We are our own best authority on what we want, what we value, and how we should make decisions. So why do we often feel so stuck? One thought: Objectivity (or lack thereof).
very difficult (Scratch that.) It is virtually impossible to be completely objective about ourselves. We are inside our own head 24-7, and we each have a very clear ‘me-shaped’ lens through which we see the world. As a result, when we get stuck on a problem or a decision, we can go around the same well-worn mental path over and over again until we exhaust the old ways of looking at an issue. That’s when we may need a little help to unpack our head.
A Brilliant Closet in Disarray
Our head is like a big, brilliant, beautiful closet. The type we see on star-studded reality shows with everything in it we could possibly need or want for a myriad of occasions. Now, imagine that closet packed to the rafters, floor to ceiling, filled with stuff, our stuff. This overstuffed closet is our mind when we feel stuck on a problem or a difficult decision. We wade into the clutter, slogging through piles of clothes, shoes, books, and boxes filled with random memorabilia to scrounge for what we need: Answers. They must be here, these answers we seek. Everything we need is here, but how do we begin to sort through and make sense of it all to find them?
When confronted with this kind of mental chaos, we may be tempted to just close the door, walk away, and mutter the vague promise of “I’ll deal with it later.” Alternatively, we might get so overwhelmed between options that something just snaps, and we randomly start throwing things out, making decisions just to make decisions. Not the best decisions, or even good decisions, but at least we’re taking action; and action means we’re no longer stuck, right? Not necessarily. While action for action’s sake can get things moving, surface actions only distract us from the deeper, ongoing stuckness beneath.
To get unstuck, we need to unpack, but the question remains: How? If, as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them,” then we need to interject a new way of thinking to find a solution. It may help to engage a partner.
Find a Skilled Thought Partner
When we get stuck, rather than just asking for advice, we should ask for what we really need: a Thought Partner. A thought partner acts as a coach, head-unpacking consultant, and sometimes even chief navigator for our own mental spelunking exhibition. It’s our head and our journey, but unpacking it can be very challenging to do alone.
Great Thought Partners Do 4 Things:
- Bring Detached Engagement. A thought partner comes to the head-unpacking process highly focused and invested in our success, but unattached to our specific objectives, or even to his/her specific insights and recommendations. Rather than offer advice for an off-the-rack solution, a thought partner offers alternative lenses through which we can examine our challenges and opportunities. This detachment creates greater objectivity and, as a result, helps us achieve clarity about what we really want.
- Challenge Our Thinking. Great thought partners challenge our thinking and our assumptions, encouraging us to step outside our comfort zone. Thought partners ask great questions, offer observations, and share insights. They help us move beyond our well-worn mental paths to explore the possibility of new solutions, tailor-made to fit who we are today and where we want to go.
- Create Space for Us to Explore. Great thought partners create the space for us to explore with curiosity and without a rush to judgement. They help us examine the unique and wonderful combination of things stored in our head: our knowledge, skills, experiences, interests, values, goals, and (most importantly) the answers we seek.
- Connect with Us. If we invite someone to help us unpack our innermost thoughts and core pieces of who we are, it is essential we feel an authentic connection to that person. There may be no clear-cut criteria to assess this connection or ascertain its origins, but that sense of connection should elicit a deep feeling of trust and understanding. If the connection doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Custom-Fit, Not Off-the-Rack
We may be lucky enough to already have someone in our life who can be a thought partner. However, the people closest to us are often not the most objective in the head-unpacking space. They may rush to try to “fix” our problem; or give off-the-rack advice, rather than help us identify tailor-made solutions that really fit. They also may get too attached to their suggestions and get annoyed if we don’t take their guidance, even when it really doesn’t suit our taste.
Ultimately, we may want to consider hiring a professional coach, head-unpacking consultant, or mental Sherpa to bring objectivity and insight to our unpacking process. In the end, a skilled thought partner will help us move forward down a more custom path tailored to achieve our goals.
Here are some self-reflective questions to get you started in the unpacking process:
- What’s the decision I need to make, and what has me feeling stuck?
- What part of the change/decision am I not sure about or makes me uncomfortable? How might this discomfort be contributing to the stuckness?
- Who can be an effective thought partner for me? – or – Who can help me find a skilled thought partner?