An important step when looking at solving a problem or making a positive change is to step back.
You can take a small step back. Take a moment to reassess and regroup.
You can take a big step back so you can look at the big picture.
Or you can step back right out of your own head.
When you’re dealing with a difficult situation, it may be a good idea to forget everything you know about it and approach it with new eyes.
There is something that called disfluency that actually helps people approach problems in new ways. Not knowing how things have always been done and not knowing the conventional wisdom leads to new ways of looking at things.
In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell figured out that light was a wave of electomagnetism and it always traveled at the same speed in a vacuum. That would be 186,000 miles per second.
But there was a problem. Sir Isaac Newton and common sense and every physicist in the world would tell you that if you throw a rock from a moving platform the rock will have the speed of the platform AND the speed your arm gave it. Therefore if you shoot a beam of light out of a car going at 186,000 miles per second, that beam of light is obviously going to shoot out at twice that speed.
Twice the speed of light.
Maxwell’s equations said that this wouldn’t work so Maxwell’s equations violated Newton’s laws of motion and common sense.
For 40 years physicists tried to figure out what was wrong with Maxwell’s equations.
Then in 1905 a young man who worked in the Swiss patent office figured out what it would mean if Maxwell was right and Newton and everyone else was wrong.
That’s how Einstein came up with Relativity.
In Zen Buddhism there is a concept called Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind. This is a state of openness, eagerness and wonder uncorrupted by knowledge of how things are supposed to be.
-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
If you can toss out your preconceptions you may see solutions that were invisible before.
Another powerful way to look at things in a new way is to imagine that a friend was facing your situation and asked you for advice. What would you tell them?
Chances are good that you would tell them not to worry about many of the things that are keeping you from moving forward. If you are a like most humans, you’re more powerful and capable than you think you are. Your conception of yourself was probably formed when you were 5 or 6. At that time you were, in fact, smaller and weaker than almost everyone else.
That’s not true anymore.
Keep in mind also that back when humans were evolving and our basic operating software was written, failure usually meant death. So we have a built in fear of failure. This was a healthy fear for a caveman 500,000 years ago.
It’s not a healthy fear any more.
A great way to get new perspective on a tough situation is to grind it through a set process like The Three Simple Steps. Another powerful tool is to talk it through with a friend or a coach (like me!) who is unfamiliar with the situation.
Often just describing or writing about a problem will reveal your own preconceived notions and disempowering beliefs. Suddenly you’ll find yourself pushing aside a pile of dead branches and revealing a brand new path to your destination.
This has been happening to me like crazy lately. I’ve been telling friends about this blog and this book I’m writing and no one has told me I’m crazy. No one has told me to play it safe and no one has told me I have no business doing this.
No one is more surprised by this than me. Let me tell you that I have doubts ALL THE TIME about this and I’ve barely even started. The interesting thing is that these doubts are coming from inside. Everything outside of myself—everything I read, every conversation I have and everything I do—demands that I move forward with this project. There is no evidence that this is the wrong thing to do.
Yet there is a big scared caveman in my head who thinks I have no business doing this.
So I take a deep breath and take a big step back and look at the project from a point about 5 feet behind that caveman’s head.
From back here that’s a caveman who has really made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. That’s a caveman who has let fear and self-doubt cripple him and his potential for way too long. I have compassion for that caveman but I’m not going to let him run this show anymore.
I’m going to do this. I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it and I’m going to be successful at it.
I have to admit that I wanted to pull back on that last statement but I took a step back and asked myself “what would I recommend a client do?” The clear answer was to clearly declare my intention.
So I did.
Here’s the homework for the comments section.
- What advice would you give a friend in your situation?
- If you traveled back in time, what advice would you give yourself 20 years ago?
- A time door just opened and you, 20 years older, just stepped through. What advice is your older self giving you?