When you're facing a difficult situation and you need to be able to see the wood for the trees try this.
Imagine the situation you are in is a Wood, and you are looking for a way out of it.
Now imagine there are three versions of you, in different parts of the Wood. To be exact the three versions of you are:
Present You - feeling a bit lost. Feeling stuck. Wanting to find a way out. The You that's reading this.
Next there's Future You who has already found their way out of this situation and is cheerfully waiting for you to join them. They're not far away, but you can't see or hear them directly. Future You will help you get out of the Wood.
Finally, there's Past You. Even now, Past You is almost at the point where you yourself got stuck. Fortunately, there's time to stop them before they join you.
OK time to put them to work…
Issue each of your Selves a Walkie-Talkie. These are strong and well-designed devices. Batteries are fully charged. Displays are bright and the sound is loud and clear.
You are going to listen in to what your Future and Past selves say to each other, over their Walkie-Talkies. It's OK. You've got permission. Funnily enough I hear one of them starting to speak now…
Future You: Come in Past Self. Do you read me? Over.
Past You: Hey Future Self! I read you loud and clear. It’s a lovely day in the Woods today. I’m just out for a hike. What’s up? Over.
Future You: Ah I’m glad I caught you in time. I’ve a feeling you’re about to put a foot wrong. Just wanted to save you a bit of hassle. Over.
Past You: Are you sure? The path looks pretty clear where I am. Sun is shining. I’ve got a rucksack full of Kendal Mint Cake. I’m good. By the way, the reception on these Walkie Talkies is brilliant isn’t it? Over.
Future You: Trust me on this one. I have a feeling you are very close to Pickle Pass. I don’t want you getting stuck in a convoluted metaphor. I mean situation. Over.
Past You: Oh. Ok. If you’re sure....come to think of it I did have misgivings a little way back. I decided to ignore them and keep doing what I've always done, over and over again, in the hope that something new and better would happen. It hasn't so far. What do you suggest? Over.
Not exactly Game of Thrones is it? Probably a good thing.
Think about the situation you currently find yourself in. How have you handled similar situations before? Maybe they weren't exactly the same situation but perhaps they had similar qualities (people/place/tasks)?
Jot down what you did to get yourself through it. Here are some suggestions. Naturally your list will be different:
How I've successfully managed similar people/tasks/situations in the past:
- I did it by going slower and asking more questions
- I double-checked what was needed - my assumptions were wrong
- I used humour which helped me avoid getting defensive
Also notice if there are resources that have helped in the past that you are currently running low on like:
Effective resources I need more of right now:
- Talking it over with a friendly person
- Kendal Mint Cake
This is useful stuff to know. However, you're not out of this Wood yet.
Keep that pen and paper handy because Future You is asking for information. Seeing as you're listening in on the conversation you may as well write down the answers.
Think of the situation you are currently facing and see what you come up with...
Q1 Remind me where is it you want to get to?
In other words, what's your purpose in this situation? Do you know for sure? Are there any assumptions you've made that need checking? How clear is your 'destination' (do you have 'street name and number' level of clarity or do you just have a Postcode or maybe only "over there")
Q2 Who are you doing this for?
Is this really your mission? Are you taking on someone else's work? Are you doing this thing to influence, pacify, or compete with someone? Can you get help with this thing if you ask?
Q3 Why is this important?
Is it really needed? Does it align with your purpose? Can any of it be renegotiated? Is it still relevant? Are you doing more than is needed? Are you unclear as to the "why" behind this situation? What are you actually getting out of all this?
Future You: Ok that's great. Thanks for the info. I'll be able to get you out of there in no time. Give me a minute to come up with the new directions…
Time to take stock and wait
Look at the answers you have written. Are there any surprises? Can you see any flaws in their logic? Are there any assumptions that should be clarified? Any irrational thinking that could do with being challenged?
Now, my fellow traveller, we must wait. I know. It's tense isn't it? But take heart. Future You is a smart cookie. They've got the maps, the co-ordinates and the flask of hot coffee waiting for you. Leave them to work out the best route out of here.
A great way to do this is to have a sleep.
I appreciate that in the work context only a few organisations have fully embraced the head-down-and spark-out approach to getting things done. Perhaps a walk around the block would work better? Or at least go get yourself a drink of water.
Whatever you do you need to move your attention to something else entirely. Just keep that pen and pad near you.
In time your imaginary Walkie-Talkie will crackle into life, and an insight will pop into your head. Seemingly out of nowhere. The reality is your brain has been working behind the scenes and has come up with an idea. Carefully catch it and write it down. You may get more than one - be prepared.
Here are some examples of the kind of thinking that can emerge:
- I'm making X into a gatekeeper when they don't have that authority.
- I need better boundaries. I don't need or want to take all this on.
- I need to do things for me for a change.
- I want to make my life happen now not "when the time is right".
Rest assured your Walkie-Talkie will go off at some point and an insight or observation will come to you. This is you, helping you, sort the Wood from the trees. Telling you what needs your attention now.
And you know what? These Walkie-Talkies really do have great range and long battery life. Once you start listening, you'll notice new insights arrive with increasing frequency. Keep your pen and pad by the bed ready for when you wake up. That's a particularly good time for inspiration to strike.
The Wood you currently find yourself in is temporary. The situation is not really You. You will get to the other side of it. In fact you can say, in a way, you already are.
Future You has gone on ahead, ready if you need them, to help you find your way.
Credits and references:
Thank you to the testing team for all your encouragement and suggestions in the development of this edition.
Thank you to Ryano01 for the idea of interacting with your past, present and future selves to increase motivation (and the whole 'no more zero days concept') more on this another time.
Image credits: OpenClipart-Vectors for the trees and AlLes for the Walkie-Talkies - both at pixabay.com
Not forgetting You - for reading this far :)
In their words:
“To be human is to be lost in the woods.” - Elizabeth Lesser