A Step-by-Step Process for When GRRRRR You’re Stuck

(Note: RFL generally runs about a page. Today it’s about 2 pages; not as quick a read, as it required more explanation.  Next week, I expect to return to shorter pieces, but I hope you find value in this one.)

Last week, I wrote about those “Grrrrr, what do I do?” moments, where inner frustration keeps you from choosing and moving.  I wrote metaphorically about how you might think about turning heat into light. My suggestion was that it helps if you can slow down to see the inner feelings that are bumping against each other (i.e., creating friction and heat) and canceling out conviction and movement.  Instead of heat, bring light.  I asked if it would help if I wrote a more detailed process to bring that light, and a few people said, “yes, please.”

I will offer one method.  I think it will appeal especially to those who are Feeling types in the Myers-Briggs schema, those who are highly relational, focused on harmony, empathy, well-being.  If, you tend to be more the rational type — a Thinker in the Myers-Briggs schema — then the cognitive method from the work of positive psychologist Martin Seligman may suit you better; here’s a link to a good summary of one of his processes. I’d love to hear your feedback whichever approach you follow. Here’s my step-by-step for when you’re grrrr, stuck:

  1. Identify the grrrr situation. Some example might be:
  • Looking back, you’re mad at yourself about not doing something well enough.
  • At the moment, you are torn about a decision you have to make; no choices seem right.
  • You feel like you need to do something new, but you can’t seem to move forward.
  • You need to confront someone, but continue to avoid it.
  • You’ve put yourself in a situation that you should have known doesn’t work for you, but you are having a hard time extricating yourself.

2.  Get out a clean sheet of paper (or text screen).

3.  At the top, summarize the options you seem to have. You may feel you don’t have (m)any choice(s), or only have an all-or-nothing.  That’s fine for now.  Don’t try to figure out what you need to do at this point.

4.  Now, below the choices, instead of making a list of pro’s and con’s or ideas, make a list of your voices or characters.  You might imagine that you’re seated at the head of a conference table and there are different players from within your mind who have feelings as well as opinions, and are (more or less) ready to be heard.  I would recommend you begin by writing down these three voices/characters that most of us have:

  • The moralist (known by the voice, “I should”):
  • The prosecutor (known by the voice, “Why did X do that to me?”):
  • The inner critic (known by the voice, “You’re going to mess this up (again)”:

It’s especially helpful if you can also include basic emotions as characters at this table; for example, these three are usually helpful:

  • Fear (that…):
  • Sadness (that…):
  • Anger (that…):

5. Now, for each of these inner characters or emotions, your job — from the head of the table — is to inquire with kindness and curiosity about each one of their positions. So, where I put a colon “:” after each character, I now want to “play that character” and explain that character’s view.  Meanwhile, as you listen from the head of that conference table your receptivity is what turns heat into light.  As you write, e.g., the view of the “prosecutor” or “inner critic,” your job at the head of the table is to “get it.”  Just what is making each character angry, sad, or afraid? Just what do they think you “should have” done and why they feel that way? What are they criticizing you for? Be exhaustive with each character.  And, from the head of the table, “get it!” There IS good reason for our mixed feelings, our inner characters that represent different and conflicting parts of us.

6. Now, from the head of the table, read each character’s statements one more time. And do three things:

A. Appreciate that part! You might say, “Thanks for letting me know why you are afraid/sad/angry (or self-critical or prosecutorial).” If it feels more comfortable, you could say or write: “I’ve got it.  I get why I feel afraid/sad/angry, or critical of others and myself.”  Our inner voices are like people at the table who at least want their view to be heard and appreciated.

B. See where you really want to incorporate these views. You may say, for instance, “I can see why I feel sad about this,” “and (not “but”) I need to move forward, because I can’t change that past.” Or, “I am angry that X put me in this situation, and at the right time I may need to tell them. I have every reason to be pissed, yet right now I need to move in another direction.” Or, you might say to your inner critic, “Thanks for letting me know that I should never have put myself in this situation. I’ll try to remember that in the future. AND, now I need to adjust and advance (so if you have advice now do let me know).”

C. Look for win-wins.  For example, your inner critic may think your harshness may hurt someone’s feelings, and you can now see this – having heard that voice – and see it as a valid criticism. Yet you may need to move forward anyways, AND you can communicate it in the kindest way you can so as not to seem harsh. Or, you may thank your Fear voice that says, “don’t confront the boss, because s/he could get angry,” and then you may look for ways to take action while reducing that genuine risk of managerial retribution.  As you can see, the more clearly you can hear out your inner characters and their reservations, the more you may create alternatives that incorporate their wisdom.

D. Tell those voices that you’ll keep listening. You need to make a move, but it’s all learning, and you’ll keep checking in.

When you are leading other people at a conference table, what they really want is to be heard, to have their views appreciated, and to be given some explanation about what you are going to do.  The internal group is no different.  So, whether you’re leading outside or leading your inner characters, leadership necessitates vigilant inclusion” through the means of kind and curious listening.

Let me know any questions or your experience turning heat into light, as you

Lead with your best self!

  • Thank you for these ideas. I find them both helpful and powerful in sorting out feelings and moving ahead.
    Keep up the good work Dan.

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