Feeling Stuck is an Opportunity

When Andrew met me, he was stuck. He’d recognized that he was trapped months before we met but said: “I didn't dare to acknowledge it to myself.” Feeling stuck was something to be ashamed of for Andrew, and this made it worse.

How To Get Unstuck - Problem Solving

During this time he told me he mentally pounded himself into the ground and put himself, his team (he is a VP at a tech company), and his relationships through an emotional roller coaster that seemed like it would never end.

Everything changed when Andrew heard me say - “getting stuck is a good thing!”. Feeling stuck seems wrong. But being stuck is an opportunity to solve a problem. Before you felt stuck, you didn’t realize there was a problem to solve (even if the problem was there).

The feeling of being stuck is an active signal in our environment that we can use to generate the motivation needed to flip our negative mindset into problem-solving mode and change our world without physically doing anything.

So now that we know "feeling stuck" and "recognizing we are stuck" are opportunities to turn on our problem-solving brain what are the best ways to solve problems? More on that soon but if you have a favorite problem-solving framework or concept please share it with me in the comments. 

Action vs. Belief

How do belief and action work together? I can see action, and I know hard work. I love action. Work makes me feel productive. People love people who take action.

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But how do I see belief? Can I achieve something if I don't believe I can? Will I act if I don't think I can? Will I even attempt if I doubt myself?

Action get's all the credit.

But no one sees me bring my mind back after I get mentally knocked down. People can't tell if I'm saying nice things to myself.

I think society leads us to believe that action is better than belief.

Fake it until you make it right?

I say NO! I say belief comes first and is fueled on by action.

Belief might run out if you don't take action.

But believing comes first.

You must believe that you can do it.

You have ambition and drive and potential energy but before that comes a spark. A little spark that says "I can do that" or "I'm going to try."

Later doubt, fear, and regret might show up, but you know you believed before that.

That is why you must cultivate belief. You must practice bringing it back just as much as your practice taking action. Because with every action comes the possibility of failure or regret or doubt and with every move comes another opportunity to cultivate the belief in yourself and try again.

But don't give action all the credit.

You still have to generate belief in yourself - yourself.

4 Elements of a Problem-Solving Scene

I wanted to share the 6 mental tools that I use to think through elevator problems.

Slow elevators create a special kind of frustration. Grrrr, the elevator is so slow, how do we speed this elevator up? We are stuck waiting to go, and we are being held up by this super simple step.

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We see the problem. This elevator is super slow! Let’s speed it up!

But is there another way of looking at this kind of problem? That sort of problem comes up hundreds of times in our daily life. Learning new ways to think about these can significantly change how they affect us, how they affect our relationships, and how we perceive our reality.

Me, me, me, me, me. How is this going to affect me? Where am I going? How do I get what I want? When will I get what I want? I want blank! How do we speed this elevator up?

Let’s break this down.

  • The scene: Waiting for an elevator
  • My mental state: Frustrated waiting for the slowest elevator in the world.
  • The setback as I see it: We need to speed up this elevator!

But we don’t have control over the elevator. Changing the way we see the setback will significantly change how we respond to the situation at hand.

  • Reframing the setback: The wait for the elevator is way too long.
  • Solutions: How can we make the elevator wait seem shorter?

Steps we can take:

  • Display the news to read near the elevator
  • Install a hand washing unit that gives people something to do.
  • Post a 30-second standing workout of the day that people can do while they wait.

Reframing a setback is a simple strategy that we can use to make significant progress when dealing with elevator problems.

Elevator problems are setbacks that we must pass to get where we are going, but we do not have control over the solution. These are not to be confused with gravity problems. Gravity problems create the reality of our circumstances and help us define the limits of our problem-solving scene.

When I’m helping a client think through different solutions to a problem I break down the way we view the problem and the solution into four important problem-solving components and two additional macro level maintenance components that we can use to make progress during times of significant change.

The four elements of a problem-solving scene are.

  1. The scene itself
  2. Your state of mind
  3. The setback and setback size
  4. The solution

The two maintenance components of problem-solving are.

  1. Knowing your score
  2. Knowing your stage of change

The scene is our description of the what is going on in our world. Answering these three questions will help us paint a picture of the scene we are in:

  • What is true?
  • What is going on in our world?
  • What is happening?

