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Have you ever found yourself stuck and unable to break through to the next level of performance or fulfillment? I believe it is safe to say we have all been there. No matter how awesome you are at what you do, if you are up to something big and you’re stretching yourself to increase your influence and create extraordinary results and fulfillment for yourself and others, there will come a time when you are faced with seemingly insurmountable barriers. People or events whose negative impact you don’t seem to be able to mitigate will persistently bog you down. The only question that matters at this point is whether you remain stuck and give up, or you figure out a way to move forward despite the obstacles and continue making the kind of progress you want to make.
The ordinary questions we ponder most of the time when things aren’t going our way are something like, "Why is this happening to me?" or, "Why are they doing this?" or, “Why are they not meeting their commitments?” and so on. Unfortunately, in case of persistent issues, the answers to these ordinary questions are only useful for addressing the symptoms of the real problem. Although we get a false sense of accomplishment as we go about finding or formulating answers to these superficial questions, we often find ourselves right back where we started with respect to the original problem, appearing to have made no progress at all.
In most cases, the problem is not that you are not great at finding answers. The problem is that you are asking the wrong question. The most effective way that I know to break this cycle and get to the root of why we’re stuck and actually get beyond what’s holding us back is to examine whether we are focused on the right questions.
To get beyond the theoretical aspect of this idea and get to the heart of how it applies to you, think of a persistent issue you are dealing with right now. Perhaps it involves others having not met your expectations or you not being able to deliver certain results despite your best efforts. It could be that you are not fulfilled in a certain aspect of your career or life and you are hoping something would change for the better. Just pick one real life example and read the rest of the post with that one issue in mind.
I would propose that the most important question to ask, no matter what persistent issue you are dealing with, is, "Why am I tolerating that?" This question is immediately empowering because it places responsibility for your situation squarely in your hands. It also shifts your focus to the only thing you truly have control over, which is your response to the situation. All other questions that are aimed at diagnosing and solving a problem out there are futile because your success and fulfillment are more a function of your commitment than your challenges. It is your response to the circumstances that determines whether you are able to overcome a challenge or not. If you are partially and conditionally committed, even the smallest of setbacks will take you out of the game, but when you are 100% committed, you will find a way to overcome the greatest obstacles and you will keep trying even if you fall short again and again.
There are other follow-up questions that would also serve you well. Such as:
- Do I really want this problem solved or is there a pay-out in keeping the problem around?
Sometimes the pay-out could be that it is easier to complain about the issue than to try to solve it. It could also be that it feels better to complain and be the victim than to take a stand and accept responsibility for finding a solution. Perhaps the pay-out is that I don’t have to change myself and I can stay in my comfort zone.
- Am I 100% committed to the outcome I say I want, and if not, am I willing to either commit myself and do what needs to be done or be straight about not being committed?
Often when we say we are committed to an outcome, we set limits for ourselves as to how much we are willing to do before we feel justified that we have done our part and it is now someone else’s fault if the outcome is not achieved. With 100% commitment there is no finish line until the outcome is achieved, and although others may need to play a part and we must influence them to do so, we cannot use their failure to meet our expectations as an excuse to give up.
- What’s in it for me and for others who are important to me if I overcome this challenge?
Tie your efforts to a greater purpose – a cause that is greater than you alone. It will diminish the size of the immediate challenges and make the effort seem worthwhile.
- What is the most important step I could take next to keep moving forward?
No matter how tough the situation is, there is always one more step you can take. If there is no way you can control the situation directly, that step might be to influence someone who can. Don’t let the enormity of the entire journey ahead, or the complexity of figuring out how you will achieve the end result, overwhelm you. In times of trouble, all you need to do is focus on the very next step you should take and then take it.
So just to reiterate: the most important step you can take when you feel stuck is to make sure you are asking the right questions. That may not always be easy because of your emotional involvement with the situation. I advise you to resist the urge to hang out with people who will join you in finding faults in others or reinforcing that the situation is hopeless, and instead get in conversation with someone who is willing to let you vent but not as a way of life! Encourage others around you to ask you the tough questions, starting with, “Why are you tolerating that?” Then, be willing to look and find the answer within yourself.
I would also ask you to serve and support the people around you by asking this very question next time they complain to you about their circumstances, in a way that compels and not condemns them. I don’t want to minimize the size of the challenges that some people face in their lives. We all have those things that appear to be insurmountable to us and, in many cases, there actually are no easy solutions out there. The purpose of this line of questioning is not to place the blame on the person or try to pretend that their issues are trivial. The purpose is to focus them on what they can do about their issues, so they can be as powerful as they can be in the face of challenging situations, or so they can powerfully choose to accept their situation the way it is and invest their energy more productively elsewhere.
I’m clear that wisdom is not developed when there is an abundance of resources available and there are no challenges to overcome, but at the same time, challenges and scarce resources alone are not enough to help a person develop wisdom. What is necessary is looking in the right places to find the answers that would make the most difference. Most of the time, both that question and answer can be found within yourself.
The Bottom Line:
We all feel stuck from time to time. When that is the case, it is crucial that we look in the right place for the answers to break through to the next level of success and fulfillment. The questions that we ponder in those times either direct our attention toward or away from the answers that will help us move forward. The most effective question is "Why am I tolerating this?" So, what are you tolerating, and why are you tolerating it?
Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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