Getting ourselves unstuck — a personal example

In this time of massive change, we will increasingly find ourselves needing to take decisions in situations where we have little information about what is happening and even less information about how things are going to turn out.

At times like this it is easy to become stuck.

But before we look at some techniques we can use to get ourselves unstuck (1, 234) let’s first look at an example: a real life situation where I needed to make what was literally a life-or-death decision, based on very little information and with a great deal of uncertainty about how things would turn out.

Just as I was about to start writing this book I was diagnosed as perhaps having the same kind of cancer that had killed my father, just two months before.

This was very bad news. And it was very bad timing.

But the test wasn’t 100% accurate, so I might not have the cancer.

And even if I did, it might not cause me any harm. It might be benign.

And on the other hand, the treatment they were offering would definitely cause harm.

And on the other hand it might save my life.

Or it might not work and I might die anyway.

This was a life-or-death situation with almost no facts on which to base my decision. And as I tried to find my way forward, I found myself trapped by all of the three main reasons why people often get stuck:

  1. Over-thinking:
    Because I had limited information about whether or not I had the cancer and high degree of uncertainty about what the outcomes might be, I found it very easy to go round and round in circles, thinking “What if…? What if…? What if…?”
  2. Not knowing who I want to become:
    At the same time, given that the doctors were offering me a choice between certain significant harm if they treated me and possible death if they didn’t, I found it very difficult to choose which of these outcomes I wanted. (Neither!)
  3. Fear:
    And although I naturally felt scared of dying I was also afraid of living with the negative side-effects of a damaging treatment. And I was afraid of making the ‘wrong’ decision — I felt I somehow had to make the “right” choice. Which meant that I had not one but three things to be afraid of, which led me back into overthinking, “What if…?”

As I churned backwards and forwards 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’d often heard people talk about this principle but I had never known what it meant.

“The challenge is the opportunity. The problem is the solution.”

What could that mean?

If this were true then it would mean that in facing my life’s biggest challenge I must also be facing my life’s biggest opportunityWhich meant that this would definitely be a good time to put the principle into action…

So I asked myself what the ‘opportunity’ in my dreadful situation might be.

Immediately, I felt my stress levels dropping significantly. Somehow, exactly as it says in Chapter 3, just looking for the opportunities in the situation brought me benefits, even though nothing in the situation itself had changed.

And then, with hindsight, I used the tools of Chapter 1 to connect deeply with what was most important for me. I identified the outcome I really wanted, which was a 100% cure with zero harm. Having this clarity then brought me the energy I needed to push to make it happen.

Then I used Chapter 2 to realise that the decision I had been stuck in, “to operate or not to operate”, was actually 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 outcome I wanted was me. My problem wasn’t the doctors. My problem was me: I was giving up my power to those doctors when they told me that no other options were possible. What I needed instead was to take responsibility for my own healthcare and find a consultant who would give me the outcome I wanted: a complete cure with no negative side effects.

So that is what I did.

And as soon as I had made my inner decision I found that everything in my outer world fell neatly into place — much more quickly and easily than I could have imagined. Within two weeks I saw a new consultant. And less than a month later I had a very successful operation, with none of the negative side-effects I had been told were “unavoidable”.

If I’d applied this knowledge from Chapters 1-3 earlier, I could have saved myself some angst and achieved the outcome I wanted much earlier. But of course I hadn’t written those chapters yet.

This whole experience of getting myself unstuck, and of seeing what seemed to be a massive ‘problem’ turn into an opportunity, was another major step helping me become more antifragile.

Have you ever had to take a critical decision, with little or no information to guide you and a large amount of uncertainty about the outcome? Would you like to be able to make a faster decision next time?

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

You can sign up to daily posts here.

You can buy the book here and the workbook here.

(And remember: you can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)

Photo By Steven Depolo via

Leave a Reply