S Is For... StuckRead Now
Think You're Stuck? You Might Want To Consider If You Actually Prefer It That Way
Feeling stuck is an enemy of our own making, says Seth Godin. It's the fear of failure and resistance to change that is the very thing that's keeping us there
There's nothing as uninspiring as a blank page (metaphorically and literally speaking). Trying to figure out what to do next, whether that means writing, designing or making a life change, without actually doing anything (i.e. by just thinking about it) often does little more than keep us in a vicious cycle.
The more we try and think our way out, the blanker the "page" becomes; we try and think a bit harder - but the page never magically starts filling itself.
Aside from the odd lightening bolts, the only way out in any of these situations is through.
And therein lies the paradox.
The only way to combat our blocks or resolve whatever is keeping us stuck in a situation is to start to do whatever it is we feel we can’t do.
In this vein, Seth Godin argues there is no such thing as creative block.
Until you've dedicated thousands of hours to creating utter dross, he tells The Futur in the video (below), you can't even begin to make such a claim.
What "The Block" Actually Is
The point being, just staring at a blank piece of paper / screen does not count as having a creative block. And the reality is, the "block" is typically good old-fashioned performance anxiety, anyway. It’s our need to be perfect that can keep us "blocked".
As Godin says:
"That feeling that we have when we say we can't write is really the feeling we have when we say we can't write anything that's perfect... We are certainly capable of writing poorly. Nobody has 'writing poorly' block."
Show me 50,000 hours of writing terribly, he says, and then, he might concede we don't have what it takes. But until that day, the block is a figment of our imagination.
And this is pretty much the case for any other roadblocks we perceive in our lives that leave us feeling stuck, he argues here.
Stuck? Or Just Comfortable?
The key issue when we feel stuck, he warns, is that we can get a bit too snug and warm in the holy sanctums of our comfort zones – we get accustomed to the idea of being stuck and actually take active decisions to stay there:
"Staying stuck is the reason we're stuck... Because looking at the situation that we're in, looking at what we believe about the world around us, we come to the conclusion that it is safer and easier to stay stuck (and maybe whine about it) than it is go through the valley to the other side where unstuck lies."
How We Get Unstuck
If we want to push forward in whatever endeavour we are faced with, it’s essential we face the fact that it will always feel uncomfortable at first.
We will most likely come up with a fair amount of not-particularly-earth-shattering stuff initially.
We might make mistakes.
But, it's only by braving the period of being a rank amateur - and sticking with it anyway - by edging forward, bit by bit, that we will actually and evidentially get unstuck, he says.
And ultimately, Godin says, we only ever have three options to choose from, anyway, when we are in these situations - do something, don't do something - or obsess.
"You can change it, you can stick with it or you can complain about it. But changing it is an act of forward motion. And sticking with it, accepting it, working with it is also an act on your part... The place to avoid is this feeling of being stuck."
F Is For... Fixed MindsetRead Now
Do I Really Think I Can Do Or Be What I Want? Or Have I Boxed Myself In?
We can limit our opportunities by being too fixed in our mindsets. The ones who ultimately succeed believe in the word "yet", says Carol Dweck.
When we think "if I could go back in life and change anything", it can be pretty easy to come up with a couple of things (or more).
And that's fine, as long as we are not still hankering after the things on our list.
We might have taken a college course, say, and quickly wished we had done something else. And despite wistfully gazing over at our peers doing XYZ for the duration, we did nothing about it.
If, years later, we still find ourselves looking at certain types of people with a degree of envy, we need to ask ourselves this: What stopped us then? And what's stopping us now?
The Work Of Carol Dweck
Carol Dweck might argue it's a Fixed Mindset.
Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, is behind the psychological theory of Growth Mindsets.
Based on her research, she says that what keeps us from growing as individuals is our belief that we can't be or do what we want.
We hit a certain point and think we have reached our ceiling - or we think we were born with a limitation in the first place (or a number of them) and are lumbered with it/them for the rest of our lives.
The Magic Word Is "Yet"
Her TED Talk, "The Power of Yet" (below), delves into her findings that the kinds of kids who actually do well at school aren't necessarily naturally gifted at anything - they just take joy in challenges and, crucially, believe they can get better at things.
It is something we could all do well to remember. Perhaps we just haven't quite got to wherever we want... yet.
