Getting unstuck — a practical example

Test tubes testing for cancerWe have seen that in times of change, the three main reasons we can sometimes get stuck are over-thinkingnot knowing who we want to become, and fear.

Before we come to some tools for getting ourselves get unstuck it is useful to look at a real life example. This was a personal situation involving a great deal of uncertainty and a life or death decision.

When I was about to start writing Inner Leadership I was diagnosed as probably having the same cancer that had recently killed my father. That wasn’t great news.

To make it worse, the test wasn’t 100% reliable. So it wasn’t entirely certain whether I actually had the disease.

If I did, it might never hurt me. Or it might kill me. And all the types of treatment I was being offered would very probably bring significant negative side-effects for the rest of my life. And they might not cure the cancer.

This was an extremely emotionally upsetting time for me.

For several months, as I tried to find a way forward, I found myself increasingly trapped by all three of the blockages we have identified:

  • Over-thinking, based on limited information about my situation and high uncertainty about what the outcomes of different choices might be
  • Not knowing which outcome I wanted to create for myself, given that none of the options being offered by the medical staff was actually attractive to me
  • Fear of the side-effects of the treatment — and fear of death if I did nothing

The situation was definitely taking me out of my comfort zone.

As I churned back and forth between “To operate or not to operate, that is the question,” a thought suddenly popped into my head, “The challenge is the opportunity.”

“Yeah, right!” I thought. “Thanks for that.”

But then I reflected. I had seen and heard this principle a hundred times before, but I had never really applied it. I had wanted it to be true, but I couldn’t see how it could be. “The problem is the solution.” How does that work?

This was definitely a good time to test it out. Either I would find out it was garbage and I could stop wasting my time. Or, in facing my biggest challenge, I would also be facing my biggest opportunity.

As I asked myself what the opportunity might be, the first thing I noticed was that my stress levels fell dramatically. As it says in Chapter 3, somehow simply looking for the opportunities brings benefits, even though nothing in the outer situation has changed.

With hindsight, I then used the tools of Chapter 1 to connect deeply with what was most important for me and to give me energy to push for the outcome I really wanted. I used Chapter 2 to understand that “to operate or not to operate” was blinkered thinking and what I needed was find a third alternative instead. And I used the tools of Chapter 3 to realise that the only thing stopping me from getting the outcomes I wanted was me: I was trusting the consultants who were telling me that nothing else was possible. What I needed to do was find a fourth and finally a fifth consultant who would to give everything I wanted: a complete cure without negative side effects.

So that is what I did. And if I had written Chapters 1-3 before then, I would have done it sooner.

This experience taught me that the challenge truly is the opportunity. It was a watershed moment for me that has enabled me to sidestep my emotional reactions to several situations since: changing my thinking from “This is a difficult situation, how can I get out of it?” to “This is a difficult situation. What is making it difficult? What do I want instead? How can I get that and how much effort am I willing to put in to achieve what outcome(s)?”

We’ve already reviewed the tools of Chapters 1-3. Next we will look at some of the additional tools for getting unstuck that you can find in Chapter 4.

Think of a situation where you have got stuck. Where you had to take a significant decision with very little data or facts to guide you. Would any of the above tools from Chapters 1-3 have helped to get you unstuck?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building emotional engagement in times of change.

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