Have you ever gotten your car stuck on a patch of ice or on a rock? No matter what you do, you can’t seem to get out. You move forward, you’re stuck; you move backward, you’re stuck. The same thing happens in our lives sometimes, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. What typically characterizes a sense of getting stuck in an incredible and overwhelming sense of frustration and stress. Exactly like when your car is stuck on ice or rock. Feeling stuck is far from being fun. It is a terrible feeling. I’ve been there. We all have. I get it.
Why We Tend to Be on Autopilot Commonly, people live with many set routines. While certain routines are helpful, becoming stuck in the daily grind routine can get frustrating. Many people eat roughly the same foods each week, go to the same place each day, talk to the same people, keep the same commitments, and end up living life on autopilot. On a day to day basis, being on autopilot can be comforting to many. On a survey conducted by One Poll, a market research company, 45% of people said that their regular routines are comforting, 1 in 5 people said that they haven’t shaken up their schedules in over ten years and 81% said that they feel that they are creatures of habit. While following routines and repeating behaviors in our day to day life have some comforting aspects to it (the known and familiar is always comforting). When it comes to solving problems, doing more of the same is what gets us stuck, because we tend to repeat the same patterns and find ourselves facing the same problems.
Tunnel Vision Syndrome One of the most common reasons people feel stuck is what I call ‘Tunnel Vision’- seeing one solution only to an existing problem, hating that solution, panicking, and failing to see that there maybe three, four, five or ten other ways to handle the problem. You may be a leader feeling stuck and frustrated with a challenge that you are facing with your team, or an individual feeling stuck and hopeless with a problem in your personal life. In either case, you may be stuck in a Tunnel Vision situation, panicking and stressing so much that you are not able to see so many other options that you have for handling what is driving you nuts. I have created the SOLVE Model in order to help you solve problems, get out of Tunnel Vision and move forward so that you no longer feel stuck, hopeless and frustrated.
The SOLVE Model: Five Steps for Powerful Problem Solving
1. Save energy, spare drama
2. Outline the problem clearly
3. Leave what doesn’t work behind
4. Vow to stop doing more of the same
5. Engage in a new and fresh approach
Step 1: Save energy, spare drama
One-third of Americans are living with extreme stress and nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that their stress has increased over the past five years. Stress is taking a toll on people — contributing to health problems, poor relationships and lost productivity at work. According to a new national survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA) nearly half of all Americans report that stress has a negative impact on both their personal and professional lives.
About one-third (31 percent) of employed adults have difficulty managing work and family responsibilities. While 35 percent cite jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress. Stress causes more than half of Americans (54 percent) to fight with people close to them. When facing a challenge or a problem that needs to be resolved on any level of our professional or personal lives, staying calm is one of the most important keys to problem-solving.
The reason for that is that staying calm allows you to think logically and take decisions accordingly. Clarity of mind is extremely important while you are dealing with problems. When you’re calm, consciously engage your frontal lobes by thinking about the situation and finding a thoughtful, rational solution. When you feel threatened and afraid, the amygdala, which is in control of impulsivity in our brain, automatically activates the fight-or-flight response by sending out signals to release stress hormones that prepare your body to fight or run away.
This response is triggered by emotions like fear, anxiety, aggression, and anger. In other words: to make good executive decisions in your personal or professional life, you want to be thinking out of the prefrontal cortex in your brain, you do not want to be under the amygdala hijack and under fight or flight, impulsive type of behavior. To do that, stop, breath, take a break, drink something warm, and calm yourself down. Before you do anything at all if you are feeling anxious, angry or very emotional.
Step 2: Outline the problem clearly
Albert Einstein once said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” While that may sound extreme, it does highlight the importance of defining problems. It also hints at some interesting facts: A well-defined problem often contains its own solution within it, and that solution is usually quite obvious and straightforward. By defining problems properly, you make them easier to solve, which means saving time, money and resources. I cannot stress enough how important it is to define problems and challenges clearly before embarking on a journey of resolving them.
Researchers from MIT’s Sloan School of Management say being able to clearly define problems is the most underrated skill in management. The problems or challenges may seem clear at first, but quite often later they prove to be complex, with several underlying issues and clouded with emotions and stress. To outline a problem clearly, ask yourself this: What is going on? If you cannot answer that question in one sentence, you are not clear enough about what is going on. Make yourself write down the answer. Clarity of the problem
Step 3: Leave what doesn’t work behind
We are creatures of habit, which has to do with neural pathways that get created as we do things. When we do something right, a pathway is created. Unfortunately, a pathway is also created when we do something wrong. So, the reason we keep making the same mistakes is that we slip by default back into existing neural pathways. The goal is to get yourself out of autopilot and bring yourself to a place of ultra-focus by realizing what works for you and what doesn’t. Because we are creatures of habit, we tend to repeat the same things that do not work for us over and over again, and then with increased intensity, just to get the same result.
Ask yourself this simple question: does this work? Am I getting what I want? If the answer is no, you are wasting your time. What you do is not promoting you and it is not promoting your goals. Leave it behind in search of new and better alternatives of what WILL work for you. Let me tell you this: there will always be something that works better than repeating the same patterns over behavior over and over again, just to get the same result. Always look for an alternative choice.
Step 4: Vow to stop doing more of the same
When you are working toward no longer repeating things that don’t work, you are working against your own brain. This has to do with neural pathways that are created as we do things. When we do something right, a pathway is created, but unfortunately, when we do something that is not good for us, a pathway is created as well. That is how our habits are built, both good and bad.
The reason why we keep slipping back into doing things that do not work is that we slip on autopilot back into existing neural pathways. Vowing to stop doing more of the same is vowing to be focused and on top of our choices. It means shifting from autopilot into strengthening our mind and focusing our attention. When vowing to stop doing more of the same and getting serious on getting different results for a change, you need to curb your brain from tricking you into going back on autopilot and back to the neural pathways of old behaviors. Here are three great ways to do that:
- Go to therapy or coaching sessions. A good coach or therapist will help you stay focused and aware of the choices that you are making and alternative choices that you can make in order to get different results.
- Write a journal. On the right side of the journal write what is happening in your day to day life. On the left side of the journal write alternative choices that you can make going forward. These may be big or smaller alternative choices- it doesn’t matter. It is all about doing something different.
- I am also a big fan of the sticky note system. Pick the most important thing that you are looking to do differently, write it down in one short phrase or sentence and stick it on your desk, fridge or computer. That way you look at it multiple times a day to remind you of this one thing that you have vowed to do differently.
Step 5: Engage in a new and fresh approach
Now we get to the best part. Engaging in a new and fresh approach is the most liberating thing that you can do for yourself. It frees you up from old habits, old thought patterns and anything that makes you feel stuck and stressed out. A new and fresh approach shows you that you have options, that you have alternatives, that you have the power and the freedom to change. From here, the road to becoming happier, more confident and significantly more successful in every aspect of your life, personally and professionally, is short, easier to achieve and much more beautiful. Enjoy the ride.