“This might sound pessimistic,” chipper Little Blue chirped, “but it was the giving in and saying why I can’t that helped me get going.”
Delving into the negative feels weird to natural optimists, yet Little Blue is right that fine-tuning our understanding of the very particular nature of our own stucknesses can provide a great way out.
During last week’s coaching conference call, Martha Beck thoughtfully specified the nature of almost EVERYONE’S stuckness so clearly that it’s led me directly to some of the deepest, most welcome inner freedom ever. Here’s what I call her Insidious Quagmire Thought Formula:
“I can’t [_A_] because I’m not [_B_] enough.”
Just stating your dilemma in such exact terms is extremely informative. Big magic.
But what’s really profound is how it combines with one of my favorite tools — Byron Katie‘s thought work. I turned to a longtime friend to help demonstrate the chemistry:
Once upon a time, the charming young Ms. Blue stumbled upon a crisis at work — a dropped ball that none of the Project Managers were willing to pick up. The job involved non-profit donations to deserving children, and Little Blue was desperate for it to succeed. The client asked Blue to jump in and take the lead herself, but she kept demurring: “I’m not a Manager. I’m just one of the little guys around here.” Little Blue AND the project were stuck.
Little Blue filled in her quagmire blanks like this:
“I can’t lead the project because I’m not powerful enough.”
Think of something important to you that you haven’t gotten done, and fill in your own “A” blank.
Then consider what’s holding you back. Maybe one trait comes immediately to mind, or maybe there’s a whole cluster — in which case list them all, and then start with the one that feels most clearly and intransigently like the deal breaker.
Now use your Insidious Quagmire Thought to “ask four questions and turn it around,” as Byron Katie says. Go to her site if you’d like more details on asking yourself:
1. “Is it true?”
2. “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?”
3. “How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?”
4. “Who would I be without this thought?”
After the questions, you’re ready to experience the uniquely awesome Insidious Quagmire Thought’s formulaic turnarounds worksheet. Here’s what the four basic turnarounds look like for Little Blue and for you:
Turnaround #1: “I can’t [_A_] because I am so [_B_].
“I can’t lead projects because I AM so powerful. Hmm. This would be true if 1. my own famous willpower makes me overpower my own wishes and follow some rule that only people called Project Managers can take the lead. 2. Or if I am afraid of showing my full power to the bosses. What if they resent me? Or make me do more work than I want? 3. Maybe I’m afraid of showing my full power to myself — no more excuses!?”
[I hope you’ll follow along with your own quagmire. Please remember that it’s key to find at least three pieces of evidence that each turnaround could be as true or truer than the original Insidious Quagmire Thought. Try to find very specific examples.]
Turnaround #2: “I can [_A_] exactly because of the fact that I am not [_B_] enough.
[Don’t worry about the fact that Turnaround #2 requires evidence that seems to directly oppose Turnaround #1. This exercise is all about stretching your brain.]
“I can lead projects EXACTLY BECAUSE of the fact that I am not powerful enough. Whoa. Definitely could be true if 1. my low profile lets me maneuver and move in ways the power brokers can’t. Like too much weight breaks a bridge! 2. Or if the necessary skill is finesse rather than force. Like you get more bees with honey than vinegar. 3. Maybe my own lack of sheer formal power means I recruit a team of people who all strengthen each other and it helps not only this project but others in the future. Like I did with the circus employees!”
Turnaround #3: “I am not [_B_] enough because I cannot [_A_].
“I am not powerful enough BECAUSE I cannot lead the project. Oooh. 1. Maybe this is the actual definition of powerful. So you’re powerful by default if you take on hard tasks. 2. Power might need to work on hard stuff in order to build up power. Like how muscles need you to lift weights in order to get strong. 3. Maybe power only shows up when needed and in the exact amount needed, like with breast-feeding.”
Turnaround 4: “I can [_A_] because I am [_B_] enough.
“I CAN lead the project because I AM powerful enough. 1. All the pieces of projects I’ve done have worked well — even tricky ones involving some seemingly big obstacles and peer players. Like getting to the chairman of the board on that bridge project last month. 2. I basically do manage a few projects, though not in name. Like the toy account. 3. Not everyone who is successful has to be traditionally powerful! Like Rosa Parks. 4. I really am pretty powerful — it’s not for nothing that my sister calls me The Blue Beast!”
“You know, what?” Little Blue said, “I think I CAN!”
And with that, she did:
PS –What other turnarounds are you finding, Dear Reader?