Most people who feel stuck try to solve their problems in the same way—they largely focus their time and attention on trying to change the other person. More times than not, they complain, yell, scream, plead, shut down, defend, rationalize and essentially do whatever they can to get the other person to “see the light.” They believe that the reason they do what they do is because their boss/spouse/friend does what they do.
• I yell because she doesn’t listen.
• I rage because she won’t stop nagging me.
• I’m irresponsible because when I do what she asks, she’s not satisfied anyway—why do it then?
• I work long hours and do whatever I’m asked because I don’t want to get fired.
• I lie because I don’t want to deal with my spouse’s wrath.
Most problems I’ve seen in my work are a result of people focusing on the wrong person. We want to “fix” the other side’s issues. We believe that if that person would just stop doing what s/he is doing, things would then be fine. The problem with this thinking is—it’s totally wrong. The one place where none of us have power is with the other person. I can’t change you anymore than you can change me. It’s a wasted output of energy trying to change someone. It’s also a tremendous waste of time. I’ve seen countless people throw years of their life away trying to change their partner or parent or [fill in the blank]. It doesn’t work.
What does work though—every time—is changing you. Every dyad, triad or group has a dance it gets into. The more he rages, the more she shuts down. The more he works crazy hours, the more his boss demands that he works crazy hours. We all get into a dance of dysfunction. This dance locks into place and keeps all of us in a dysfunctional straight jacket. We have to unhook from the dance. We have to focus on the part we have total control of—ourselves.
If you’re stuck in an unhappy situation at home, work or out in the world try these three steps to getting unstuck:
1. Assess the situation: Write down the problem in very clear terms, e.g. my husband does not help around the house enough.
2. Look at your moves: Get clarity about how you have been approaching this issue and write that down. For example, perhaps you complain to him about it, repeatedly ask him to help and then when the pressure builds you snap at him. You may then give up and just do everything yourself because you know if you don’t, it wouldn’t get done.
3. Come up with 10 different possible moves: Brainstorm a list of other possible responses (good and bad, doable and not doable). Some of these might include: blowing up first, just doing everything to have peace, thanking him for the times he does help, going on strike, hiring help, etc.
4. Choose one of your new moves and try it for three weeks: Choose the solution that feels the best to you and is not going to leave you more ticked off. If, after three weeks, it doesn’t feel better for you, then choose a different move and try that for three weeks.
5. Do all of the above from a place of strength and curiosity: This is about you getting your power back. You’ve been focusing so much on the other person that you’ve given him/her too much power and control over your sense of personal agency. It’s time you take that power back.
Frequently, we forget that we can be our own worst enemy. We are 100% responsible for the life we create, the life we allow and the life we sabotage. Far too often we are unconsciously sabotaging the very thing we say we want to create. Don’t be afraid to tune in and humbly look at your part in the dance. It might help if you also tried to remind yourself what the other person’s pain is regarding this issue. What would they say about why this issue is happening? You don’t have to agree with them, however, understanding where they are coming from will help you choose a more effective action to take.
One of the pivotal steps to this approach is to do all of the above with a good spirit. Come into this little experiment from a place of curiosity, not righteousness. You are not trying to punish the other person. You are trying to effectively create change by changing the way you respond and interact yourself.
In the end, it’s important for you to realize that you have more power than you ever imagined. You are never at the whim of another person or circumstance. Simply slow yourself down, take a step back and look at the problem from the viewpoint of what you can and cannot control. Become the maestro in this journey, not the puppet.
Challenge: Stop focusing on trying to change the other person. Start focusing on taking your power back and changing your moves. Check back in here and tell us how it goes! NOTE: For more information on this approach, check out the book, How One of You Can Bring the Two of You Together by Susan Page.