Stuck in a rut? 3 ways to think yourself out.
Julie Batty, November 2018
Have you ever sat and thought about what you want to do with your life? I have. I’m a great believer in the power of reflection.
But sometimes it’s like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat when it’s pitch dark, the rabbit’s run off and you can’t even find the hat.
The problem with trying to think your way out of your dilemmas is that you’re stuck with only your own thoughts. And you’re probably asking yourself the same questions over and over again. And coming up with the same answers.
Why we can’t think ourselves out of a rut.
When we go over and over a problem in our heads we make pathways in our brains – just like when we repeatedly walk the same way across a field. It becomes easier to follow the path than cut across the long grass and so that’s what we do. We take the familiar old path and, unsurprisingly, end up in the same place.
When this process happens in a stressed or over-tired brain it can quickly turn from thoughts to gloomy rumination. Rumination is at best unpleasant and at worst a downward spiral into feelings of helplessness and depression.
No wonder we can’t get out of our frustrating situations!
The trick is to take the road less travelled.
Our brains are amazingly large and complex and if we can get off the well-worn paths and send our thoughts cross country we can discover worlds of possibilities we didn’t even know existed.
The good news is it’s not even that hard.
We can access different ways of thinking, even different states of consciousness in myriad ways. Often these involve taking the emphasis off our logical, analytical, left-brained way of working things out and turning to the more holistic, intuitive right hemisphere. We can make new and surprising connections between what we know intellectually and what we understand in somatic, intuitive, and feeling ways.
This is real creative thinking.
3 things we can do instead of going round and round in our heads.
1. Think differently.
The designer Paul Smith has a mantra: ‘you can find inspiration in everything’. Imagine that everything around you could be useful if only you looked for it, and you will begin to notice more. Things come alive a little bit. Your curiosity wakes up and with it a renewed sense of possibilities.
It’s a way of encouraging your right brain to come up with new solutions. Here are three more.
- Doodle. The right brain thinks in pictures more than words so drawing or doodling can show us new and surprising things about ourselves and our problems.
- Swap hands. Writing with the non-dominant hand can produce surprising information – try asking yourself a question and then ‘letting’ the hand you don’t write with tell you the answer. (Research on musicians who use both their hands to play shows a 9% increase in the size of the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the two halves. Better connections mean better ability to use both halves, and especially to use them in tandem.)
- Daydream. Or meditate, or sleep. Turning down the analytical brain allows the unconscious mind to come up with creative solutions. Studies with fMRI scans show that complex problem-solving areas of the brain are highly active during daydreaming. And history is littered with brilliant ideas that came out of footling around rather than concentrating hard. From Richard Linklater’s mind-bending film Inception to Niels Bohr’s discovery of the structure of the atom.
2. Seek feedback. (aka ‘Phone a friend’)
Nobody knows us as well as we know ourselves, right? What can others tell us that we don’t already know? Well, a surprising amount, it turns out.
Jan came on an Eyes Wide Opened course in 2016 because she couldn’t progress at work and anyway she’d been bored for years. She was in marketing but said she was forever finding herself ‘in the canteen, holding people’s hands as they cried over their problems’.
It quickly became clear to everyone else on that course that Jan was just in the wrong job. Her warmth, insight and down-to-earth wisdom made her a natural as a counsellor. But she hadn’t seen it because it was ‘just what I do’. Once she claimed it as a real talent she started putting her focus into counselling and coaching and is at the time of writing about to qualify. And very much happier.
Others can often recognise qualities in us that we’ve lost sight of. Listening and taking their feedback on board can broaden our view of ourselves and lead to fresh energy and direction.
Try it yourself
Email a trusted friend and ask them to think about what they see as your natural skills and talents. Then invite them out for a coffee a week later and listen to what they say. Take notes. I guarantee you’ll discover something new about yourself.
3. Find a good mirror.
Not a reflective sheet of glass, but a trained listener who can help to unpack and make use of your true qualities. A skilful coach can make the difference between merely recognising our potential and really being able to understand and develop it.
Though it doesn’t always seem like it, you already have all the answers inside you. A good coach brings a unique combination of listening, technique, knowledge, intuition, questions and experience to help you find those answers. It’s a very satisfying process of discovery.
All of these techniques are about exploring ways of realising and releasing the best of you.
So you won’t be surprised to learn that they are some of the things we do on an Eyes Wide Opened – Get Unstuck! weekend.
If you’d like to pull your own rabbit out of the hat come and join us in central London. The next one is 2nd/3rd February 2019 – New Year, New You.