These are times when there’s much in our world that causes stress, frustration, and confusion. The past two years have been disrupted. Hopes that everything will return to what we used to think of as normal haven’t been realized. Strategies on which we formerly relied may no longer work. Students often respond in ways that are different than prior to the pandemic. We, too, are different than we were two years ago. Meanwhile, we feel pressure to perform, but may not have the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment we used to possess. All these factors can leave us feeling stuck.
When we’re stuck in a cycle of frustration, confusion, and resentment, our natural reaction can be to continue to press, hoping things will get better. Yet, doing so can make things worse and even more difficult to change later. Doing more of what’s not working rarely is a good solution.
Rather than continuing to push and persist, it may be time to take a new tact. We can start by accepting that no one is likely to fix the situation but us. While this is a statement of reality, it’s also a statement of empowerment. We may not be able to change the elements and factors that drive our situation, but we always have the power to change how we think, interpret, and respond to what’s happening around us. For things to get better, we may need to disrupt the cycle of emotion and action that’s holding us back and making us feel stuck. Here’s a five-step process to step back from our frustrations, re-evaluate our situation, re-position ourselves, and re-engage in our lives and work with new perspectives, strategies, and commitment.
First, we can relax. We don’t do our best thinking or make our best decisions when we’re stressed and pressed. We only make ourselves more tired, angry, anxious, or frustrated. We risk experiencing a cycle of unproductive thinking and unhelpful behaviors. Continuing to do what hasn’t been working and expecting a different outcome, in the words of Albert Einstein, is insanity. It’s time to slow down and take a break from doing and reacting. We start by setting time aside. Reserve a weekend day, or schedule a getaway weekend to pause, reflect, and explore what we’re experiencing.
Second, we need to reflect. We begin this process by examining primary drivers of our stress, anxiety, or confusion. We can explore how we might look at the situation from another perspective. What assumptions are we making that may be getting in our way? What patterns can we see that may provide hints for how we can disrupt and shift our thinking and behavior? How might our thinking and what we’re doing contribute to what we now experience? The key is to focus on ourselves and what we can do rather than becoming preoccupied by factors and forces we can’t change.
Third, we use our insights to refocus. We capture “nuggets” of clarity and opportunity from our reflection to identify what’s important to shift in our thinking and modify our behavior. Next, we consider what’s doable and what’ll make the greatest difference in how we feel and experience our life and work. The key isn’t to add on or cram more into life and work. The answer isn’t working harder. The solution is letting go of what isn’t adding value and satisfaction and replacing those things with what offers meaning and purpose. Our focus should be on what can lead to clear progress and promises meaningful accomplishments. If this step leaves us struggling, we consider enlisting a friend or colleague to help us sort our reflection and look for clues and insights we can glean to nourish our refocusing.
Fourth, we recommit to our work and purpose, capturing the energy provided by the hope of changing our approach, making progress, and accomplishing what’s important to us. It’s time to let go of what’s been holding us back and embrace our new vision of what’s possible with new insights and a new approach. We step up to embrace the power we’ve claimed and clarity of purpose we’ve created.
Fifth and finally, we reengage in our work. This step asks us to convert our insights and intentions to action, challenging ourselves to commit to what we can do today that’ll move us forward and closer to the vision we’ve created. Importantly, we also need to pay attention to what we’ll stop doing that’s been getting in the way. What choices we can make that’ll break the cycle that’s been holding us back? What can we do to be sure that every day we do something to make things better? How can we leverage the next two weeks to see clear progress? If we struggle, we might ask, who should we enlist to help us stay committed and provide coaching and encouragement when we need it?
The truth is that we can’t always change our circumstances. Yet, we always can shift how we think and how we respond. Now may be a good time to relax, reflect, refocus, recommit, and reengage to become unstuck and find the success and satisfaction we seek.