What to do when you’re feeling helpless at work and in life
September 1, 2014
Are you stuck between a rock and a hard place?
Do you sense that you can’t achieve anything?
Feeling stressed that nothing is going your way?
Thrown everything including the kitchen sink at it yet nothing seems to work?
If any of the above seems familiar, read on. We are starting a five-part series today that will help you pull yourself out of the doldrums and help you get perfect clarity for how to move forward.
We will apply strategic thinking get perfect clarity. Strategic thinking is the application of different perspectives to help us see our situation in different frames, and from there to take control of the way forward. It does not assume to know the answer; instead it helps us apply a practical process to divine the answer through action. In fact, it is through this action that we move away from helplessness; because so long as we can do something about it, we are not helpless. This process has helped people in all positions and in all walks of life. It has been able to solve their problem; and it can also solve yours.
The need to de-clutter
Strategic thinking is not the panacea for all situations. Sometimes, all you need is some time away from the situation, perhaps go for a nice vacation that recharges your soul; but other times, you just need to take charge of your thoughts, de-clutter them, get at the root of what’s causing it, identify a solution, and dive into that. That’s it. Sounds simple enough, no? Well, evidently not. When the wrong thoughts clutter our thinking, they paralyze objectivity. The mind starts to feed on its own negativity and very soon, we feel helpless. This feeling of helpless can manifest itself in many dangerous ways. We don’t need to go far to see how it wrecked Robin Williams’ life.
I do not claim that this method would have helped Williams, but I do know that if we cannot find a way past our helplessness, we will feel trapped within our own mind, and that can consume whatever available positivity we have of making the situation better.
In short, we need to de-clutter our mind and beat a path towards success to keep a balanced view of our world.
Let me give you an overview of our process and if this is all it takes for you to overcome your mental paralysis, fantastic! But if you need more information on one part or another, then the subsequent posts will unwrap each of the steps, thereby giving you more tips and tricks to make this work for you.
If you have been reading my previous posts, you will know my process by now:
Step 1: Identify your intent
One reason why people feel stuck is because they don’t have a clear intent; they don’t really know where they want to go. Spending time on getting clear about what you want to achieve will help you get there sooner. In decision-making, we use the Five Why’s to identify intent; but when your thoughts are cluttered, it does not make sense to do this. Instead, we use the FutureBack method. Start by painting your ideal future, and then from there, identify what exactly you want to achieve. Spend as much time as you need on this step; but don’t worry if you get it wrong; sometimes we need a couple of tries to get at what we really want. The key really is to drive action with intent.
Step 2: Thinking in time to uncover solutions
Many a times, when we are caught in a funk, we lament that we are useless, we can’t get things done, or the world is against us. We get into a negative spiral in our thinking that reinforces the negativity, making the situation even more difficult to solve. As they say, misery loves company and it will pull in more miserable thoughts to make itself comfortable! However, the truth of the matter is that we are never totally useless. NEVER! So you simply need to find out what the Heath Brothers, in their book Switch, calls “bright sparks”. These are events within your current “helpless” situation where you have been successful, even if for a while, and for a small contribution. Gravitate to these instances and see what you did to overcome the negativity. From there, see if you can replicate the sparks, so that they combust into a huge bonfire!
Step 3: Pinpoint your centre(s) of gravity
Most “problems” are not a simple cause and effect; (e.g. I am not growing in my job – I must be stupid!) This is totally wrong! “Problems” are problems simply because they are part of a system, and by simply isolating the immediate cause and effect, and solving it at this level, we will only address the symptoms, but will not be able to overcome the “problem”. What we need is to take a step back, identify all the drivers of the system, and then pinpoint the centre(s) of gravity. You will probably discover that your bright spark is one of these centres of gravity. When we do this, we will find that the solution is much easier, and also more effective.
Step 4: The hypothesis-driven process
We’ve all learnt this in school before – it’s called the scientific method. It starts with a hypothesis, and from there, you identify the assumptions around it. You then go out and test these assumptions, confirming or disconfirming your hypothesis. If the hypothesis is confirmed, go all in to make it happen; if the hypothesis is wrong, throw in another one. The key frame of mind here is that we don’t know everything, and hence we need to find out what works. With this mindset, we don’t expect to be right the first time; we just need to uncover which is the right way over time and get there. This therefore means that we need alternatives, which brings us to the last step…
Step 5: Reframing to see the situation differently
Imagine that you are holding a plump, juicy green lime. You put the fruit to your nose and its acidic freshness assaults your mind. You take a sharp knife and slice it down the middle, its juice exploding to fill the air with its tart crispness. Mmm….
I’ll bet your mouth watering now, even if you didn’t have the lime! The brain is a wonderful tool; it is so malleable that it can take on a whole new perspective and make it real, even if it’s not. When you present your mind with a new viewpoint, it cannot tell if it’s real or not, and it will play it out for you as if it were real, just like the lime. This is the power with which you can reframe your thinking. So, when you are caught in a mental bind, answer either (or both) of these questions:
If I were the world’s expert in solving problems like mine, what will I say to myself?
If I had no constraints at all, what will I do?
You will be amazed at the ideas that you can generate to sustain your hypothesis-driven process.
Getting past helplessness
We feel helpless when we have done all that we can and nothing seems to happen. But if you are constantly working on new options and testing new hypotheses, you don’t have time to commiserate on your “weaknesses”. Yet these aren’t weaknesses at all; these are events that simply tell you that your hypothesis is wrong and let’s work on another one. The problem arises when we only have one hypothesis; and when it is wrong, we have a sense that our whole being is wrong. And THAT is wrong. If we keep on developing new hypotheses, and finding new perspectives, we will be too busy working our intent to feel helpless. And that is really the key to getting past that sentiment and becoming the success that you are meant to be.
Over the next three days, we will be diving deeper into each of the five steps. Tomorrow, we will be uncovering intent and thinking in time. On Wednesday, it will be systems thinking; and Thursday, it will be the hypothesis-driven process and reframing. We will round up the whole series by sharing a practical example of how a young entrepreneur used this to breakthrough her limitations using this methodology and went on to becoming a success in her field.