Obstacle breakthrough: How to stop being stumped

April 18, 2014

You can try to stare down an obstacle until it goes away — but we don’t recommend it.

Actually, we like obstacles quite a bit. When something blocks our path, it sparks us in a couple of good ways.

First, it fires up our problem-solving skills. We get to flex parts of our brain that aren’t required when everything runs as expected. It’s not comfortable, but makes us feel alive in the moment as we puzzle through it. Then when it’s solved, well, that’s reason to rejoice that we’ve learned something.

Obstacles also remind us that it will get better. As Frank Clark, an author and military historian, once said, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Time and confidence show that things almost always work out. Maybe not as we planned, but we’re more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. Except when we’re stuck acting like a Perplexed Planner.

This is when our brain locks up at the sight of an obstacle. Fears flood our thoughts, creating a loop in our head that doesn’t leave room for anything else. We see the obstacle but we can’t do anything about it.

There are at least three variations on the Perplexed Planner’s fears (take our mini-quiz to discover your tendency).

• As By-the-Book Planners, we excel at making things work because we excel at following the rules. When the rules fail, we By-the-Bookers need to believe there is more than one answer to the problem. Trouble is, that requires creative thinking, and we’re not so sure we can do that.

Perfect Planners impress with our mastery of the details. We work them all out just so. But if something shifts in those well-laid plans, our fear of failure takes over, making it difficult to remember that we can learn a lot from our mistakes.

Peerless Planners are the gurus among us, or at least that’s what we’d like people to think. So when we get stumped, it’s a double-whammy: We can’t move forward and we can’t bring ourselves to admit it to others. We need to discover the virtues of asking for help.

To push past these fears, we created an Obstacle-Busters! tip sheet designed to help us view our blockers from different angles. Start with one or more of the warm-up exercises to clear the clutter of anxiety that’s filling your head.

DOWNLOAD THIS: A printable tip sheet to bust through an obstacle

Next week: The surprising benefits of getting organized
Last week: What do you do when the system stops working?

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