroscience PhDs have sifted through hundreds of papers, selecting only the best and most reputable. You have the fullest confidence in all our recommendations.

Segment yourself into multiple self-concepts/attributes

We all have a pretty good idea of our sense of self. But we often don’t think of ourselves as having multiple identities. But it’s true: Our sense of self can be segmented out in multiple versions. We do this naturally from time to time, some more than others. To help combat personal uncertainty, research tells us the first step is to think about yourself as having multiple selves.

1. The SCAT method begins with a personal assessment/survey. This short questionnaire assesses your level of personal uncertainty as it feels at this particular moment. Use this scientifically validated scale to see where you sit relative to overall averages. Answer all 12 items and add your total score. The averages for most groups tend to be between 25 and 30. Use your score to gauge where you sit at this moment relative to others.

2. Think about yourself as a person. Sit with this idea for a few minutes. We don’t mean in any sort of wacky philosophical “out there” way (this will only increase your uncertainty and anxiety). But in a practical and pragmatic sort of way. As you’re doing this, begin to see yourself – your “you” – as having multiple identities and self-concepts. For many, the default is to either (1) not think about it or (2) see oneself as having only one identity. Get beyond this and dig deeper.

3. As you think about these, begin mapping out your “hypothetical self-concept”. See the image below for an example. If it’s easier, you can even split it out further into “work” and “life” (or non-work). For each, list out your “self-concepts” in the middle row and your “personal attributes” in the bottom row.

  • In your work map, the self-concept might include things like CEO, head of product, or networker; the personal attributes things like hard-working, diligent, or focused. Same idea goes for your non-work map, but instead with self-concepts like husband, artist, or active citizen, and attributes like creative, inspiring, or supportive (as in this example).
  • Rank each of the self-concepts and personal attributes on a scale from 0 (not at all certain about) to 10 (completely certain about). When rating self-concepts, ask yourself, am I certain of myself in this role? Am I certain of my ability to do it well? Am I confident in how I conduct myself as this part of who I am? And likewise for rating attributes. Ask yourself, am I certain of this trait representing who I am? Am I certain that it’s central to who I am? Am I happy with this part of my identity? If your answer to these is “yes, absolutely” then that box would receive a 10 (most certain) rating. Let these questions guide you in getting to the rankings. Keep in mind these ratings are never set in stone. The perception we have of ourselves constantly changes.

4. Now, in each map, connect the self-concepts to each of the attributes with a line: The line tells you which attribute defines you as that self-concept/role. For example, if your attribute of being diligent helps you as a networker, then connect the two boxes with a line. This, too, acts as a measure of personal certainty. If one of your self-concepts boxes has lots of lines running from it to different attribute boxes, then you know this part of who you are is represented by multiple traits and attributes (and is also a good sign of stability). For example, in the image you’ll see that Head of product is connected to all five personality attributes. This is an ideal scenario.

work identity map

 

non-work identity map

 

Choose the self-concepts/attributes that are most stable, secure, and organized

5. When feeling the sting of personal uncertainty, ask yourself what self-concept and attributes you’re dwelling on. Chances are you’re seeing the version of yourself that is least certain. This negative mindtrap thinking happens automatically: During times of uncertainty/anxiety, our highly neurotic brain makes things worse by focusing on the weakest version of ourselves. This just doesn’t work. You need to get your brain out of the mindtrap.

  • Instead, shift your focus to the self-concepts and attributes that are (1) the highest rated for certainty and (2) have a greater number of overall connections running between the two rows of boxes. These are the versions of yourself that, at this particular moment, are most secure and stable and most likely to withstand threats of uncertainty.
  • Looking at your map(s), take 3-5 minutes to write a short paragraph of 1 or 2 of these most stable and secure self-concepts and attributes. Write out your experience as being this person and how the associated attribute(s) help you in this role, how your daily interactions and tasks support this version of you, and how others might see you in this way (in a positive way).

6. Bonus: If you completed two maps (work and nonwork), compare the two: What’s the total certainty score for each? How do they compare? Is one much lower than the other? In the examples here they are 80 and 84 (out of a possible 110). This is good. They’re both above the 50% mark (above a score of 55) and fairly close to one another. It’s not ideal if they’re off from each other by more than 20. It means one area of your life is much less certain than the other. It’s likely an issue of work life balance. This form of self-discrepancy could be the reason you’re feeling the sting of personal uncertainty to begin with. More on this in future posts … stay tuned!

7. Note: Following these steps does not mean you should always ignore the versions of yourself that are the least certain. Self-improvement is critical to psychological growth. But it’s better to focus on these weaker aspects of yourself in times when personal uncertainty isn’t so high.

 

Add more self-concepts/attributes to see yourself as complex

At the same time as segmenting and choosing, you might also want to include additional self-concepts and attributes in your identity mapping. This helps you achieve what psychologists call greater “self-complexity.” It too can reduce personal uncertainty.

It’s a sort of paradoxical effect: See yourself as more complex to find greater certainty. The reason is because a person who sees themselves as having only 1 or 2 self-concepts, say as CEO and head of product but nothing else, might be fine in times of high stability (as if that’s a real thing in the startup world!). Otherwise though, the small number of identities are at greater risk of being brought down by the self-doubt and anxiety caused by personal uncertainty.

