Getting stuck sucks!
If you haven’t already experienced it, one day you should expect to feel “stuck” professionally. Naturally, there’s a spectrum of severity.
When this mind state persists for weeks, months or even years, you’ll very likely find yourself moody; and you can expect this negative energy to spill over into all your relationships.
So being stuck does not just affect you – it also affects those around you.
But there is a way out, an egress, despite today’s massive headwinds in our external environment.
If you’re feeling a little stuck, don’t be too hard on yourself. In my view, we are living in an unprecedented period of change that requires unprecedented patience, self-compassion, and self-regulation skills.
And that’s the purpose of this article: supporting your goal of finding an egress from being stuck.
Order, to Chaos, to Order
We live in a continuous cycle of “order” and “chaos.” There are moments in our lives when everything feels just right, balanced and in “order.” Things are clicking.
Our work is going well, we feel good about our relationships and positive feelings dominate. Inevitably, this wonderful feeling of “order” is disrupted by negative feelings or thoughts. When this occurs, we may slip into a period of “chaos.” Sometimes this lasts a few minutes. Other times, this mind state can persist for days, weeks or months.
When “chaos” supplants “order” for weeks or months, we become “stuck.” By “stuck,” I mean unable to move from a particular position or place, or unable to change a situation.
Change is usually the cause. Sometimes we change internally or our the external environment changes, or sometimes both. But not all change drives us into the unpleasant arms of chaos.
The Riddle of Change
There’s an old adage about change:
we love change when we choose it and we can’t stand it when it’s imposed on us.
When we choose to change, we do it because we perceive a net positive benefit. When change is imposed on us, however, we’re confronted with a dilemma: adapt in some way to return to “order” or remain in a state of “chaos.” Sometimes an acute state of chaos becomes chronic. In the former case, we exercise our resilience and find our way back to order. The mindset and behaviors we change can vary significantly. In the latter case, we become stuck. We’re unable to choose a course of action to return to order. Sometimes it’s because our perceptions of options is too narrow. Other times, it’s because we’re unable to work through our healthy resistance. It’s as if we’re waiting for some insight that transforms how we see ourselves and the world. When we become aware of such an insight, we can then mobilize for change, paving the way back to “order.”
This is our resilience:
- The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.
- The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.
Of course, change is not new and as an evolving species for a million years, we’ve shown ourselves to be remarkably resilient.
Anthropologist will argue:
- That the discovery of fire was probably the most transformational event in our history (1 million years ago).
- That the Agricultural revolution in 10,000 BC seeded the urbanization of our species and led to an acceleration in population growth.
- That the invention of the printing press in 1436 changed everything.
- That the publication of the Wealth of Nations in 1776 and the subsequent industrial revolution changed everything again.
All of these changes occurred over extremely long periods of time, so as a species, we usually had ample time to adapt.
So change is not new and we have proven as a species to be highly resilient.
The Third Derivative of Change
But change is not homogenous, in nature or in speed.
- There’s change over time, or velocity.
- There’s the rate of change, or acceleration
- There’s the rate of the rate of change, or an increase in acceleration.
In mathematics, this third measure is known as the third derivative. I believe we have entered a Third Derivative period in the world.
Why? For four reasons:
- Technology, particularly advances in AI and social media adoption. Let’s face it: for 99.99% of our existence, all social interaction was face-to-face.
- Dramatic confusion over accepted norms of behavior. Need I say more about cancel culture and polarized views of right and wrong, amplified by media and politicians?
- The melting of the global order. Clearly, we’re at a point where world governments do not agree on acceptable norms of behavior of states.
- The pandemic, which for almost everybody, represents a little “t” or a big “T” trauma and amplified pre-existing traumas.
Inside, and Outside
As we conduct our lives, our inside self is constantly engaging with the external environment. There really is no way we can fully insulate ourselves from changes in the external environment.
If we consider the fundamentals that drive every human’s behavior —reproduction, wellness and survival— we can begin to understand why changes in our environment can feel so threatening.
But how do we make meaning of these changes and choose to redesign our lives? How do we figure out what’s bothering us and what changes will move us back to order?
What many people don’t know is that emotions are robust information, or signals, that we construct in our brain. It’s how we make meaning of our world, based on our brain’s predictions of what’s in the future. Sometimes our predictions are wrong, as our brain confuses the current situation with some past experiences. For example: we feel terrible anxiety about tomorrow’s presentation to the Board. We make the presentation and it goes splendidly. While our brain had constructed an alert (which we interpreted as terrible anxiety), it turns out we were able to overcome it (and it may even have been constructed as excitement, not fear, to support our big moment, so we were confused). Over time, with positive experiences when presenting, our brain will learn that we can easily survive a presentations to the Board if we prepare well.
Other times, our brain’s predictions are spot on. Here are a few good examples that relate to work.
“I’ve lost my enthusiasm for my job and I don’t feel like going into the office.”
Well, how did that happen? Six months ago, you were feeling really good about your job and it spilled over into your family life. Something must have changed.
“I feel exhausted from my job like never before.”
Well, how did this happen? You’ve been tired at work before, but never in such a persistent way. Something must have changed. What are you going to change to return to “order?”
“Ever since I took that manager job I’ve been feeling anxious.”
Well, you’ve never been a team leader before. That’s a big change. What emotional alert is your brain constructing? What is it telling you? What changes could you make to return to “order?”
Mach10 Career & Leadership Coaching
Mach10 Career & Leadership Coaching works with individuals and organizations to support leadership and career development and growth. David Ehrenthal and Rob Vlock, both Principals with a combined over 40 years’ experience, left their corporate careers to help leaders and employees improve their performance and job satisfaction.