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How To Unstick Yourself When You Feel Stuck

English: Menlo Park Laboratory of Thomas Ediso...

Menlo Park Laboratory site of the Invention of the light bulb. Photo: Wikipedia

Have you ever had that “I haven’t a clue what to do” feeling? Most of us have at one time of another.

Something happens and your mind seems to go blank. You just don’t know what to do for the best. This can happen at work, when you’re driving, at a party, when playing sport, when something happens to hurt you deeply – I’m sure you can think of many times when something has happened to make your mind go blank. It can be particularly embarrassing when you’re in the spotlight, when others are looking at you, waiting for instructions or words of wisdom. The pressure to come up with an answer quickly adds a bit of anxiety that can cause your system to go into complete meltdown.

As a coach I am always asking my clients questions. I don’t do this to be awkward or to prove my superiority. My purpose is to find out what is holding the client back, to discover what needs fixing. It is not unusual for my first question to elicit an “I don’t know” answer. Sometimes this is because the client is just being too idle to think, but there are occasions when they genuinely think that they do not have an answer. However, whatever the reason, their “don’t know” answer doesn’t help either of us, so I have to ask a supplementary question in order to make progress.

This is where we start to learn something about how to find our way out of the maze of confusion that assails us when we don’t know what to do. What we need is a question that will interrogate the resources within. My strategy is to  start with the end in mind. So I might ask a question like: “what would you like to happen?” or “How would you like the situation to look?” My aim is to get the client to think about a desired outcome. The answers we figure out for ourselves are always more likely to be meaningful to us; experience shows that they are certainly more likely to be acted upon.

Why Our Own Answers Are More Powerful Than Other People’s

There are four issues with someone else telling us what they think we should do:

  1. We may feel somewhat sceptical about the advice being offered. It may not sound right to us. We may not believe it. We may not trust the person giving the advice.
  2. We may have doubts about our ability to execute. “Do I have the resources, skills, knowledge, time, finances to be able to do this?”
  3. We may not be able to see ourselves actually doing what is suggested.
  4. We may just feel resentful at being told what to do.

You have probably experienced situations where someone has offered you advice and you have felt reluctant to accept or implement what is suggested. These “gut feelings” can be strong barriers to our progress. One cannot always justify one’s reluctance in a logical way, but one has an “inner knowing” that the suggestion is “not for me.” Inside you could be thinking, “that may work for you, but it won’t work for me.”

However, when you come up with your own answer or way to do something it is as if you own the idea. The picture is much clearer, it is easy to embellish. It sounds right to you. You can become excited by such ideas; and that excitement provides the energy to kick start you into action. When you own an idea you have the belief that you can make it work and that belief gives you strength.

Sir Roger Bannister believed he could run a mile in under 4 minutes, even though “everybody” was saying that it was not possible. His belief carried him through the 4-minute barrier. Within 25 years John Walker of New Zealand would run the mile in under 4 minutes more than one hundred times.

Steve Jobs had the idea that computers did not need to be as complicated to use as was the norm back in the days of DOS. In 1984 he took the Xerox research centre’s idea of a graphical user interface and incorporated it into the first Macintosh computer which had an operating system with windows, icons and a mouse. His vision provided the basis for building the world’s largest technology company.

Thomas Edison chose not to believe that homes had to be lit by gas lights and decided to look for a way to harness the power of electricity to illuminate a light bulb. His enthusiasm for his idea carried him through some two thousand experiments before he found the element for the lightbulb that brings light to our homes today.

As Henry Ford said: “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

All of these men and millions of others have simply done things their own way. They questioned what others said, they interrogated and challenged their imaginations and they used their imaginations to create visions of their desired outcomes. They then energised themselves with their belief that they could make their visions into realities.

In effect they became unstuck from the shackles of conventional wisdom by asking themselves challenging questions.

How to Be Confident

The question, “how can I become confident” comes up frequently in my coaching sessions and workshops. My technique for dealing with this issue is simple:

  1. I ask, “do you always lack confidence?” The answer is inevitably, “no, to ‘always’, but there are many situations where my confidence seems to desert me.” Common situations where people’s confidence evaporates are: a) when they are imagining presenting to large groups, b) when their boss gets angry, c) when you want to start a dialogue with someone you really fancy. In this example we will work on a), public speaking.
  2. Note the use of the word “situations”. Confidence tends to be situational. There will be many situations were you feel perfectly confident. You don’t bother to pay much attention to such situations. It is the few situations where your confidence evaporates that grab your attention. But, the secret of remaining confident in all situations is to build on the situations where you feel confident.
  3. Next you need to find situations in which you feel very confident. Perhaps when you are enjoying yourself in the company of friends, or when you are at a concert or a party, or when you are running meetings at work. Get in touch with the feeling you have in such situations. Notice also any physical behaviours that you display at such events when you are feeling confident. For the sake of this explanation, let’s just imagine that you smile a great deal with you feel particularly confident. Hang on to the thought that you smile a lot when you feel confident.
  4. Make up your mind that you want to feel confident all of the time.
  5. Start imagining that you are an exceptional public speaker. See yourself in front of the audience, speaking eruditely, persuasively; the audience applauds. Practice in your mind. Role play in your mind when you are riding on a train, or a bus, or when you’re out for a walk in the park. Do this constantly until it starts to feel real to you.
  6. Next imagine that you are only speaking to a few people, not a large audience, and imagine that they are all friends of yours, people who really like you and want you to do well.
  7. Practice when you are in meetings or anywhere where you speak in front of other people. Make it a habit to always be presenting to an audience.

I feel sure that you appreciate that this is a short example. I do not expect that this short article will change any of the situations in which you lose confidence. However, I hope that you will see from this article that there is hope that you can become confident. That there is a way that you can overcome your anxieties.

To find your confidence you need to work with other people, and you need to practice being self-confident. The best way to do this is to work with a coach either on a Achievement Coaching programme or at a Achievement Coaching workshop.