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Change Work February 2010

The elephant in the room

Sometimes disasters strike without warning and you have to respond quickly. It's immediately obvious that you have to act and without much time for deliberation. It's almost as if the lack of time opens up resources in you that you don't usually have access to.  And, of course, fire fighting is much more glamorous than fire prevention!

But a crisis doesn't have to be a sudden and unexpected event.  It can also be a slow build.  Something you've been unhappy about for a long time eventually demands action. You can't put up with "it" any more.

You may:

And, as in the "boiling the frog" story, you don't become irritated enough to act for a long time. (It is said that if you drop a frog into hot water it will try to jump out immediately, but if you put it into cold water and then slowly raise the temperature the frog won't do anything and will eventually be cooked!)

If you find yourself in this kind of situation (metaphorical hot water perhaps?), then maybe you've reached the limits of your "winning strategy". That's the collection of skills and thinking patterns - your ways of doing things - that has got you to where you are. (See Tracy Goss, "The Last Word on Power": ISBN 0 7499 1617 6.)

You probably don't even know what the components of your "winning strategy" are.

They include:

If a new challenge appears to be outside the realm of what your winning strategy can deliver, then it is literally impossible for you.  That's why you haven't done it already and probably tried to convince yourself that you don't need to - just like you've done with other "impossible" tasks in the past. But now the water's getting a bit too hot and you can no longer ignore your discomfort.

So, is it time to try a new approach?  If you always prefer to do things yourself, maybe this is the occasion to seek help.  If you rely on a set of personal rules for how you conduct yourself, perhaps they need reviewing and relaxing - or tightening.

When you're uncertain or fearful about what to do next, it's always worth going back to basics. Ask, "What do I want - in this situation or in life?  How do I want things to be?  Which possible actions will move me towards that vision?"

The best action will then probably be obvious.  And if it turns out to be something that you've been avoiding doing , try looking at it in the "As if" frame.  This is where you ask, "What would it be like if I COULD do that - if I DID do that?"  Then explore the implications and the outcomes as if it were a purely hypothetical suggestion and you were a detached observer or assessor.

If the idea passes, i.e. it looks like it will deliver what you want, then the question becomes, "How can I find out how to do this?" That question bypasses any negative beliefs you might have about your capability and allows you to start researching, finding people who've been there before or just breaking the problem down into small stages.  This is a much more proactive and enjoyable state to be in than the one dominated by the word "can't" and the beliefs that it reinforces.

So, rather than unconsciously accepting your limitations, one by one you can overcome them.