Are you agonizing a career decision?
Should I look for another job?
Should I apply for that manager position?
Should I take a job with that much travel?
In Part One of this series, I showed you how to uncover more of your buried wisdom on almost any topic, including your career.
If you’ve tried it, you’ve probably uncovered some good stuff. I know it works for me.
Now: what to do with these great insights you’re getting? How do we make these insights work for you?
That’s the subject of this article.
Turning Insight Into Action Steps
For about 15 years before I became a coach, I was a professional facilitator. True story:
On one occasion, I was facilitating a group of 8 people on a team-building course. They were stuck on a part called the Incomplete Bridge. A team needs to use two boards to get across a span - but neither board is long enough by itself.
This particular group kept doing the same thing over and over - and failing. They were convinced that if they just did that same thing better, that they would succeed.
They were getting pretty frustrated. But they kept trying that same thing over and over to cross that washed-out bridge.
I stopped them for a water break, and I said to them, quite casually, "You know the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results."
They want back to their challenge, and wouldn't you know it, two outspoken members insisted on trying that same method again.
Well, about three minutes after that, someone in the back spoke up. She said, "Wait! Are we being 'insane' here?"
They stopped, had a little pow-wow, and resolved to try a few other methods to the problem. Soon after, they found the correct solution and got across the bridge.
The moral of the story here?
Sometimes, people get stuck only because
they don’t know what they’ve learned.
They know what they’re seeing right in front of them, but they don’t know what larger lesson they can draw from it. That’s the "bridge" between what’s going on now, and your next action step.
Fortunately, in many cases a simple process can help you cross that bridge.
Ready? Here it is:
WHAT – HOW – WHAT – NOW
“What-How-What-Now?” stands for a series of questions you can ask yourself to more easily turn your stuck-ness into meaningful action. Having a coach or facilitator ask them to you is ideal because s/he can ask follow-up questions as needed. But in the absence of that, journaling the answers can help you move “out of the mud” and get your mental car back on the road.
The first question is: “What is going on (with this issue or problem)?
This is the part you have already been doing, as you’ve written down your thoughts and feelings. (If not, go back and read Part I for more information.)
Take your time with this step. If you find yourself getting stuck in blaming, or going over and over the same scene in your head, step back and name your feelings. Do you feel anger? Resentment? Betrayal? Fear? Grief?
(Not sure? See Part I of this series for a complete diagram of feelings -- the "feelings wheel").
Once you feel “done” with this part, move on to Question 2.
The second question is: “How has this impacted my life?” (Bonus question: How has this impacted others who are close to me?)
This question asks you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture a little. You’re looking to spot the way the situation has affected you – as well as the way your own choices have affected you. Both are important.
I won’t lie to you – asking this question is a bit harder than the first “WHAT?” question. In fact, it may be a bit painful to answer it.
That’s because “HOW” is going to uncover some of the stuff that you already know, deep down – but which you haven’t had to face yet, because they are safely buried under things like anger, blame, or the distraction of binge-watching Netflix.
“HOW” is going to uncover some of the stuff that you already know, deep down – but which you haven’t had to face yet
Nevertheless, it’s vitally important –because it sets the stage for the third question, which (promise) feels a lot better.
So, take a breath and ask “How has this impacted my life?” Write this question in your journal, then begin to write down whatever comes up.
Here are some examples of the kinds of answers you get for "HOW?":
I am still in a job that I really don’t like.
I’m so unhappy that I am short with my partner/kids when I get home, and my family life is suffering.
I realize that, since I’ve become burned out, I have probably been really difficult to work with, and my co-workers are afraid to tell me.
I realize I haven’t really committed to building this business. I’m so afraid it will fail that I haven’t really started.
I realize that I’ve spent so much time blaming my supervisor for his shortcomings that I haven’t even considered my exit strategy. It’s been easier to be mad and to stew in it day after day than to face the fact that I need to find another place to work.
I realize I have not been in the driver’s seat of my job, so to speak. I have said yes too often, have taken on too much and have let myself get somewhat burned out.
Now, here are two very interesting things that happen when you answer the “HOW?” Question:
(1) You may have several answers to the “HOW?” question – and they may even seem contradictory. This is okay, even normal. In a messy situation, lots of truths can coexist.
(2) You may need to cycle back to “WHAT?” another time or two. If you realize you’ve become burned out and you may have become difficult to be around at work, you may uncover feelings of embarrassment and shame. This is actually pretty productive – as far as feelings are concerned, you need to “name it to tame it.” Seeing what’s there will help the next step really work.
So, it may be a little tough to ask this question – but keep digging, because often part of why we’re stuck is because we’re wrestling with contradictory truths.
Once you have found some answers to the “HOW?” question, you might sit with that for a few days, or you might move on right away to the third question:
The third question is: “What am I learning from all this?”
Once you’ve faced the reality of how your current situation (and some of the choices you’ve made, up until now) have impacted you, you are ready to look at what you’ve learned.
Here are some examples of answers to “WHAT am I learning?"
I’m learning that no one is going to “fix” my career but me. I need to have the courage to take full responsibility for it.
This may sound clichéd, but I’m learning that work really doesn’t love you back. You can’t sacrifice too much of yourself at work, and expect it to be repaid. You have to pace yourself, take care of yourself. You have to say “no” sometimes – as difficult as that may be.
I’m learning that I really do need a mentor.
I’m learning how important it is to get out of debt and save for the proverbial “rainy day.” That will allow me to leave a bad situation more easily.
I’m learning that I need to widen my social network so I can find another job more easily.
I’m learning that I have to investigate a new opportunity more thoroughly before saying “yes.”
Some of the things you write here may be “hard lessons learned.” And that’s okay. But ultimately, you will move through those and uncover lessons that feel more energizing, because they hint at possibilities for new action.
When that happens, you are ready to move on to Question 4.
The fourth question is: “Now what?”
Now that you have peeked behind the curtain of your problem, so to speak, what is your next step?
(IMPORTANT: It you are a person who likes to take action, you may be tempted to skip right to this question. However, in my experience, I find that you’ll be more likely to break out of old, unconscious patterns if you work through the first three questions first.)
When you work on the “NOW?” question, you may…
(a) …Know exactly what you need to do next. It may be clear as day. You’ll feel a “yes” down in your gut when you think about taking this action (confirmation from your implicit learning/wisdom).
(b) …Need to brainstorm and “vet” some options before choosing. The “NOW?” journal question is a good place to do this. Then, as you look back over your list of possibilities, you can consider each of them against your values, the practicality of each, etc., or bounce them off of a trusted advisor such as your spouse or best friend (or coach).
Sometimes it’s a lot easier to write yourself out of a stuck place than to think yourself out of a stuck place. A few simple journal techniques can help you stop spinning your mental wheels and “get out of the mud.”
This combination of techniques (writing both thoughts and feelings, and using “What-How-What-Now?” have helped me work through many of my own stuck places over the years. I’ve also used “What-How-What-Now?” to great success with in-person client sessions, in both group and individual formats.
Good luck! Thank you for reading, and let me know how it goes.