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The disadvantage of hindsight: help making decisions when faced with change or uncertainty

Published 28 February 2014

When you're going through change or uncertainty do you find it difficult to trust your decision making? This week our guest blogger, leadership coach Jennifer McCanna, explores how to gain confidence when faced with uncertainty, either at work or at home. Find out more about Jennifer and read her, regularly updated, blog at

Listening to the radio the other day, I caught part of a discussion about interest rates. Were they going to go up? If so, when? And at which point should we all scramble to secure the lowest fixed mortgage rate on the market?

By far the most useful piece of advice on the programme was not an answer to any of the above, but was encouragement to get used to the fact that none of us know if and when rates will go up,  we can't do anything about it, so instead we could focus our energies on getting used to living with uncertainty.

Getting used to uncertainty means being cool with not knowing all the answers. It means making decisions about our mortgage based on what we know now, because, without recourse to a crystal ball, that's all we can do.

It isn’t easy to apply this advice to our choice of mortgage, but at least it’s possible, and we can see the logic. But what would it be like to apply the same thinking to other areas of our lives?

Think about change at work - it's easy to feel trapped by change that is being "done" to us and easy to feel paralysed into making no decision at all, especially when change such as looming redundancy or restructure affects our confidence. In those situations, we are often faced with long periods of uncertainty, followed by a new version of reality that we don’t like the sound of. Sometimes we have a bit more control of work outcomes than we do over interest rates, but often it doesn’t feel like it. However, both scenarios have one thing in common - we can take control of the situation by choosing how we think about it, and how we react to those thoughts.

How have you reacted to change at work in the past? Did you engage? Disengage? Feel empowered or disempowered? (None of the above is right or wrong!)

What has helped you feel empowered through a period of change or uncertainty in the past? For me, it's a belief in myself that I'm making decisions that are good ones for me based on the information I have at the time.

Back on the radio programme about interest rates, our financial expert concluded by urging us, in 3 years time, to not look back with regret and say "oh I wish I had fixed my mortgage rate earlier" but instead recognise that we acted in the best way we could at the time.

I was once made redundant and moved into an amazing, exciting new job. However, it turned out to be not the right amazing and exciting job for me. That situation helped me think through what makes me tick at work, what makes me passionate, and where I should be focusing my energies to really thrive. Although it was hard, I took the decision to leave that job and explore a new direction. That was a tough time, but I still believe the choice to take that job was a sound one based on the information I had at the time. And I learnt so much that I cannot regret that decision for a minute.

Have you ever taken a leap and regretted it later down the line?

What would it be like to let go of regret and know that you did what you did based on the knowledge you had at the time?

Or maybe you are thinking about making a change to your career, but your fear of regretting it later down the line is holding you back?

If you are going through change, or considering it as an option, here are some questions you could ask to help you feel empowered to make decisions:

  • How do I truly feel about this change?
  • What do I want my life to look like? (Is it different to now? If so how?)
  • Who do I know who can help me create that life?
  • What great attributes do I have to help me create it for myself?

And what would it feel like to make a commitment to yourself that whatever happens, a few months down the line you won't look back with regret, but acceptance and acknowledgement that you made a great decision for you with the information you had at the time. Jump in! Who knows what you might learn or where your new path might take you.

With love


Jennifer McCanna is a professional leadership coach and Learning & Development Manager at international development charity VSO ( ). An Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) she works with clients facing change and transition, or those who simply want to make their life and work the best it can be.

Jennifer writes a regular blog at . You can follow her on twitter @jenthecoach or contact her directly regarding coaching at via LinkedIn at

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