You know you’ve been there. The circular logic. Those thoughts swimming in circles. It’s the “Look kids, Big Ben…Parliament!” of mind games.
It might even start with an “aha” moment. Aha! – the reason I haven’t applied for that promotion is because it would mean longer hours. Or, Aha! – the reason I’m avoiding my friends is because all they ever do is complain. Or, Aha! – the reason I’m so unhappy in my job is because I no longer love what I do.
So let’s take that last one a little further. But I need the money…I don’t have experience doing what I’d rather be doing…but I’m not doing my best here anymore, and I’m miserable…so I should leave…but I need to stay here and wallow in it for another year while my performance continues to slip and I go on anxiety medicine…said no one ever.
But that’s what riding the swirl brings us. More of the same as we travel in circles, inevitably spiraling toward the drain.
You’re making a decision without a decision.
Avoid the promotion long enough, you’ll show your lack of interest. Avoid your friends long enough, rather than addressing your concerns, and they’ll stop calling. If you could just figure out which way to swim, you could break free of the swirl and crawl to safety. But choosing feels more dangerous than riding it out. After all, the drain leads somewhere – maybe even somewhere better than the pool, so we swirl.
When I started my business, I had the softest landing ever – a full-time client giving me the exact work I wanted to do and giving me full creative control to do it. I learned more in the first year than most get to learn in their first 5 years in business, and I continued to grow through my second year as well, although more slowly. By then, the 55-mile commute was beginning to wear on me, and more importantly, it limited the bandwidth I had to grow beyond a single client.
So my swirl went something like this: I need to grow business…but I’m not sure of the direction I want to go…and I need to have a life…but I can’t rely on a single client…and I’m not growing much anymore…but I need to have a life…and I don’t know exactly what to do or where to start…but I have to start somewhere…but I need a life…
The swirl was fine while I was swimming in full-time revenue, but unexpectedly, my client got short on funds and let the water out of the pool. My decision was made for me. I had all the bandwidth in the world, but to keep from going down the drain, I had to work like a madwoman to rebuild my business from the ground up.
Wouldn’t it have been better for me to take control sooner?
Life happens. Fast. The swirl lulls us into a false sense of comfort and makes us think we have all the time in the world. The irony is that we stay in the swirl from of fear of the unknown, but nothing is ever certain – no matter how solid you think your current position is. And when we let things run their course, when we intuitively know there’s more we can do – when we’re already forming thoughts around the change that needs to happen, we share responsibility for what comes, no matter how unexpected.
Remember, I am specifically talking about cases where you’re already thinking about making a change but are stuck in a circular thought pattern. Jump off. Get help. Find a coach. Phone a friend.
You need new questions.
The questions you have on continuous loop aren’t moving you forward. Here are some new ones to try:
Which challenges are real, and which are imagined, or at least uninvestigated? Are you assuming you won’t have the support, skills or connections to make the change, or is that actually true? Have you had conversations with the people involved, or are you already assuming they won’t be supportive?
How can I close the gap on my real challenges? If you need training, get it. If you need to talk to your partner, friends, boss or mentor, do it. If you need to set boundaries, do it. A recent client was offered a great job and was going to turn it down because it involved a lot of travel. She was tempted to give a watered down reason for rejecting the role but decided to be more direct and say the travel was a deal breaker. They re-wrote the requirements of the job to minimize the travel! Never assume. Ask.
What are the possibilities? What’s the potential upside? It’s hard to compare our current reality with our vision, especially if we haven’t spent enough time considering the possibilities of our vision. You spend day in and day out with reality, with only occasionally glimpses of your vision. Take time to imagine, and find ways to do that without a filter.
Given what my vision is worth to me, how much risk am I willing to take? Once you have greater clarity of your vision, you may discover that you’re willing to take some risk.
How might I minimize the risks involved? We calculate risk based on our current situation, but what if you changed your living situation? Could you downsize, consolidate, cut costs? Could you do the new work part-time or volunteer?
Don’t get lulled into complacence as you float in circles. Start swimming, and if you don’t know which way to go, get help from someone who can spark new questions.
Carol Robert is a coach, instructor and organizational culture change agent. Her workshops, coaching and hands-on organizational interventions have helped hundreds break free of the swirl and swim to greater success in their work and more courage and joy in their lives.