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:
- 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.
- We may have doubts about our ability to execute. “Do I have the resources, skills, knowledge, time, finances to be able to do this?”
- We may not be able to see ourselves actually doing what is suggested.
- 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.