Hitting the Wall (and Finding a next step)

By Paul R. Scheele Ph.D. | Learn

There are times when resources are depleted, when we are out of time or options, and desperation sets in. Physically, during a marathon it’s called “hitting the wall” when the muscles have burned all available energy sources (carbohydrate sugar stored in the form of glycogen) and they seize up. During a business life-cycle, we “hit the wall” mentally and emotionally when we must keep going but nothing we are doing gets us to the goals that will keep our enterprise or projects going.

This moment of hitting the wall is our “the disorienting dilemma.”

From Certainty to “Death”

When nothing seems to be working, we naturally fall back on our past practices, certain that if we just do more, harder, faster, eventually we’ll succeed. Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Helplessness, showed that certainty leads to frustration and helplessness, when we have run out of options to effectuate a change.

Depression is a natural physiological and emotional result, akin to seizing up. At that point our only option is to quit or die (literally or metaphorically) to get out of the unworkable situation.

From Confusion to Excellence

When faced with a disorienting dilemma, it is time for a major shift. Confusion, a feeling of not knowing what to do next, is a good place to begin. Frustration is not helpful. Being confused is a paradoxical moment that we must stand in, embrace, and tolerate long enough to get curious instead of stuck.

Curiosity naturally leads to positive learning behaviors. Move into creative heresy and outrageous thinking that invites never-before-considered possibilities. Actions that flow from this mental and emotional release are the stories of breakthrough that fill business books and biographies of the greats in every field. The stories of “excellence” in business all have a thread that connects back to facing a disorienting dilemma and finding unexpected new options.

The required critical shift is an emotional and mental move that takes us from certainty to confusion. It is okay to not know what your next move will be. Key to making the shift is to enter the “beginner’s mind,” and letting a higher order of thinking and feeling to kick in. If we realize the resources we seek are not “out there,” they are “in here,” then we naturally drop into a place of resourcefulness within. That’s where the true breakthroughs in life reside.

Action Step
Embracing paradox and increasing your tolerance of ambiguity are two “learning to learn” skills that are essential for the life-long learner. What you have learned so far has brought you to your successes today. The successes you desire lie in what you have yet to learn.

Develop the habit of welcoming confusion and getting curious. Invite dialogue with trusted colleagues and ask, “What is the question we are not asking ourselves, and what’s the best answer to it?”

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© Paul R. Scheele, Ph.D. | Scheele Learning Systems | All Rights Reserved