Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barriers to change

Do you know those days you wake up and it seems that obstacles are scattered around for miles in all directions littering the landscape with menace? Some appear large and immovable, others small and soggy or smelly, and over there one appears very thundery. All, however are unyielding or impenetrable: they are not a welcome sight.

You’ve worked on your goal, thought it through and hoped you’d be able to move. It might have been eating more healthy food, enrolling in a course, searching for a job, or simply getting your resume together.

But this morning, the whole world seems to conspire against you. Obstacles take over. Negativity abounds. Your goal seems to recede 'till it's barely a pinprick of light in the far distance.

Thunder clouds roll in.
No gallant knight in shining armour galloping masterfully on a white steed is going to emerge from the black and ominous sky to rescue you.

Looking in detail at the whole range of obstacles adding to your misery isn’t going to help you, and would possibly be off-putting for the strongest amongst us.

When this kind of mood descends on me, one way I tackle it is to pause, breathe slowly and adopt the tried and true “one step at a time” method.  I’m not implying that this is easy. It can be extremely difficult to extract yourself from the “pity party for one” as a friend describes it.

There are also times that even though we know what to do, we need a reminder. So, here goes with one of many methods for beginning to extract yourself from the sludge.

Firstly, stop. Breathe, and make room for the jangled thoughts. Don't fight them or argue with them. In a way, they're a bit like a bad smell that's best avoided for a while! Take a few moments to settle.

Now, find a blank, unlined sheet of paper (copy paper from the printer, sketch pad, A3 if it seems needed, the back of a receipt if that’s all you can find).

Some people find it helps to have a visual reminder of the goal stuck at the top or centre of the page. I like to use the centre as it reminds me that there are many ways to get where I want to go, if it’s at the top it seems too linear to me, as if there’s only one way to get there.

The idea is to sketch or use a picture from a magazine - so that you have something that represents the goal/s you’re trying to achieve.

Next, have a rational think - as much as humanly possible (!) about the obstacles you see, name them, jot them on the paper. Stick It Notes can be useful; they allow for lots of changing of the mind and allow for easy re-arranging. They’re also a good visual reminder that many of our obstacles aren’t set in cement, but transient. They can also be satisfyingly scrunched up and tossed away! Again a great reminder that obstacles can be overcome. Use colour, remember you're encouraging a creative solution, and this will help.

It’s important not to get caught up with the barriers and obstacles. No whinging and whining or getting involved in them; just write them down. For starters this step usually stops you going round and round and round like that broken down record from the 70’s – repetitive boring and slightly “ho hum I’ve heard this all before”.

You now have your goal, with the obstacles spread round the page.

Next, if any creative thoughts spring to mind about how you can overcome the barriers, jot them down too, no matter how bizarre.

The next steps are very important. If you’re feeling calm and rational, have a think about how someone you really admire as being extremely “can do” would approach these obstacles. What tactics would they use? When in the past have you adopted similar strategies? How would a creative soul look at these? What opportunities would they see?

Cycling lifts a heavy mood
If calm and rational aren’t the correct words to explain your emotional state when confronted with all these apparently insurmountable horrors take a break. Some folk will choose to do some mindfulness mediation, at other times vigorous weeding, exercise or other activity will encourage your brain to go into free-fall.

Focusing on problems You know the feeling of having stubbed your toe, you focus on it, and think about it, and it throbs more and more. Our problems can be like that too, when we focus on them, it seems to support them and they can appear to become larger. The “woe is me” “I can’t do xyz because …”. These sad phrases become a habit strengthened by repetition.

Now, I’m not promising, but what often happens if that by allowing your brain to go into free-fall, it frees up the creative part and allows new connections to be made. The ones that became squashed and repressed in the worrying, misery-guts phase.

What many people find is that when they come back to their paper over the next few hours, days or weeks, that they begin to see a way out of the murk, that the mud begins to settle, and they start saying “I wonder if I could…” “What would happen if…” “I know someone who could help me here”.

Sometimes the clarity that comes, is “I need help” and that’s good too. It’s a positive step.

Remember too, that we’re all different, and what works for one person may not for another. Also, that what works for me this time may not next, so be flexible in your problem solving approaches.

Let me know how you go.



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Boonie S said...

There are some interesting strategies here. Thanks for sharing them.

Have a good weekend, Boonie

sue said...

Dan-all true
Boonie - thanks, I'm looking forward to ShShSu!

lilyliberty said...

Sue- glad to meet a fellow Sue (you posted on my blog yesterday about Las Vegas) love this exercise- I am a volunteer workshop leader for an adult writing workshop in Chicago- will use this with them (and fabulous photos- are they your work?)
Sue E

sue said...

Sue E, I'm pleased you dropped by. I've used this type of exercise with locals, migrants and refugees. It works well. I usually give them a sheet with an obstacle course printed on and get them to write what the obstacles represents for them.

Could I ask that you let them know you're sharing the idea from a teacher in Australia? It might help us all be a bit more connected.

Yes, they are my photos, it's lovely to have a compliment! Thankyou. I haven't worked out how to watermark them yet.

MyMaracas said...

Sound advice, and great reminders to keep handy for when those inevitable obstacles appear.

sue said...

My Maracas: and appear they do, drat!