How a Powerful Question Can Get You Unstuck

Is there something in your life or work that feels stuck and resistant to change?

For me, it’s decluttering my house.  In theory, I’ve wanted to change to a home with less stuff it in for a long time – even setting SMART goals like decreasing the total mass in the house by 10% – but year after year nothing gets done.

To someone else, this may not seem like much of a challenge. “Just pick a room and take an hour every weekend to sort your belongings,” you might say (or maybe that’s my inner critic talking). In theory, I have the time and the resources to solve this.  Why then not?

I notice a similar patten in my leadership coaching clients. They come to me because they want to make a change. Yet, frequently I’ll find them eloquently and passionately defending the same behaviors they want to outgrow.  “It has to be this way because…” 

Why are changes that seem straightforward sometimes so difficult? 

One answer is that we have a lot of our identity tied to our existing ways of working and being. Often these ways have served us well up to now, so making a seemingly achievable change is actually costly. As explained in the wonderful book “Immunity to Change,” all the willpower in the world may not be enough to get past those change “defenses.”

As a coach, I understand change better now, and am frankly more compassionate with myself and others about making changes. I’ve also learned how to help my clients see possibilities beyond their current perspective, and give them the support and safety to test new ideas out.

While there’s no magic bullet for change, a good question can sometimes break the spell of it-absolutely-needs-to-be-this-way thinking. Here’s one of my favorites.

Ask yourself, “What is mine to do?”

There are many ways this question can helpfully shift your perspective:

  • You are doing work others should be doing. This is super common for leaders.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the tasks at hand, ask this question before you act. Maybe someone else has the responsibility, or nothing needs to be done at all. 
  • You are avoiding uncomfortable actions. It’s possible to fill your day with activity without getting to the hard stuff. For me, it’s anything involving conflict (so I put off that difficult conversation and do my expense report instead). Asking and answering this question can highlight what you know deep down to be most important.
  • You wish to consider your broader purpose. You can frame the question beyond the issue of the moment by applying it to your life and work in general. I find it’s less intimidating and more revealing to reflect on than the straightforward “what’s your purpose” question.

So, when you feel stuck or uncertain, try asking yourself, “What is mine to do?” Or if you’re in a contemplative mood, set a time for 2 minutes and write or record a voice memo with a freeform response. You might learn something new (and please share!)

I was procrastinating on writing this newsletter and when I asked myself, what is mine to do, it’s to faithfully share leadership insights with my audience. So I sat down this morning with that intention, and voila!  A newsletter. 

There’s still a big pile of papers on the table, but one thing at a time. 

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