I was on the phone with my coach yesterday and after listening to me explain an unfixable problem in great detail, she asked me a very simple question: “Have you thought about it this way?” All of the sudden, simply by looking at this problem from a different angle, my thinking expanded. The problem was actually an opportunity.
In fact the problem was never a problem at all – I was just thinking about it in a limited way.
There are really two principles at play in this story. First, even though I’m a coach who helps my clients gain clarity, I need a coach myself. We all do. When we think inside the closed system of our own minds, our world tends to become very small and very limited. So if you are thinking of hiring a coach, be sure they have a coach.
Second, she showed me a way out of what I call “shrinking thinking.”
Never heard of it? Here are a couple of examples:
In response to asking a friend if she would like to ski, she said “I could never do that.” Then she had a litany of reasons – ending with not wanting to get her hair wet. Her world stayed small and her hair stayed dry.
In the second example, I’m talking to a client who has taken on way too much
Me: Have you asked your boss which project needs to move down in priority?
Client: I could never do that.
Me: So you said yes, even though you knew you couldn’t do the project?
Client: Yes – but you have to understand. No is not an acceptable answer in my company.
We went on the show that being stuck at saying yes knowing you can’t really deliver is a form of shrinking thinking – and we talked about ways out of this dilemma. In fact, the boss was relieved to work through the priorities and my client eventually became a more senior player on the team.
My point is not about confronting the boss, though. Yes, overcommitting is a problem. Harvard Business Review did an article on the topic of overcommitting in October of 2017. Organizations and people are overcommitting at incredibly high rates.
My point is that many (maybe most) of our problems are a product of our thinking.
We can look at what is happening and start to feel powerless. The world IS moving faster. Demands on our time ARE becoming greater.
The question is “What are we going to do about it?” Let me make that more personal. “What am I going to do about it?”
Shrinking thinking is fear-based, keep-me-right-in-my-comfort-zone, narrow thinking.
My brain gets stuck in “either/or” options, never seeing the dozens of other possibilities. My repertoire goes from unlimited to one or two strategies at best. It’s kind of hard to learn and grow when you are stuck in shrinking thinking.
What I am working on is moving away from shrinking thinking to developing expansive, possibility filled thinking to solve problems.
Having a coach helps. Meditating daily is huge. Another technique I love is doing a “whiteboard exercise” in my retreat center. It’s amazing what you can see when you have a whole wall to lay things out. Those are just a few of the things I’m doing.
How do you get out of shrinking thinking? What are your best tools and tactics to gain clarity for yourself? How do you know when the problem is really just in your thinking?
I would love to hear from you! See that box below? Share your best tactics for moving from shrinking thinking to a holistic viewpoint!
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I love making progress. When I was an avid tennis player, I wanted to move from being rated a 3.5 to 4.0. In my various jobs, I always wanted the next promotion or big assignment. On the potter’s wheel, I’ve pushed to create ever taller forms. In water skiing, I’ve been on a multi-year quest to speed up the boat and shorten the rope.
In my mind, progress tends to involve the next measurable milestone much more than cultivating deep mastery.
While I appreciate mastery as a concept or theory, actually putting it into practice has been something I have avoided in order to achieve my beloved “progress.” To me, mastery is boring. Why? Because it involves the subtleties of doing the same thing over and over, improving slowly and carefully, filling in the gaps that are easily glossed over with my need for speed.
This fall, I had an experience that has wakened me to the a different need: rather than move on, I need to move deeper. It was revealed with the one-two punch of falling off a horse (landing me in the hospital) and then having to take several months off water skiing right after I had achieved a previously unattainable milestone. Having to sit still in my recovery gave me to time to reflect.
My extreme lack of mastery contributed to the fall from the horse. While I had many important takeaways from that experience, perhaps the most profound was this:
Knowing how to stop a horse in theory does NOT translate to embodying the energy, mindset and physical actions to stop a horse that would rather run.
When it came time to put my theory into practice, all the knowledge in the world meant nothing. Without having practiced and learned to connect my knowledge to real skill, at the moment of truth all I could do was hold on and hope for the best. In this case, I was wearing a helmet and went down on relatively soft ground. It could have been much, much worse.
I had a good part of the winter to reflect as I healed on the difference between knowledge and skill and mastery. I realized that in many areas of my life, I have substituted knowledge for real skill. And nowhere have I undertaken the journey of mastery. As a result, I end up holding on and hoping for the best. When my skills fall short, the consequences are not usually as severe – so I’ve gotten away with it – with consequences.
When it was time to get back on the water ski, I started by slowing the boat down a little bit. Of course, this went against everything I typically do, which is try to make progress (even though in water skiing my progress is usually baby steps.) A wonderful thing happened. First, I could still ski! This is an intense sport and anytime you come back from a long time off, there is this question: Can I still do it? Second, I moved deeper. In this case, moving deeper meant that I was able to feel things at the slower speed that I couldn’t before. My coach said this: “I’m not trying to say that it was good that you got injured – but it’s giving you a chance to build a better skiing foundation than you had before.”
In that moment, I realized it was time to move deeper.
So I am. Moving deeper that is.
I’m slowing down and trading progress for depth. Rather than claiming my prize of achieving the goal, I’m deliberately practicing the actions that lead to the goal. Moment by moment, I’m moving deeper.
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