The state of mind is our mental state we are in. The important thing to recognize about our “state” is that it is emotional. Our thoughts might not be right in this context or might be related to something else going on in our life. But they are important to recognize so that they don’t distract us from making progress or divert us down the wrong solution to the scene at hand.

Answering these questions will help us recognize our state of mind.

  • What way is my thinking going?
  • What is my state of mind?
  • What state am I in at a mental level, physical level, spiritual level, emotional level? Or am I tired?

Once we define the scene and the state we are in, we can begin to explain the setback or setbacks we are experiencing. Defining our setback is pivotal to choosing where we focus our thinking and problem-solving energy. Spending time and energy on the wrong setback can lead us to waste valuable time and resources trying to solve the wrong problem. Often we can make significant progress by only listing a few setbacks to find the one where we should focus.

Here are a few questions that I ask to find the particular setback where I should focus.

  • What are three ways you are being held back by this scene?
  • How am I being held back?
  • What is the setback here?

And finally, how do we judge the size of the setback in context to what else is going on in our scene?

  • What is the size of this setback to others?
  • From one to ten how important is this to me?

Here’s my standard script that I use when dealing with a problem to practice this inquiry skill in the real world.

  1. (Scene) What is going on? What is true?
  2. (State) What way is my thinking going? What level of energy am at?
  3. (Setback) What is the setback here?
  4. (Size) From 1 to 10 how is important is this to me?

Now we are usually ready to take action on whatever was holding us back. But what happens when I’m dealing with a lot of setbacks over an extended period or leveling up into an another level of living or working?

Well - I think about my score?

My score is how I rate myself on my skills related to this situation. What do I need to learn? What skills or behaviors do I need to practice? How strong am I in this area? Am I new or advanced? Where do I need to do better? What skills can I practice?

Usually, answering these questions helps me or my clients transform a problem into a puzzle or game that allows us to build motivational momentum and start playing through difficult scenes.

And finally what is my stage of change?

If you are dealing with a scene within the context of a primary state of self-change, it isn’t uncommon for a self-changer to move through five levels of change multiple times. Each slip is a chance to learn new skills and make additional progress.

It is important to recognize that a fall back a few steps (example - from stage 4 to stage 2) is not bad. Rather, most successful self-changers slip back multiple time with each new slip being a chance to learn and grow as they progress through a significant period of change in their life.

Simply being aware that you are changing and that it is ok and common to slip can help you maintain your ambition and drive to power through significant periods of development.

I’m not going to explain the stages of change in detail today but here is a list with general descriptions of each stage.

  1. Pre-contemplation: It isn’t that we can’t see a solution. It’s that we don’t see a problem yet.
  2. Contemplation stage: We have a destination, but we are not ready to go yet. We realize we are stuck at when we are in step #2.
  3. Preparation: We have begun planning to take action. We have started working on the problem, but usually, we are asking the wrong questions, and we get distracted by the various setbacks.
  4. Action: Change becomes visible to others, and we begin making significant physical progress. This time is usually a period of excitement and physical or intense mental anxiety because our actions are forcing us into new environments.
  5. And finally maintenance: We’ve moved through the first four steps of change (usually a few times) and are finally learning to maintain what is now a standard level of performance.

These are the six problem-solving tools that I use to work through elevator problems.

27 Tries

We don’t get to see the failures because they are failures.

Just like we don't see all the trees that didn't reach the sun.

Trials are like trees.

The tree that gets the sun will grow.

The tree that doesn't will die.

We don't get to see successful people go through the 26 random failed trials or the 26 tries of doing the same thing over and over again to find the one trial that worked.

Failed trials start and stop with no one noticing.

Failed trials don't survive long enough to get an audience.

But the other thing we don't see is how that successful person, learned something on the 13th failed trial that they used in the 27th trial. 

Then they tried 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 times until BOOM! Something worked.

Then that successful person took what they learned, enjoyed, or what worked the best and the 27th trial got more energy, more time, more sun. 

Then, a year later, trial #27 survived long enough to get an audience.

Then we noticed.

And today - You and I see an overnight success. While the successful person sees a story of learning from all the trials that got them to where they are today.