It’s easy to get stuck. From time to time it happens to everyone. One foot nailed to the floor, we go ’round and ’round – full speed ahead, but with no progress. Eventually we wonder why the scenery looks hauntingly familiar. If we’re lucky someone will throw a bucket of cold water in our face and shout “What in cripes sake are you doing?!!” If not, well, we might wake up a decade later and wonder why we’re still struggling with the same issue-infested life we ended the century with. With 2010 nearly upon us, it’s time to steal a glance in the rear view mirror and do a little reality check. Does the road ahead look exactly like the one behind? If so, how are you likin’ it? If you’re not absolutely jazzed about being alive, eager to leap out of bed and get engaged in the banquet of a day spread out before you, you might want to make a few changes before the clock ticks another tock.
Here’s one way to get unstuck from old, albeit familiar and comfortable, ways and move on to new and more exciting possibilities for your life. It’s not the only approach (there are many ways to cross a river), but it’s one that has worked for me time and again over the past couple of decades. I call it “Possibility Thinking”, in honor of Barbara Fittipaldi, the incredible walking magic wand who threw cold water in my face almost 20 years ago. If you’re fortunate enough to have experienced a recent setback in your life, like losing your job or breaking off a long term relationship with someone special, you have an advantage in this process. But you can still use this process even if you haven’t had any calamities befall you lately. All you need to do to get started is to take a good look around you and feel less than satisfied with the state of your life. Ready? Let’s get busy.
Step 1. Ask yourself “What does this make possible that was not possible before?” For example, if you lose your job (you know, the one that drained the life out of your face, sucked your will to live, and gave you knots in your stomach every Sunday night), you might find that you’re forced to find work that’s aligned with what you were born to do, downscale your life to where you are living in 1800 square feet of home instead of 6000, or figure out how to retire on less than $1M (like my parents did) instead of the $6M you were hoping for. But you might also discover that you feel a sense of freedom you haven’t known in years (combined with the terror that everything you’ve worked to create will be taken away from you before you figure out what to do, or before you find another soul-sucking job). And you may find yourself awash in opportunities to learn, grow and expand – maybe even read a book for pleasure, reconnect with family, socialize with people you haven’t seen during years of workaholism, or – heaven forbid – just enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot through a grassy meadow. Eventually you might tire of leisure and mind-expanding exploration, so let’s move along to the next step.
Step 2. Imagine the ideal future you’d like to be living in a year or two from now. (At this point it might help to have a glass or two of fine wine.) What is your ideal scenario, even if it seems impossible today? Close your eyes and imagine the colors, sights, sounds, aromas and feelings of your perfect world. Visualize every detail of your surroundings, what you’re wearing, the view from your front door, the sounds coming from outside your window, the scents floating through the air. Feel your shoulders relax and your face melt into a smile as you realize that you are indeed finally living the life of your dreams. Vividly imagine how you’ll laugh when you look back and think of how grim your future once appeared! Write a one page description of this ideal situation, and create a spreadsheet of 100 qualities and characteristics describing this scenario. Yes, 100. Don’t stop at 87. Don’t you dare think that 96 is plenty. 100.
Step 3. Get real! By now the wine-induced headiness is probably wearing off anyway. It’s time to use the power of negative thinking to undermine everything in this fairy tale that you’ve created. Make a written list of all of the reasons why this is not possible, all of the obstacles, barriers, and every itty bitty thing preventing you from living this possibility. Include every piece of evidence and common sense that indicates that this hallucination is an absolute pipe dream, everything that could stop you, every cynical comment your subconscious can throw at you, and every wisecrack comment you’re likely to hear from the dozens of know-it-alls you might cross paths with in any given day. Get it all out! Like draining the puss from a blister, it’s best to follow the process through until there’s nothing left inside.
Step 4. Now ask yourself the question “In spite of everything in Step 3, What would make this possible?” Write each idea on a separate post note. (This will come in handy in Step 5.) Don’t rush this process. It might take a while for the seedlings of ideas to start springing out of the manure pile created by the previous step. (If you’re doing this with a group, brainstorm silently using post-notes or email, then in person with the group as a whole.) Be playful! Pretend that you have a magic wand and infinite power and resources. Start writing down your ideas. Make sure there are plenty of ridiculous ones! List at least one idea that would never work, and one idea that would get you thrown in jail. That should provide a pretty good range within which to roam. Include sarcastic comments and improbable ideas, like “aging in reverse” and “winning the big jackpot in the lottery”. When you think you’re out of ideas, keep writing! Then turn on the TV and get a few more ideas from whatever happens to be on the next 7 channels you surf. When that source of ideas runs dry, scan your bookshelf for ideas that pop into your mind from the titles sitting there. Then pick a book out of the stack and flip it open to a random page and write a few more ideas based on the words you see. Finally, call a couple of your friends and tell them you’re brainstorming outrageous possibilities for your life that seem highly unlikely or darn near impossible, and get a few ideas from them. You should have at least a couple hundred notes by the time you are done.
Step 5. Leave the post notes sitting around your home until you just can’t resist sticking them up on the wall and grouping similar ideas. Read and group the pile of possibilities, adding any fresh ideas that are missing, until you are satisfied that you have a pretty good spread of possibilities. Add titles to each group that roughly summarize the contents, then sit back and take it all in. If you’ve done this in the spirit of playfulness and creativity intended you should have a good spread of ideas spattered all over your wall and a noticeable shift in your mindset.
Step 6. Pick one. Just one. Commit to TAKE ACTION on one thing that jumps out at you. Choose something that you are so eager to get to that you can’t wait to get started. And then pick one “wild card” – an idea that you’re quite sure you can’t, or won’t, do, but if you COULD it would be a real breakthrough for you. Write both down and put the note somewhere you’ll see it everyday. Promise yourself that you’ll take action within one week (WOW).
Step 7. Call your most supportive friend and tell them about your commitment to action and ask them to check up on you by your due date. Then get busy.
If you wholeheartedly engage in this process and still feel exactly the same as you did when you started, it’s time to seek help from the pharma industry, or call on your Higher Power.
Each day contains the seeds of your future. Just like a garden, what you grow depends on what kind of seeds you plant. Sure, it takes some water and sunshine, but water and sunshine won’t grow anything in a pile of dirt with no seeds in it. I hope you’ll cultivate something worth celebrating this coming New Year’s Eve!
Stay scrappy, Kimberly