8. Train your mind to see yourself as more complex. As you map out your self-concepts, if you notice you only listed two attributes, go deeper and list out five or more. The majority of your day-to-day role might be, for instance, that of a CEO. But that’s a big role. Under that self-concept you’re also a number of other things, each connected to a unique set of personal attributes. Are you also a PR specialist? Guest columnist? Expert leader? Disciplined and organized?

9. For the exact number of these attributes, we recommend having around 7 plus or minus two self-concepts (middle row) and attributes (bottom row), each. This is the “magic number” for fluent cognitive processing and is ideal for things being easily recalled. This is the sweetspot for self-complexity. Do this exercise in times when you’re struggling with personal uncertainty. As you complete Steps 1-5, also try shifting your focus to 3 or 4 of the the highest ranked  self-concepts and attributes. Compared to before, here you’re drawing attention to the fact that you operate in your day-to-day differently depending which version of yourself is present.

A good way to remember this is to refrain from “putting all your identity eggs in one cognitive basket.” As mentioned, seeing yourself as having only one or two identities/attributes is risky because under the threat of personal uncertainty, your whole sense of self is at risk of being brought down. Complexity reminds you that there are multiple other versions of you. It helps buffer against negative emotions, anxiety, and depression. It’s been found that people who are higher in self-complexity experience more emotional stability and have fewer extreme mood swings.

 

Tie together all the identities to integrate a cohesive image of yourself

Note, that having a greater sense of self-complexity does not mean having a lack of overall self-integration. You have to be careful here. You risk being more susceptible to anxiety and uncertainty the less cohesive and integrated your identity is. There’s a subtle, but very important, distinction between self-complexity and self-cohesion.

Be sure to do the following, then, any time you do the above exercises:

10. Maintain cohesion by engaging in self-integration exercises like the following: After you’ve done the mapping for the self-complexity exercise, go back to your map(s) and try to see how each of your self-concepts and attributes all tie back together. The best way to do this is select a small number of core values – fundamental truths and highly meaningful principles that guide all your behaviors, decisions, and thoughts. These act as the cohesive force that integrate the different aspects of your personality. They can often be captured in a single word or phrase – boldness, authenticity, to serve others, respect and dignity, seeing the good in life, and so on. And they can be equally applied to business contexts. For example, delivering superior health technology systems to health professionals.

11. A good rule-of-thumb is the 2 value approach. For each map you draw, ask yourself what are your 2 core values. These will differ for each identity map. For example, your work identity map might be “To have a positive and significant impact on a large group of people,” whereas your non-work/life identity map might be “To always try and understand the perspective of the other person.” Write each of them out at the top of the corresponding map with the self-concepts (middle row) and personal attributes (bottom row) listed below.

  • Then score each of the concepts and attributes from 0 (not at all helpful in striving towards the core value) to 10 (perfectly helpful in striving towards the core value). If you have 2 core values per map, each box will have 2 associated scores. See the image below for the example.

personal cohesion

12. Assuming you listed 2 values, take the 2 scores from each box (both self-concept and attributes) and average them out. If any one of the boxes has an average of less than 7, then this should be flagged as one aspect of your identity that threatens self-integration, and as a result, something that will worsen the feelings of personal uncertainty. In the example here, we see that the self-concepts “Networker” and “PR specialist” show an average of less than 7.

  • Keep in mind this last part of the exercise (specifically the core values and self-integration part) should be properly balanced with the previous steps of adding greater self-complexity. For instance, if you add more self-concepts/attributes during the complexity exercise (Steps 7-9) but notice some of these aren’t aligning to your core values (avg ratings less than 7), then you need to go back to the drawing board. Ideally, what you want is your added self-concepts/attributes (i.e., complexity) to be tightly linked to your core values (i.e., cohesion). This might take some practice.

To this last point, and in general, the SCAT method will often require multiple iterations. That’s okay. In fact that’s the point. It’s the conscious thinking of yourself that will help you reach an ideal balance needed to manage personal uncertainty and be the best version of you.

 

Recap and key takeaways

The SCAT method is an effective tool to get you to reframe your sense of self when you’re under the gun of personal uncertainty. The conscious, habit-based set of exercises will help you avoid getting stuck, so you can carry on unimpeded by anxiety and self-doubt.

Remember:

  • Segment yourself into multiple identities
    • create a work identity map and non-work/life identity map where you have self-concepts and personal attributes
    • rate each concept/attribute along a scale of 0 (least certain) to 10 (most certain); remember, ask yourself questions like, am I certain of myself in this role? Am I confident in this version of myself?
  • Choose the identities that are most stable, secure, and organized
    • instead of dwelling on the less stable aspects of yourself (the brain’s default response), choose the highest rated concept/attribute
    • write out this version of yourself as you see experiencing it in your day-to-day life
  • Add more identities and to see yourself as more complex
    • to your existing map(s), have at least 5 self-concepts and 5 attributes in order to strive for greater self-complexity
    • choose 3 or 4 versions of you and write out how you operate differently depending on the form of your self chosen
  • Tie together all the identities to integrate a cohesive image of yourself
    • take 3 core values (per identity map) and assess whether each of your concepts/attributes align with those values/principles.
    • iterate to find the right balance between self-complexity and proper personal integration … and remember, dig deep!

2017-11-18T06:06:11+00:00