Defusing the ‘uncertainty bomb’ – techniques as useful for adults as they are for school students

Working with clinical psychologist Dr Danielle Einstein on her school programs to help students manage uncertainty is a real pleasure – and, given that she is in Sydney and I am in the UK, it is also proof (should any more actually be required in this Covid-era) that it is perfectly possible to collaborate effectively at a physical distance. We are in daily contact; sometimes I correspond with the schools who have taken up her ‘Covid-19 Chilled and Considerate’ program, and sometimes she is their point of contact; we both attend and lead the twice-weekly Zoom support calls, and in between we continue to refine the programs based on feedback from schools. This feedback is incredibly helpful, and all 3 of the programs now being used – for Years 5 and 6, for Years 7-11, and for Year 12 – have become even richer and more impactful.


I know I am biased, but I can’t help but feel proud of these programs – and it was great to see a really positive mention of them in the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday. What I have noticed is that the key concepts included in the program, all of which are presented really memorably, with (as you would expect!) a range of exercises to help school students practise and reflect, are just as important for adults as well as young people, and I find myself increasingly referring to them in my executive coaching. Leaders often think about anxiety, and how to tackle this, but not about the uncertainty which is probably underpinning this anxiety. Learning how to manage uncertainty is a lifelong skill – research shows that people who are afraid of their anxiety and who naturally do not like uncertainty demonstrate the greatest level of worry (ie anxious thoughts), which can – as we know – be cripplingly disempowering.

One of the central concepts of the program is that of the ‘uncertainty bomb’, which lies waiting for us when we encounter a situation whose outcome is not immediately obvious. Mishandle this bomb, and it will blow up in our faces; handle it well, using the techniques from the uncertainty toolbox, and it will be defused. Of course, this is easy to talk about; what is important is really to understand, learn and practise. The programs are based on years of research by Dr Einstein in clinical psychology into handling uncertainty, which has informed the past 8 years of her work specifically in schools, and while these schools have largely been in Australia, I can absolutely see the universal significance of these programs in schools across the world, and their usefulness for school students especially, but by extension for teachers, school leaders, parents … everyone, in fact. In helping us deal with uncertainty, they respond to a basic human issue – an issue which we are all, wherever we are in the world, facing more keenly than probably ever before in our living history.

With this in mind, Dr Einstein has already produced a parent workshop, and more is to follow; in the meantime, I would be particularly keen to help schools in different parts of the world access the programs, and if you are a teacher or school leader who is interested, please do get in touch. Together, we can do this, and make a difference!

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