If you ever feel stuck on a problem or overwhelmed by the challenges you face, here are five powerful tools that can help you get unstuck fast.
I’ve tried and tested them with hundreds of coaching clients over the past two decades, so I can confidently recommend using them when you’re facing a problem or adversity, and you need to draw on your reserves of creativity and courage to overcome it.
1. The Magic Word ‘Instead’
When you’re feeling stuck, it’s very easy to get caught up in problem focused thinking. The problem seems so overwhelming that it takes over your whole mental space, leaving precious little room for manoeuvre.
There’s also a well established school of thought that says that in order to solve a problem, you need to understand it thoroughly – where it came from, what caused it, what it means etc.
I don’t subscribe to this school of thought, because I’ve seen so many instances where dwelling on the problem only makes it worse. It’s surprising how effective it can be to STOP thinking about the problem and START thinking about options and potential solutions.
This is where the magic word ‘instead’ comes into its own.
I’ve used this word so often in coaching sessions, I almost expected to wear it out – yet it never seems to lose its effectiveness, as a way of getting clients to think about what they want as an alternative to the problem they face.
So next time you’re faced with a big hairy problem that stretches from horizon to horizon, and blocks out all the light, ask yourself:
What do I want instead of this?
What do I want to be doing instead?
What do I want to be thinking instead?
How do I want to be feeling instead?
What do I want to be saying instead?
Where do I want to be going instead?
And when you get some specific, concrete answers – start doing and thinking and feeling those things right now. You may be surprised at the results.
2. What Would You Do If You Had No Head?
Thinking is overrated. Sure, there’s a time and a place for it, but I’ve noticed overthinking is one of the classic ways human beings get themselves stuck.
You can think and think and think about a problem or situation, until you think you know what you think, but then you think some more, and you’re not so sure.
When it comes to the really important things in life, mere thinking doesn’t cut it. You will never create anything truly original by sitting round thinking about it. Real achievement requires unstoppable action – and unstoppable action requires passion.
Many times, when I’ve seen a client thinking themselves round in circles, I get them to ignore their brain and focus on the sensations in their body.
I’m looking for what Derek Sivers calls the ‘Hell yeah!’ response – the one that tells you you have to do this, and you will always regret it if you don’t. And you are never going to get a ‘Hell yeah’ from the cerebral part of you – you need to feel it in your gut.
So next time you’re faced with a decision and you’ve thought yourself round in circles, have a go at this four-step process, which is a variation on a Zen technique I learned from John Eaton:
- Stand in a balanced posture. Now imagine you have no head. I’m serious. Your body stops at your shoulders, there’s just fresh air where your head used to be. So there are no thoughts to distract you. Which makes it easy to be aware of the feelings in your body, right this instant.
- Imagine your options are spread out in front of you, occupying ‘magic circles’ on the floor – one circle for each option.
- Step into the first circle, representing the first option – as if you were taking the first step to making it happen. Don’t think. Notice how your body feels – Heavy? Light? Tense? Relaxed? Energised?
- If you get a ‘Hell yeah!’ response, that’s your path – no matter how scary your head might think it is. And if you get a sinking feeling, you must not do it – no matter how sensible your head might tell you it is.
3. What Would Your Hero Do?
We all have heroes – great artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, sports players, explorers. Or fictional heroes, from novels or the movies. Or maybe a friend, mentor or family member. Someone we look up to. Someone who embodies everything we admire.
And you know what? That someone is you.
You may project it onto someone else, but what you’re really doing when you admire a hero is tapping into your own unrealised potential. You actually possess the strength, daring, imagination and other qualities you admire in them, even if you’ve never used them.
Why else do you think their example resonates so strongly with you?
So next time you’re faced with a challenge and you’re wondering whether you’re up to it, ask yourself:
What would my hero make of this?
What would he/she have to say about it?
What would he/she do about it?
Why don’t I try doing a little of that?
4. Trust Your Fear
If thinking is overrated, then fear is underrated.
Some kinds of fear – especially anxiety – are paralysing, overwhelming, unproductive. But I’m not talking about those kinds of fear.
I’m talking about the kind of fear you experience when you contemplate following your dream and making it happen for real.
You know how it goes – at first you’re full of excitement, thrilled at the thought of finally going for it, and all the wonderful things you will do and see and feel and achieve and experience.
Then you feel your stomach tighten and your heart start pounding, and you realise you’ve stopped breathing.
At this point – if you’re not careful – your Internal Saboteur starts playing you disaster movies of all the things that could go wrong, and reciting a long list of sensible reasons why you should reconsider, abandon your plans altogether – or at least put them off for a little while, just so you can think things through properly …
Of course, this is the voice of Resistance, using fear as a lever to prise you away from your dream. Don’t let this happen.
Fear is uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The fear is there to keep you safe – to let you know you are entering uncharted territory, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you.
It’s there to give you a shot of adrenaline, to wake you up and get you to take action NOW to avoid disaster later.
As I’ve said to clients over and over again, the bigger the dream, the bigger the fear. This kind of fear is a sign that you’re on the right track, that you’re challenging yourself to stretch yourself in pursuit of something amazing.
So trust the fear. Don’t fight it, feel it – but in your body, not your head. (This is a very good time to have no head – see No.3 above.)
And use the fear as a cue to action – ask yourself:
What do I need to DO in order to neutralise the dangers and achieve my goal?
Make a list. Now go and do it.
And notice what happens when you take meaningful action – the fear subsides, leaving you with renewed confidence and enthusiasm.
5. Put Yourself on the Line
It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re only answerable to yourself. If no one else knows your dream, it’s easy to kid yourself it’s just a dream.
But when you tell the world – or even just one other person – about your goal, it suddenly becomes real. The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s your responsibility to take care of it.
Because when you announce your intention, you become accountable for your actions. You feel a subtle pressure to give an account of yourself, whether you succeed or fail. You feel like you’ll lose face if you don’t follow through on what you’ve said you will do.
No, you shouldn’t rely on other people to tell you what to do, or to get you fired up. The initial spark can only come from you. But when it comes to finishing, and doing what it takes to make your dream come true, this kind of peer pressure can be extremely effective. So why not make the most of it?
Here are a few options:
- Tell a trusted friend about your goal, and arrange to meet with them on a certain date to report back on your progress.
- Join a class where you will be expected to produce work for assessment.
- Enter a competition, even if you don’t (yet) have anything to enter with.
- Assemble a mastermind group of 3-4 peers, and commit to regular meet ups where you share your goals and hold each other accountable.
- Tell your blog readers, Twitter followers etc and promise to report back to them by a certain date. (I did this a few years ago and it worked.)
If you found this article helpful you can pick up a free copy of Mark’s book 21 Insights for 21st Century Creatives here.