I’m often in conversation with people who are conflicted, confused, reluctant or resentful about something that they “have to” do – often without really knowing why they’re feeling that way.
Sometimes it’s a “should” (always a warning flag!).
Sometimes it’s something they’ve already committed to doing but for which they’ve lost their enthusiasm.
Sometimes they’re in a place of entitlement – why should I? What’s this doing for me?
Sometimes they’ve forgotten why they agreed to do it in the first place.
Sometimes it’s their “responsibility” but they’re dreading doing it.
And sometimes they just haven’t stopped long enough to reflect on what they’re feeling and why they might be feeling it.
This happens with both big and small things – having that tricky conversation, doing some movement every day, tidying our space, quitting that job, ending that relationship. Our resistance to reflection and taking action – making change – is massive.
As quoted by Jonathan Fields, from a wise entrepreneur friend of his, Maslow got it wrong. Our most driving need isn’t “survival.” It’s the need to not have to endure change. Even small-scale change. We hate it. So if we’re going to take on change – if we’re going to take action – it’s best we be clear about why, otherwise we’d prefer not to bother.
Here are some questions I’ve found useful with clients when they’re resisting something.
What could you be learning?
If we’re not learning we’re not growing. We’re learning machines. We love absorbing and we are innately curious. And every situation has the potential to teach us something – if we’re open to it. Even when we’re the “expert” or “master” – or “boss” – there are still things for us to learn (although sometimes it’s uncomfortable). If we’re not open to learning we’re missing the magic in many of our daily interactions. Nothing is a waste of time if we are open to how we might grow in any situation.
What could you be giving?
The need to give is one of the most under-recognized human needs. It’s certainly verging on extinction in most organizations I see. But we do need to contribute – it’s one of the fastest ways to feel valuable and appreciated. If we’re not giving we’re behaving as if the world owes us something. Figure out what you can contribute and it can shift your perspective fast.
This last question is a favourite I share with my good friend Michael Bungay Stanier. In a recent podcast interview with Michael Port, based on his latest book, “The Coaching Habit.” Michael refers to this one as “the Foundational question” because it has the power to really unlock truth.
What do you want?
This one is a traffic-stoppper. So many of us are on autopilot so much of the time that we’ve lost sight of what we want – if we ever knew it. Getting to the root of what we really want in any given situation – and in life – helps pare and prioritize the “to do” list fast.
As Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Not knowing what you want makes it hard to clear away the make-work and the time-fillers in favour of whatever actions and steps it will take to achieve the thing that’s important.
So if you’re avoiding doing something, ask yourself these three questions. And ponder the answers before you fill up your “to-do” list again.