There Isn't A "Growth Mindset Type"
And, reassuringly, in an interview with ANZ, she points out that there isn't any particular kind of person who is blessed all round with this kind of thinking.
There isn't a "Growth Mindset Type" per se.
All of us can be optimistic about our abilities and ambitions in some areas yet crushingly pessimistic in others, she says.
And she advises we would do well to be aware of those areas of our life where we close off opportunities to ourselves in the mistaken belief we do not have what it takes to get there.
It might be wise to keep that in mind next time we catch a "fit of the envies"...
W Is For... "What If?"Read Now
Does The Key To Innovation Lie In Two Simple Words? What If?
Next time you hit a brick wall, try pretending it doesn't exist.
It might do wonders for your creativity & problem-solving skills
It's usual, albeit frustrating, to hit a wall when trying to execute an idea. There are intractable issues that appear to be beyond your control, fundamental problems that just can't be resolved - if they could, it wouldn't be a wall, would it?
But what if the wall didn't exist? What if these problems could be taken out of the equation? What then?
It sounds like a futile suggestion, but according to Duncan Wardle, the former head of creativity and innovation at Disney, this is exactly the kind of thinking we need to adopt.
The key to breakthrough ideas, he says, lies in asking ourselves a very basic - and no-holds barred - question: "What If?".
Wardle explains that the likes of Disneyland and Netflix both came about due to this kind of thinking and it requires looking at a set of problems and effectively acting like they no longer exist.
He calls it The What If Technique and it only requires three steps:
1. Forget Your Expertise
The What If Technique requires stepping out of your "usual river of thinking", says Wardle, noting that a key "creativity killer" is, in fact, expertise in any given subject.
Expertise can ironically be the very thing that prevents us from seeing the answer to the problem we are faced with, he says, as it boxes us in to the usual way of doing things (which is why outsiders often come up with the most creative solutions to problems).
So, in essence, leave what you think you know at the door.
2. "List The Rules Of Your Challenge"
In order to identify in detail what the wall looks like, you need to have a detailed understanding of it's "rules", he says.
These are effectively all the things inherent within this problem which stop you moving from A to B.
Identify as many as you can.
3. Act As If The Rules No Longer Apply
The last part is to look at all these restrictions and ask "What If" they didn't exist? What would the new terrain look like? What new problems would there be to solve? What could you do about them?
The trick is to allow yourself to explore options in this brand new territory, no matter how hare-brained they appear.
What does the world look like when you no longer need to operate by these rules? And what new rules do you encounter in this pretend one?
This was how Walt Disney went from initially trying to find a way to pump mist into cinemas to liven up Fantasia (which he couldn't do), says Wardle, to ultimately "solving" that problem by creating Disneyland.
Give it a try.
Your brain will get to work in this new imaginary setting in ways that might surprise you.
C Is For... "The Chain"Read Now
Take Jerry Seinfeld's Advice About Maintaining Habits: "Don't Break The Chain"
Starting a new habit is hard enough; keeping it's another matter entirely. James Clear has an answer to this problem - and he has Jerry Seinfeld to thank for it.
Starting a new habit is hard enough, particularly when there is all kinds of resistance around it, based in insecurity, fear of failure, looking like an idiot... the list goes on.
Maintaining that habit once you have actually mustered up the gumption to do the thing is another matter entirely.
There are all kinds of psychological exercises out there to help us motivate ourselves to stick at whatever it is we have committed ourselves to changing.
James Clear has one, however, that is designed to take the effort out of doing it.
The trick, as he explains here (and in the video below), is to focus on something completely different instead.
It's What We Focus On
Typically, we place so much energy on the thing we are actually doing that habits can become the big boogeymen, something we have to grapple with.
They become fights we need to win.
It's exhausting and only too often, self-defeating.
So, drawing on advice from comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Clear recommends this: simply mark out the days on the calendar when we actually do what we say we are going to do - and switch the goal to progressively getting as many days in a row as we can.
The focus will shift away from the habit itself and on to the number of days we have crossed off. It then becomes an issue of minimising the number of days that are not crossed off - rather than obsess fruitlessly over the task-at-hand.
"Don't Break The Chain"
This is what Clear calls, "Don't Break The Chain" and actually seeing the chain take its form in front of us, is key to making it work, he says:
"Whatever the habit is you're trying to build, this type of feedback, It gives you a visual cue, a long-term motivator to see that on the wall and to look at the progress you have made."