Getting unstuck — a personal example

Five medical phials containing unknown substances

We have been looking at the three main reasons why people can sometimes get stuck during a time of change.

Before we look at some tools for getting ourselves unstuck (one, twothreefour) it is useful to look at a real life example. This is a life or death situation that affected me and involved a great deal of uncertainty and very little information.

When I was about to start writing this book I was diagnosed as perhaps having the same cancer that had recently killed my father. That was not good news. And to make it worse, the test wasn’t 100% reliable so it wasn’t 100% certain whether I had the disease or not.

If I didn’t have cancer then getting treatment would harm me for no benefit. If I did have it then even if I left it alone the cancer might not kill me. Or it might. And even if I did have the cancer and did get treatment then it still might not work and the cancer might kill me anyway.

It was a critical situation with very few facts. How should I decide what to do?

This was an extremely upsetting time for me and as I tried to find a way forward I found myself increasingly trapped by all three of the blockages we have identified:

  •  Over-thinking:
    Because I had limited information about what my situation was and high uncertainty about what the outcomes of the different choices might be my mind
  • Not knowing who I want to become“:
    Or rather not knowing which outcome I wanted to create for myself because the only options the doctors were offering were certain harm if they treated me or uncertain life/death if we did nothing
  • Fear:
    Fear of dying an unpleasant death if I did nothing, fear of living an unpleasant life if I got treatment, fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice

The situation was definitely taking me out of my comfort zone.

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 had never known how to apply it. I had wanted it to be true but I didn’t understand how it could be. If I was facing my biggest challenge then I must also be facing my biggest opportunity. So this was this was definitely a good time to test the principle! And if it didn’t work then I would know for sure that it was garbage and I could stop wasting my time on it.

“The problem is the solution.” How does that work?

As I asked myself what the opportunity 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 brings benefits, even though nothing in the actual situation has changed.

Then, with hindsight, what I did was to use the tools of Chapter 1 to connect deeply with what was most important for me and to give me energy to push for the outcome I really wanted. Then I used Chapter 2 to understand that “to operate or not to operate” was blinkered thinking and what I needed to do was to find a third alternative between these two. And finally I used the tools of Chapter 3 to realise that the only thing stopping me from getting the outcomes I wanted was myself. My problem was not the doctors: my problem was that I was trusting them when they told me that no other options were possible. What I needed to do instead was to take responsibility for my own healthcare and go and find a fourth and then a fifth consultant who would give me the outcome I wanted: a complete cure with no side effects.

So that is what I did. Chapters 1-3 would have helped me to do it faster, but of course I hadn’t written them yet!

This experience taught me that the challenge truly is the opportunity. It was a watershed moment for me that has enabled me to sidestep my emotional reactions to several other situations since. It changes my thinking from, “This is a difficult situation, how can I get out of it?” to “This is a difficult situation. What is making it difficult? What do I want instead? How can I get that and how much effort am I willing to put in to achieve what outcome(s)?”

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a situation where you needed to make an important decision but had few facts or data to guide you? Would you like to have the tools to be able to make a faster choice next time?

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

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