Stress Management Thoughts

SCARF Model in the times of Covid-19: CERTAINTY

SCARF Model; Magda Tabac; Status; Certainty; Autonomy; Relatedness; Fairness

Note: this is the third post in the series dedicated to the benefits of applying the SCARF Model to increase our wellbeing (at home and at work) in these times of Covid-19. This post approaches the second SCARF “button”: Certainty. The previous posts in the series are HERE (Introductory post) and HERE (Status).

Certainty – our ability to predict the future

Certainty refers to how the brain operates: the brain is a pattern recognizing machine and it constantly tries to predict the future. This is why, when the brain detects an error – something is different than what it expected – it gets distracted and enters “error mode”.

Thus, increased ambiguity decreases activity in the reward parts of your brain and increases the threat response. This is because our brain perceives uncertainty as threatening. On the other hand, certainty is rewarding: if we think about music, we’ll see that many times we like it because it has a simple, predictable pattern.

When the brain is not able to predict, it uses significantly more resources, and it involves the energy-intensive prefrontal cortex in the process. This can become exhausting and debilitating and lead to significant physical, mental and emotional anxiety. In turn, this will hinder the ability to make effective and balanced decisions[i].

Covid negative impact on Certainty:

Certainty is the one variable that is a real challenge in today’s Covid-19 situation, as our ability to predict the future diminishes. There is increased uncertainty in nearly every aspect of people’s lives, such as:

  • Work/Finances: Will I still have a job in the near future? Will I be called back from my furlough or I need to search for a job?
  • School: How will my grades be awarded? How will I take my exams?
  • Leisure: Should I book my holidays? Will I be able to travel and enjoy my already booked vacation?
  • Health: Am I doing enough to protect myself and my family? What are the long-term effects of Covid over our health?
Ideas for increasing Certainty:
  • Communication, transparency and clarity: as leaders we might not have a lot of information but we should always keep our people informed about what the organisation is doing and how decisions are made (regular information about potential return to work or continuation of work from home, about people being furloughed or called back, redundancies, etc.). Even if the news is not positive, the brain reacts better to any news than to uncertainty.
  • Even providing a specific date when people will know more increases the perception of certainty.
  • Provide clear expectations regarding: work from home; deadlines; working schedule; virtual meetings; etc.
  • Break down complex processes into smaller, easier to understand pieces.

I am interested in hearing your examples of how the pandemic has pushed your “Certainty button” and any ideas you have for increasing Certainty.

Please comment below.

Thank you for reading,


PS – You can access the other articles in the series here: Status Autonomy Relatedness Fairness

[i] Rock, D. (2008) SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, Neuroleadership Journal, 1

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I usually write about Process Communication Model and Neuroscience, and how they can help us in our day-to-day life.

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