Do’t Let Digital Anxiety Flat Line You!

If you caught my post on digital enablement, you’ll recall I introduced a concept call the “digital soup“.

To paraphrase – there are a number of factors running across every digital enablement effort.  Some factors are favorable (tailwinds), others are not favorable (headwinds).  And some factors are the chaotic realities that are there in all things digital (cross winds).  These competing and complementary factors are the “digital soup.”

Sometimes soup is delicious.  Other times it can be a hot mess.

And of course for some, the soup gets too hot and we get burned.

Get burned enough and you might be weary of going in for another bite – this is digital anxiety.  If you are one of those folks struggling with digital anxiety, or if the soup is getting a little too hot for you, this post is for you.

Why This Soup Can Burn

There are lots of ways to get burned by the digital soup.  Sometimes it comes down to not being familiar with the type of soup in front of you (anxiety from the new).  Sometimes the soup is simply too hot (complexity).  And other times the digital soup tastes very different from the way your mom used to make it (unexpected turns in the journey.)

But even though intellectually we might all appreciate the concept, the soup can still burn.  And when it does, it hurts.

But it is important to remember, the soup is just being the soup.  It is not personally out to get you.

It’s also important for you to know that if you are dealing with digital anxiety, no matter your skill level, EVERYONE on occasion gets burned by the soup.  In fact that is part of the deal as digital by it’s very nature tends to be a hot mess!  

This key difference is not IF you get burned, but rather what are you going to do about it. 

So how does one go about overcoming digital anxiety?

I am not a medical professional and I certainly don’t want to go about spewing medical advice of any kind. But I do feel comfortable providing professional advice.  And now that we’re clear on the ground rules let’s dive in.

You remember that little piece on digital enablement that I linked above…. Well, that very same framework can work for you here as well.

But this time instead of using the framework to run a program I’m going to suggest you apply this framework to yourself.

So… you are about to go on a journey.  And the journey you are going to go on is all about overcoming your digital anxiety.  So yes, read the digital enablement framework post and use the framework – it will help.  But again, read it with a perspective that you are the client and the person running the digital enablement program.

In particular as you are suffering from digital anxiety, I’d suggest you start your journey focused only on achieving digital confidence.

It has been my experience that the single best way to get started and to develop digital confidence is by introducing very small, incremental wins, focused on tiny bites that you can manage.  Don’t worry, part of the journey at this point is developing a skill set around exploring the framework both by developing a program and also gaining those small incremental wins.

From the small wins, you can start to develop some stretch goals and over time you’ll suddenly realize that you finally have landed at a place where you can say you now have digital confidence. While perhaps not yet a master level, that digital anxiety you were feeling before will begin to lessen.  This is true because you now are developing a tool set along with a framework to protect you against any backslides (and new rounds of digital anxiety.)

Digital Anxiety in Context

A great example of this is when for many people they try to build their first website.

The first time it all feels so daunting.  Where and how do you buy a domain name?  Can you really even own such a thing?  And what about web hosting?  Do you really expect me to design this thing?  Oh wait, you mean I can just use Microsoft Word – I’ll need a CMS of some kind.  There are so many WordPress themes to choose from?  Someone just told me that Google is ranking site speed as a key factor…. WTF is ranking?

And the list goes on.  Of course the first time a person confronts these issues there is plenty of opportunity to lose your mind, and of course for digital anxiety.   But over time, a person figures out how to overcome the issues as they come.  And eventually, the issues just become part of the normal.

But the soup is always there… Just waiting to burn you.  And just like in the above example, when building a website, the list can feel limitless.  And even worse, the list is always changing.

Change is the only constant in life digital (modified… but if Heraclitus of Ephesus were alive today I am sure this would be a quote from him!) Heraclitus of Ephesus

Root Causes of Digital Anxiety

There are many layers to anxiety related to “digital” that live at organizational as well as individual levels.

Organizationally there is so much messaging around being ahead of the bell curve and pressure around lost margins and unrealized efficiencies as a result of poor digital efforts.  And the reality is most of this noise is actually true.  At an organizational level, digital anxiety lives in the seedy underbelly of every digital transformation project.  How you deliver on your digital enablement effort is going to have a huge impact.  Some organizations manage this better than others… and as a result sometime organizational digital anxiety can easily translate into individual digital anxiety.

Fear of the Unknown:  We all get it.  Most things digital require a hearty embrace of new realities, often at least initially teamed with plenty of unknown.  For some this is simply part of the journey, but for many this form of digital anxiety can be crippling.

Out of Date:  By extension, ‘digital’ implies new.  And with digital being so broad and omnipresent, it is impossible for anyone to know everything.  But that doesn’t stop many from have this type of ‘digital anxiety’ given how much we all are reading about ‘digital transformations’ happening all around us, seemingly all the time!  Yikes.

Spin Up Spun Out:  The blunt truth is companies across the board seem to be willing to trade out teammates with increasing frequency.  Employees know this, don’t for a second believe that it is not a part of the mix.  Enter digital anxiety!

The Why Me Syndrome: Some folks are probably asking “why is the company (or society) making me do this?”  And if the effort is related to digital transformation, as a result your digital enablement effort simply by existing is causing digital anxiety.

We’ve Been Here Before.  Google is Your Friend

Guess what – the internet is really big.  Not only is the internet really big, but it has been my experience that the internet is also unbelievably generous.

And so when you put the big next to the generous you have a pool of people that have encountered your digital challenges (the cause of your digital anxiety).  And they they are also offering solutions.

So… go ahead and hit Google, and the forums, the blogs, the comments, and possibly even social media to get those answers.

The Big Secret That Will Help You Overcome Digital Anxiety

There is a fluidity to the nature of how digital works.  As a result just as quickly as things can get unwound or go sideways, you also have plenty of opportunity to rewind, to reset and get back on that horse.

So use the digital enablement framework, take it slow and develop an incremental plan.  Over time I hope you’ll find digital balance you are looking for.

Anxiety Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash