Have you ever had a really hard time getting something done? Something big?
When you are up against a large task or project, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the details and the magnitude of what is before you. Sometimes it hard to know where to start, and once you do it can feel like a never-ending process. To make matters worse, when the project you are working on necessitates that you do something new—something uncomfortable and challenging—it often elicits fear, frustration, and anxiety. All of these things can keep you feeling stuck.
In a state of overwhelm, the focus goes from the joy of getting something done to the aggravation of having something undone.
We can become mechanized in our attempts to figure out what needs to get done and exactly how to go about it. We may also put a lot of pressure on ourselves and beat ourselves up for things we haven’t done, rather than recognizing and acknowledging ourselves for what we have done.
In what is often an unconscious attempt to regain a sense of control, we are easily lulled into doing things that we know will be easier and potentially more enjoyable.
Some tasks don’t really need to get done right now (or ever) or should really be delegated to others, but we often prefer those. Some of the time-wasters we get sucked into include surfing the web, making idle conversation, cleaning out your inbox, or—my personal favorite—making more lists of everything we think needs to get done and identifying all the steps we need to take. This is actually a great thing to do when you’re focused, but, in a procrastination mode, it becomes to planning to plan—and then plan some more—until you have a rock solid strategy that you never actually execute.
It may feel like you are spinning your wheels—running like hell and just not getting anywhere.
I know this, of course, because I have been there. Repeatedly. And I’ve worked with others who fall into this pattern, as well, to stop the madness by recognizing what’s happening and making a shift to get back on a road that leads them where they need to go.
One of the most powerful things I have found for breaking out of a “spinning your wheels” cycle is to take some time to revisit your purpose—or the larger mission or goal behind what you are doing.
- Get clear about what—or who—the work is for.
- Identify how it will improve the quality of life for yourself or those around you.
- Reflect on the degree to which it will help people, contribute to something greater, or allow you to achieve a meaningful goal for yourself.
This doesn’t have to take hours and hours. Just pause for a few moments and ask, when this project/task/ initiative is finished, what larger goal or purpose will it accomplish? What would you like to accomplish? Write it down. Add to it as you think of additional bonuses. Then, sit for a moment and see if you can envision what it would feel like to satisfy that larger purpose, vision or goal. See if you can feel it so clearly that you are actually grateful for it.
This simple act will help you reconnect with something inside you that will propel you beyond the minutia. It will give you the courage and strength to walk through your fear or resistance to do something that you may not be so good at yet. And it will help you to get back to the joy that comes through the process as well as the attainment of the end goal.
When you approach things in this manner, all that you do will be instilled with a new energy—one that uplifts, delights, and inspires.
Whatever you experience as you work on a project will be the same thing people will feel when they partake of the fruit of your efforts. The more we remember this, the more we will experience the satisfaction and gratification of having done something truly meaningful—something that lifts us out of the humdrum and into a place of brilliance. And all who come into contact with our work will be better off because of it.
Interested in additional strategies and practices for getting out of overwhelm so you can have more traction, make a greater impact, and infuse more life and meaning into your work? Check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Unleashing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius.
You’ve just been promoted. The excellent work you have been recognized for has landed you a new job with expanded responsibility and significance. Perhaps you lead an organization of other talented professionals who now look to you for guidance and support. Maybe you are a leader of leaders.
The game you were playing just got bigger – and so did the playing field.
And your role has changed. What earned you this promotion will not be enough to allow you to succeed in your new role. In fact, if you continue to do what you did before, you may actually sabotage your newfound success.
You have gone from player to coach — or perhaps manager/owner. And if you jump back into the game, no one will be there to call the shots, to develop the talent, to create a strategy to advance the standing of the team, to gain the supporters and funding that will allow the team to continue to play.
Yet despite these consequences, you — like many leaders faced with similar opportunities — may have difficulty with the transition. You may have fears:
- Fear than no one can do things as well (or better)
- Fear of becoming obsolete
- Fear of failure
Let’s talk about each of these, starting with the first one…
Fear that no one can do things as well (or better)
The problem with this fear is that it is actually well-founded. Chances are, especially if you are at the top of your field, very few will be able to do the job as well as or better than you can. But that doesn’t mean you should be doing it for them — or even along with them.
And yet you will be tempted to. Especially when the stakes are high. Or when things get extremely busy and it seems like targets will not be met if you don’t jump in or take over altogether. You may hover over people, micromanaging them or smothering them with well-intentioned guidance.
But your very fear that things will fall through the cracks may well cause that which you most want to avoid. Maybe not in the short term. In the short term, you may revel in your ability to keep the balls from dropping and save the day. But as more and more begins to be added to your plate, your problem of not having people who are skilled enough to take the baton will be even greater than it was before.
Worse yet, you will have conditioned the very people you need to develop to become dependent on you and quite comfortable performing at much less than their true capacity. In the meantime, the bigger, more strategic work that you have graduated to will be piling up and fairly significant opportunities will pass you by.
Your people may well be on a pretty steep learning curve at the beginning. They won’t get everything right. And they may resist taking on the responsibilities you used to perform. But you need to transition from performer to coach.
Give them opportunities to try things out. Let them make mistakes. Then help them to learn from those mistakes and perfect their craft. And do the same for yourself in your new role.
This leads us to the second common fear that keeps leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of becoming obsolete
It’s not necessarily a rational fear. After all, leaders who are on the brink of playing a bigger game have plenty to do. They have a whole new role to fill. But that doesn’t stop people from worrying at some level that if they teach and empower others to do what got them accolades and attention that they will somehow lose their edge and fade into obscurity.
Often when people have performed a certain role or become masterful at a particular skill, it can become infused with their very identity. And until they have performed in their new role for awhile and become accustomed to the different kinds of activities and opportunities that it brings, they are likely to continue to identify with their old role. Which may lead them to wonder, “if I’m not that anymore, who am I?”
This ambiguity and lack of role clarity can send people back to what they know is comfortable and familiar, even when they have outgrown it. And even when going back there isn’t in their best interest (or the best interest of those they lead.)
To counteract this, it is important to fully grasp the opportunities and possibilities that playing a bigger game brings. It allows you to go from being immersed in the game with a view limited from one point on the playing field to seeing the game from several different angles. You can evaluate each player’s contribution and the way they work together.
You can change the way the game is played — and in some cases, even change the rules. But only if you free yourself up from the myriad of tasks that will always be there beckoning you to come back into the operational and out of the strategic. And the lure of the old role becomes even more enticing when you factor in the next fear that keeps many leaders from playing a bigger game.
Fear of failure
When you go from executing the plays to determining what those plays should be, you enter unchartered territory. First off, it is likely something you won’t have a lot of experience doing. And when you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it is uncomfortable.
You may not be very good at it in the beginning. It will be messy. You will second-guess yourself. And you will likely miss being able to do your work with the same level of confidence and ease that you did before.
It will feel a lot like going from being a senior to becoming a freshman again.
Second, the very nature of being a strategic player will require you to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity. You will be called on to blaze a trail where none previously existed. While this can be incredibly exciting and invigorating, it can also be somewhat daunting and stressful.
And when the pressure gets high, you may find it incredibly tempting to get sucked back into doing things you shouldn’t be doing anymore. Things you can check off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment from. Things that restore your confidence and give you the illusion of being in control. Things that would be better delegated to others. Or not done at all.
So when that happens, you need to remind yourself that whatever you did that allowed you to rise to new heights wasn’t likely something that always came easily to you. You had to start somewhere and struggle in the beginning before you began to gain competence and confidence. But you stuck with it and gradually got better and better. And you can do that again now.
Leadership is about “going before” others. Your new promotion will require that you wade through your fear, your discomfort, your resistance and your uncertainty to find within you the core of your true potential and act from it. And as you do so, by your very example, you will lead others to grow, expand, push their limits and play a bigger game as well.
Playing a bigger game often brings pressure and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. You can make a bigger impact without running yourself ragged – and enjoy the process along the way. The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive will show you how. Though the spring program is now full, you can get on the waiting list for priority access to the fall program, kicking off in September. For more information, visit The Real Leader’s Guide to Freedom & Flow Group Intensive.
Ever notice that just when you get comfortable, life has a way of shaking things up? Some people seem to enjoy change more than others. Most of us prefer to be the ones doing the changing – it brings newness along with a sense of control – we are at the helms, steadfastly steering our ships. But imagine if you will, that a massive wave summoned by a hurricane has ripped the captain’s wheel right off the ship and you are left clinging to something that no longer has any power. The tighter you grip it, the less energy you have to deal with your circumstances in a way that will truly serve you (and everyone around you as well).
At times like these, we often pray for the storm to pass – for things to revert back to the way they were – or for a specific course of events that we believe would be life’s perfect solution. These solutions are based on what we think we know – which is largely a product of what we have already seen and experienced. And relying upon the patterns and strategies that worked for us in the past is often inadequate for our present and emerging challenges.
The world is changing and so are we.
We tend to strive for comfort and familiarity, even when what’s comfortable isn’t necessarily effective or even satisfying anymore. We wish and pray that the chaos be removed and order be restored. But often life’s little disturbances are exactly what we need to reach our true potential and escape complacency. Perhaps as Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now, “…what’s appears to be in the way IS the way.”
Stormy seas (and life’s sudden surprises) have a way of testing our resolve and our resiliency. Pressure brings out our extremes – for better or worse. And fear does funny things to people. At its worst, it produces panic – a physical state that literally disables the brain’s ability to think clearly. At one extreme a person is frozen by fear and at the other he will thrash about like a drowning victim who pulls his rescuers under the water with him. The key to surviving a seeming assault of this kind is learning to relax and stay calmly aware of our surroundings so that we can identify and creatively utilize the resources at our disposal.
One of the most critical resources in our control when all else seems beyond it is our perspective. The way in which we view things determines the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening, which directly influences the responses we will have. If we believe we are helpless victims at the mercy of something that seeks to destroy us, we will become bitter, resentful and apathetic. In this state our true power remains dormant. We collude with our view of reality to create a condition that validates our doomsday stories and sink even deeper into the abyss. Those who try to rescue us from our self imposed paralysis risk being dragged beneath the current created by our own negativity.
If, however, we view our predicaments as adventures and see them as opportunities to give things all we’ve got, we reach deeply within ourselves and tap reserves of courage, wisdom and ingenuity we never realized we had. In the proverbial belly of the whale we find our inner grit and creatively rise up to life’s challenges in ways that transform us and everyone around us as well. We become the heroes of our own stories.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, there will come a time when the plateau you have been walking upon takes a steep turn in one direction or the other and you will be required to do something that stretches you beyond your usual way of doing things.
Perhaps it will be in your career. The work that fulfilled you at one point in your life may no longer be enough. You might find yourself doing something very well but suddenly devoid of the gusto you once did it with. It could be the company you keep – people who at one time shared your interests and passions but who you suddenly find yourself no longer wanting to spend a lot of time with. Maybe it will be your lifestyle. The objects and material possessions you that once gave you joy could one day feel more like clutter or distractions. These things become like shells that the hermit crab has outgrown. The crab must release its previous home and step bravely and vulnerably into the unknown in order to find something more spacious.
The quest for a new shell and even the new shell itself may feel daunting, clumsy and overwhelming. But the act of letting go of the old to make room for the new allows us to evolve and realize our true potential. Anything less will ultimately become imprisoning. When we allow ourselves room to grow, life’s little and big disturbances are not so daunting. We know there is more to us than meets the eye and finally step into our own greatness. And as we do this for ourselves, we model the way for others to do the same.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
For more on Navigating Sudden Change:
Ship photo by 1971yes from Bigstock.com.
Hermit crab photo by porbital from FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
What if the only thing standing in your way of perfect peace, true productivity and the satisfaction of living a life of purpose – was your thinking?
Many of us are experiencing a great deal of pressure, anxiety and sudden change. Jobs are tenuous, organizations are restructuring, and it might feel as though life itself is turning upside down. Frustration and turmoil is a common response to this kind of uncertainty and disorientation. It can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness. But consider this as you think about the things in your life and career that may feel as though they are spinning out of control…
What if everything is perfect just the way it is?
No, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Bear with me here… One of the key attributes embodied by extraordinary leaders in all walks of life is encapsulated in the word “responsibility” – not just in a moral or ethical sense of being accountable for our actions, but also – and perhaps just as essential in times of change and chaos – remembering that there is wisdom in recognizing that we have the ability to choose our response – and that the response we choose will have a resounding impact on ourselves and everyone around us.
The greatest of change agents start by recognizing what they have to work with before they can create change that will be sustained. They assess their environment to determine what the best entry point for that change is before they make their move. They don’t waste their time worrying about things that are truly out of their control, like changing the weather. Instead, they focus their attention and energy on those things that they do have the ability to influence and start there. The greatest of leaders know that the most powerful and sustainable change must start from within themselves.
The thing that fascinates me about a seemingly chaotic state of affairs is not so much what is happening, but the stories we are telling ourselves about what it means and the impact those stories are having on the way we are responding to it. When we react to things with fear, we end up amplifying that which we are afraid of and adding to the anxiety. Our fears drive us to act in ways that keep us from acting on our intuition and finding the answers that will truly serve us. Sometimes, we end up behaving in ways that make our fictional stories become real.
As an example, when you tell yourself a story about what is happening that leaves you feeling threatened, you may find yourself closing up and treating others with suspicion and mistrust. The way you are behaving toward people may well provoke a response in them that appears to validate your fearful story. However, in this scenario, it is very likely that their behavior is more of a reaction to the actions your story led you to take than anything else.
Our fearful stories are like the viruses we protect our computers from. These nasty viruses are often embedded in emails that pique our curiosity or rouse our fear. When we unwittingly activate them, they spread often uncontrollably and we risk passing them to the computer of our friends, associates and countless others. The viruses corrupt our systems until they no longer function effectively. Like computer viruses, our stories have a way of spinning us out of control and interfering with our ability to rise up to our challenges to find the opportunity that is always there waiting for us to discover and leverage it.
Our rational minds want answers and security. They need to figure everything out and almost automatically occupy themselves with trying to sort through data to arrive at conclusions. The problem is that our minds are plugging imaginary variables into the equation that end up further exacerbating the anxiety we are already experiencing. When they are done with one variable, they plug in another and the churning continues, leaving us with an uneasiness that keeps us on edge.
In the grip of this madness, sometimes the best thing you can do is indulge your mind with a variable that will allow it to do its thing. Go ahead and plug in the worst case scenario. If the worst possible thing happened, what would you do? Alloy yourself to sit with that question for awhile. Let the fear move through you and keep asking the question, what would I do that would allow everything to be OK? If you sit long enough with your question, you will arrive at some workable alternatives and reconnect with that part of yourself that is strong, resourceful and resilient.
Armed with the knowledge that you will be OK even if the worst possible thing happens, you can come back into the present and recognize your fearful thoughts for what they are – fearful thoughts. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which I pass along frequently is don’t believe everything you think.
In the present moment, devoid of your stories about variables that are truly unknown, you are OK. And when new events begin to unfold, if you stay in the moment and access your inner wisdom, you will know exactly what you need to do – or not to do – to be OK then too. And as you go about your daily life in this way, your calm resolve will permeate your interactions with others and through your example, you will help others to rise up to their challenges in ways that unearth the greatness in themselves as well.
The above article contains excerpts from my new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.