“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” — Malcolm S. Forbes
On our team at Microsoft, things move fast and we can’t afford to get stuck. Being blocked on something is one thing, but feeling stuck is another.
When you feel stuck, it’s easy for your thought patterns to create a spiral down. This is ineffective and it can be paralyzing. The good news is, you can break the thought patterns, by asking yourself a different set of questions.
Here are some of the questions we regularly use:
- Ask “who would be doing what differently?”
- Ask “who is holding you back?”
- Ask “how?” not “why?”
1. Who would be doing what differently?
This is my favorite question. This forces absolute clarity. I use it whenever I feel stuck or when somebody brings me their challenges. If you can figure out the action or behavior that you want to see, then you start to put your finger on who really needs to do what. This makes it actionable and specific. More importantly, this clarity helps you see your role in the situation and where you can focus your time and energy for results.
2. Ask “who is holding you back?”
One of my mentors is great at asking this question. I’ve seen him in action. What happens when he asks this question is somebody first gets a blank look … you know, that “deer in headlights” look. Next, they start figuring out who to point their finger at. What they start to realize quickly is that nobody is really holding them back. They are holding themself back. Often through either limiting assumptions or limiting thoughts. They haven’t tested their results. Often, they assume how people will react to their actions without testing their own actions.
Related to this, one of my managers always re-enforced, it’s faster to change yourself than other people, and I’m a beleiver that you have a lot of flexibility in that you can change your thinking, feeling, or doing, or you can change the situation by adapting yourself, adjusting the situation, or changing to a new situation.
3. Ask “how?” not “why?”
“Why me?” … “Why does this always happen to me?” … “Why are you late?” … all of these are “stuck” questions. They go nowhere fast. You either find a way to justify why it’s always you, or you end up in a debate whether and why somebody is always late. Instead, switch to solution-focused questions, and ask “how?” For example, “how can you show up on time?” … “How can you avoid this in the future?” Your brain likes to solve problems, but only if you frame the right question. If you ask “why”, it’s a self-perpetuating spiral down. To break the spiral, shift to “how.”
I’m not a fan of fancy. I’m a fan of effective. These techniques aren’t fancy, but they are incredibly effective. You can use them anytime when you find yourself feeling stuck, or you’re in a situation that you want to be different. The most important person in your life for changing your life is you.
Photo by Tiago Ribeiro.