Doomscrolling and Living in a VUCA World

We need a way of thinking that holds up to the unsteadiness of our times.

Are you familiar with the term doomscrolling?

Jason S. Moser, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology explains, “Doomscrolling refers to the rabbit holes we often find ourselves in on the internet, reading, searching and ‘investigating’ the toils and troubles of the day.”

Of course, thumbing through your newsfeed or social media isn’t new, but with the firehose of information and contradicting opinions flowing on the internet these days, well, it’s sucking many of us into cycles of mental anguish and physical agitation.

In an attempt to find comfort or at least an idea of what to do next, we and the people we’ve been called to lead are finding little of either in that latest article, headline or social media post.

Can hope still be found in this strange new world? Yes, of course, but it requires a different perspective. I believe hope shines the brightest when we admit the whole truth.

Let me show you what I mean.

It is intellectually dishonest and emotionally unhealthy to deny all that is happening around us. To put a blunter edge to it: There is a distinct difference between denial and faith. The life to which God calls you cannot be lived with eyes scrunched shut and minds closed off. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

We live in a VUCA world.

What’s VUCA? An acronym. You’re familiar with acronyms. YMCA, TCBY, NASB (I could go on). This one is used by complexity scientists and stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

The term has been used since the 1980s and was rediscovered by people in the post-9/11 era. It is being used again in these historic times. And why not? Take your pick of the four words: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Sounds like a pretty accurate description of our world these days.

With this VUCA world changing every few minutes and people contradicting what we just heard someone else say, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Disorienting. Pile on top of that, everything else we’re navigating: restrictions of movement and gatherings, online schooling, working from home, a divisive election, businesses reopening and others closing, difficult discussions about race, overcrowded hospitals, economic uncertainties …

Wow. Talk about doomscrolling.

Some people teeter on the edge of despair while others are just a moment away from outrage. And everyone in between is just plain tired of this. As a leader, you already know your next decision is either too much or not enough in the eyes of some critics. I’ve lost count of the number of leaders who are growing weary at the prospect of guiding people through this next patch of rough water.

Where do we go from here?

We will need a way of thinking that holds up to the unsteadiness of our times, a way of loving that heals the unkindness of our times, a way of believing that endures the fear of our times. A point of reference that orients us in these disorienting times.

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This new way of thinking must be honest, for we will deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. It will require us to pay attention to a very big thought.

Call it your worldview.

Whether we think about it much or not, it is our perception of how things are, how they work, why they work (or don’t work). It’s our take on what matters and why.

You know what matters? Your worldview.

Why else would Paul stress such a thing in his letter to the Romans?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” —Romans 12:2

Pastors, business owners, church planters, ministry leaders, parents—allow me to state the obvious: Do not allow the general drift of this world to pull you off course.

What is the general drift of the world these days? There are many words that come to mind, but let’s pick one: fear.

We are often reminded that “fear not” is mentioned more than 300 times in the Bible. This is for a reason. God knows how susceptible we are to fear in this VUCA world. He reminds us again and again to not be afraid because he knows how it destroys our thinking, saps our strength, and dredges up the ugliest of reactions inside us.

So how are you doing with fear these days?

Professor of psychiatry Michelle Bedard-Gilligan and her associates remind us that, “ambiguity breeds anxiety; more so when the ‘facts’ change hourly.” Your brain is trying to make sense of things and different parts are working against each other—one trying to process all this ambiguous information, another part that is ready to give in to fear and then a third part trying to balance it all out. That’s why you feel the push and pull of these things throughout your day. Bedard-Gilligan says we feel the need to “control the uncontrollable situations.”

But it’s not just us grownups. Researchers have studied toddlers’ tantrums and found that children this age think magically, not logically. They don’t understand how stuff really works. They can’t see the bigger picture.

This makes even ordinary events seem confusing, overwhelming, and terrifying to them, according to psychology professor Dr. Gina Mireault. She suggests they don’t understand that the bathtub drain won’t swallow them or that Uncle Joe can’t really snatch their nose off. She concludes, “If you’re not sure whether or not a simple bath will end in your demise, needless to say, you’re going to feel pretty confused and prone to anxiety—on a daily basis.”

It seems to me that we aren’t just describing the outbursts of little ones at this point. We don’t know how everything works. We don’t have comforting explanations and outcomes for all the problems we see. And those uncertain and uninformed thoughts might lead to a tantrum or two.

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Oh, they’ll take different forms than stomping feet and rolling around on the floor (hopefully). We’ll see loud rants on social media, workplace conflict, generational divides, and even the mistreatment of the people we live with and work with.

But leaders who follow Jesus have a tremendous chance to resist such ugliness.

There has never been a more pivotal moment in our lifetimes to reflect Christ’s love. This is when the people of God can rise to the challenge differently. With hope, yes, but also love, courage, gentleness, and faith.

I know, I know, such a sentence is a little too rah-rah for some of you.

Again, this is not an exercise in denial. We must see whole truth before us. We live in a VUCA world. And it has seemingly changed—right under our feet. But Jesus hasn’t. He is the Eternal One—the same yesterday, today and forever.

So how do we live this different life and lead others well?

What is it that protects our hearts, clears our heads, and strengthens our resolve? We could share stories all day long of what works, and no doubt I would learn much from you. For now, let’s come back to something so obvious, it’s easy to miss in our own daily rhythms.

Come back to Scripture for your own sake—not that of your congregation or the next talk you’ll give at your organization. Allow the Maker of heaven and earth to refresh your mind. May his words echo in your thoughts even as they shape your conversations and guide your next steps.

With this renewed mind Paul mentioned in Romans, you will be able to better distinguish Christ’s way in the middle of the chaos. You’ll be the one to enter the conflict with a non-anxious presence. You’ll listen to one more sentence before interrupting. You’ll show just a bit more grace in that meeting. You’ll start dreaming bigger dreams again. You’ll create new opportunities and partnerships out of these desperate times. You will be the one to serve, champion, and lead others through this VUCA world. And who knows, when you’re tempted to control the uncontrollable, this perspective just might keep you from a tantrum.

I believe in the power of prayer and the absolute victory of the Resurrection, but even on a good day, there’s still trouble in this life. Jesus told us it would be this way. But I’m also clinging to the promise that he isn’t finished with us or this world.

Call it a worldview.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

Greg Holder is pastor of The Crossing in St. Louis, Missouri. His latest book is Never Settle, from which this article is adapted.