Getting Out of Your Own Way:
7 Strategies for Thinking Outside the Box
There are plenty of challenges in our lives, however some of them are of our own making. We undermine ourselves, make assumptions about what’s possible that restrict our choices, and let our fears stop us from even trying to reach our goals and dreams. Like a fish that is unaware of the water he is swimming in, being stuck in old ways of thinking keeps us blind to the many opportunities that surround us.
How can we get unstuck? Not by thinking and doing things the same old way! Here are 7 strategies for gaining new insights into your situation and opening up new possibilities for your work and your life.
1. Generous Listening
Most conversations are like two TVs facing one another. Talking seems to be the primary focus of our communication. However listening is even more powerful. Not the kind of listening we normally experience – listening for what’s not going to work, listening for what we don’t agree with so we can advocate our perspective, listening for a break in the communication so we can begin talking! GENEROUS listening can completely transform the quality of our conversations and our relationships. And it is as simple as the words we choose and the attitude we bring to our conversations.
What is a generous listening attitude? It’s the view that we are there to mine for the gold in what the other person is saying, and to reflect back their own wisdom so they can hear themselves more clearly. It’s not active listening, not saying “So what I hear you saying is . . .”, and it’s not asking a bunch of questions to further clarify what they are saying so WE understand perfectly what they mean. It’s simply listening to them so they can hear themselves better, with the entire focus on them.
How do we listen generously? First, avoid the questions “HOW?” and “WHY?”. These are great questions when appropriate, but they can shut down conversation instantly when you’d rather keep the conversation flowing and growing. There is nothing more futile than asking “How?” when one does not yet know “What”, and generous listening is getting at the “What” in the other person’s mind. And “Why?” sparks defensiveness, and even when appropriate may be better asked as “Help me understand your thinking on this . . . ”
Instead use the following phrases to listen generously and expand a conversation:
- That’s a great idea!
- Say more about that.
- Interesting! What else?
- What would that make possible?
- What would that allow for?
- Tell me more . . .
- What would make that possible?
- Help me understand . . .
When we ask questions like “What would make that possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” an entirely different conversation results. Try it! You’ll be amazed how simply listening for the gold in someone else’s speaking and using these simple phrases will completely change the character of your communications.
2. The Power of Negative Thinking
Barbara Sher advocates having a “Hard Times Session” to get our negative thoughts out in broad daylight where they won’t seem so big and scary. What is the most negative interpretation of your situation? Put on your negative thinking cap and share this with a friend! Tell them that you are going to whine and complain for 2 or 3 minutes, and you just want them to listen, not help or solve your problem. Use the three “C’s”: Criticize, Condemn, Complain! You’ll be amazed at how silly your negative interpretation sounds when you speak it and how much better you feel after you get that off of your chest.
3. Expert Advice
Like fish blind to water, we’re surrounded by the answers to our problems and paths to fulfilling our goals, but unable to perceive them. However when we start looking for answers and guidance everywhere it miraculously appears. One source of random wisdom for our lives is to “Ask an Expert”. This can be a fun game, and also quite illuminating. Find a buddy to do this with. Choose a profession for them, such as gardener, doctor, astronaut, jazz drummer, shepherd, used car salesman, pirate, butcher, policeman, bartender. Then ask them to advise you on your situation as a person in that profession would. Then listen for the wisdom and insights that can help you in their advice. The magic of this technique is that we give others permission to be creative in assisting us, and we focus our attention on finding useful insights in this advice. We see what we look for. You’ll find surprising insights result!
4. Survival Fear vs. Stage Fright
One way we get in our own way is to stay stuck due to fear. What fears are stopping you from achieving your dreams and goals? Are they survival fears or stage fright? Survival fears are helpful – they warn us of dangers that can cause serious or permanent damage to ourselves, whether that be physical, mental, spiritual, social or otherwise. Respect those fears! Take action to mitigate the chances of these things happening. And then there is stage fright. That’s the “butterflies in the stomach” anxiety, with no real risk of serious or permanent damage. What should we do about those fears? Feel the fear and do it anyway! If we wait until there is no fear to proceed we’ll miss out on many opportunities in our lives. In fact, most people have stage fright over all kinds of situations. What’s the difference between someone who is taking action and someone who let’s stage fright stop them? Only that the person taking action is doing so WHI LE being afraid!
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” This can often shrink fears down to a manageable size and allow you to prepare for any downside possibilities. And then make a commitment to act and do it!
5. Random Object Solutions
Another source of wisdom and insights from the world around us is through random objects. Collect 3 objects at random and arrange them in any order you like. Then make up a story about how these provide brilliant ideas and insights into the situation or issue that you want to get some traction on. For example you might choose a coffee mug, a feather and a book, and then make up an interpretation something like this: “I need to set boundaries for my life to contain this problem (coffee mug). I don’t need to take things so seriously. I could make light (feather) of this situation and have more fun with it. Perhaps I’ll book (book) a weekend in Mexico to relax and enjoy myself so I will have something to look forward to when I achieve this goal.”
6. Creative Whack Pack
One more great way to find answers in randomness is to use Roger von Oech’s “Creative Whack Pack”. This pack of cards is associated with Roger’s book “A Whack on the Side of the Head”, and can be purchased separately through Amazon. Simply choose a card at random from the Creative Whack Pack and then ask how this card gives you insights into your chosen issue.
7. Your Commitment
Vision without action is only a dream. Until we put action to our visions and thoughts they remain hallucinations. What actions are you committed to taking on your own behalf? No confidence is required – only your commitment! Choose some action that you will take this week, and then take it! Like a boat moving through the water vs. floating adrift, once you create forward momentum in your life you can more easily steer in the direction of your goals.
“Let your hook always be cast. In the pool where you least expect it will be a fish.” -Ovid
No one can give you what you deny yourself. Anyone can apply these 7 simple techniques to transform their lives and achieve their goals and dreams. What would make that possible for you?by