Getting unstuck — a personal example

Five medical phials containing unknown substances

In times of change, there are three main reasons why people can sometimes find themselves stuck, even when the way forward is clear.

Before we look at some tools for getting ourselves unstuck (1, 234) it is useful to look at an example. This was a real, life or death situation, with very little information or facts and a great deal of uncertainty about how things might turn out.

When I was about to start writing this book I was diagnosed as possibly having the same cancer that had recently killed my father. That was not good news.

But the test wasn’t 100% reliable so I might not have it. And even if I did, it might not cause me any harm.

The treatment they were offering would definitely cause me significant harm. But on the other hand it might save my life. Or it might not work and I might die anyway.

It was a serious situation with almost no facts to take decisions on. How should I decide what to do?

As I tried to find my way forward, I found myself trapped by all three of the blockages we identified:

  •  Over-thinking:
    Because I had limited information about what my situation really was and high uncertainty about what the outcomes might be, my mind found it very easy to go round in circles
  • Not knowing who I want to become“:
    Given that the doctors were offering me a choice between certain harm if they treated me and possible death if they didn’t, I found it very difficult to choose which outcome I wanted to create
  • Fear:
    I naturally felt afraid of dying, afraid of living with the (nasty) side-effects of the treatment, and afraid of making the ‘wrong’ decision

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 heard people talk about this principle a hundred times but I had never known what it meant.

I had wanted it to be true but I didn’t understand how it could be: but if I was facing my biggest challenge then I must also be facing my biggest opportunity, so this was definitely a good time to test the principle.

“The problem is the solution.”

How does that work?

As I asked myself what the ‘opportunity’ in my dreadful situation 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 brought benefits, even though nothing in the situation had changed.

And then, with hindsight, I now realiseI used the tools of Chapter 1 to connect deeply with what was most important for me and identify the outcome I really wanted. Clarifying that also brought me the energy to push for it.

Then I used Chapter 2 to realise that “to operate or not to operate” was trapping me with blinkered thinking: what I needed instead was to find an alternative between these two extremes.

And finally, I used Chapter 3 to convert my problem into an opportunity: I realised that the only thing stopping me from getting the outcomes I wanted was me. My problem wasn’t the doctors, my problem was that I was trusting them when they said that no other options were possible. What I needed to do instead was to find another consultant who would give me the outcomes I wanted: a complete cure with no negative side effects.

And that is what I then did.

Chapters 1-3 would have helped me to achieve it faster, but of course I hadn’t written them yet…

Have you ever found yourself with a critical decision to make but very little information to guide you and very great uncertainty about what the outcomes might be? Would you like to be able to make faster choices next time?


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

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