When Trying Harder Doesn’t Help
The worst thing forward-facing leaders face is not making progress – feeling stuck. The solution for most is trying harder.
Stepping on the gas feels right, but it’s wrong, when there’s no traction. Spinning your wheels, when you’re stuck, results in more stuck.
The problem isn’t getting stuck. The problem is trying harder after you are.
Trying harder makes stuck worse.
Working harder, when things aren’t working, drains, frustrates, and distracts.
- Welcome, don’t resist. Pretending you’re not stuck, when you are, makes stuck worse. You’ll never get out.
- Stop spinning. Expend less energy, not more. Desperation drives in circles.
- Investigate more. Challenge methods, assumptions, and beliefs that got you stuck in the first place.
- Try differently. Stuck is a leader’s best opportunity for exponential change.
Stop trying harder, when frustration persists and disappointment prevails. Identify recurring frustrations. Look beyond spinning wheels and slimy mud. Examine the path that led to the swamp.
- Look within, not without. Blame says, “It’s not my fault,” but, if you persistently feel stuck, who’s responsible? You’ll stay stuck until you change. Learned helplessness doesn’t help.
- How did you get here?
- What behaviors cause recurring disappointment?
- What beliefs and decisions landed you in this muck hole?
You try too hard and persist too long because doing defines you. When doing determines identity, you have nothing when you stop. Circumstances are distractions when you’ve been stuck a long time.
The ultimate question is, “Who am I,” when you face persistent frustrations and recurring disappointment. The ultimate challenge is looking within.
Getting unstuck, when frustration prevails, is about who you are, not trying harder. It’s a dangerous lie to believe trying harder solves persistent frustration.
What do you do when you feel stuck?
.. the familiar, the comfortable and past success are such a strong magnet ..:)
Ken, so glad you added “past success” to this conversation. Success seduces some to believe doing the same thing will continue working. Powerful.
Sort of like speeding up when you are going the wrong direction. great analogy i needed this morning thanks!
Love that illustration… I know I speed up when I’m lost. Somehow I think it will help be get “unlost” sooner. But all it does it get me more lost. Thanks
But I am really making great time speeding up!
Haha agreed! And i love wasting tires while I’m sstuck!!!! Its logical
I completely agree.When a storm is blowing it is better to lie on the ground and let it blow over than to wrestle with it and get blown over.
Great illustration. Sometimes we should lie down rather than stand up. What a challenge?
Great expansion on the idea of working “smarter not harder, ” particularly, to your point, when harder seems easier. Really thought provoking. Thanks!
Thanks Marcia…we might even consider not working at all for awhile.
Love your blog Dan- thank-you for all the nuggets of wisdom you share. I love this one- reminds me that if you can’t find a solution, then you need to change the problem. In this brilliant metaphor story then what if the truck is stuck but not the person- changing the problem would give the person far more options if on the outside of the problem.
Keep up the good work Dan
Thanks Pauline… Redefining problems is powerful. So glad you added it. Sometimes we are solving the wrong problem…
Even thinking of stuck as our greatest opportunity for change is a way many of us could redefine the problem.
What a great post. “Expend less energy, not more.” I’ve been pondering a fairly recent lesson: Leadership is about being, not about doing. That’s also being framed for me by a Tony Robbins comment that ‘we all behave in ways consistent with who we believe we are’. It starts from being, not doing, but my workload has been so ridiculous for so long that I keep getting mired in doing doing doing to the end result many days of forgetting about just being. My challenge now is as you say to look within. I believe I’m up for the challenge. Thanks Dan.
Best wishes on the journey!
One of my favorite quotes is “Leadership is a matter of how to be not how to do.” By Francis Hesselbein. When I first got into leading, and form many many years I thought leading was about techniques and methods. It took me years to understand it’s about who we are.
Great stuff today Dan!
I find it MIRACULOUS to be stuck!!!!!!!!!!!
Means a new way is waiting on me when I open my mind to finding it. Then be willing to take ACTION with the new strategy. Then I got another tool in the toolbox.
The ease and comfort of familiarity is a familiar foe! When the paradigm shifts all bets are off! Grow or GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I once again recommend, Simon Sinek, Bob Chapman, Peter Diamandis, Frank Kern, The AA Big Book(just substitute people places and things where you read alcohol and it will make sense to you and you can see where you qualify with your humaness). Any of you sampled any of this stuff? All free on YouTube! What you got to lose checking them out? And AA Big Book free on the internet!
Or you could just puff up your own ego and say what does that guy think he knows and all his stuff is whooey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stay stuck,get stucker(is that a word?) I am not, knock yourself out trying the same old stuff over and over. I used to do the same so I understand. All I am suggesting is sample and THEN give an opinion. First things first!
One last thing that has helped me immeasurably.
Be investigative, curious to sample NEW STUFF!. Before having my ego obliterated and hitting bottom and admitting complete human, spiritual defeat, BEFORE I was very judgemental BEFORE I sampled ANYTHING! You resemble that? Whoopsie!!!!!!!!!!
Then I asked for my Higher Powers help and he/she came back STRONG! Try the new info I will lay on you through other people and books and ideas, NOW VIDEOS(Hint Hint) BEFORE you judge if has any significance to you, DUMMY!!!!!! Yeah HP talks pretty matter of factly with me. Happens when you have a really open and cool relationship with him/her!
Empty your cup so new stuff can have a place, Grasshoppa!!!!!!
Favorite quote….”There is a principle bar none which is proof against all arguments that is guaranteed to keep a man in everlasting ignorance, that principle is contempt prior to investigation” Herbert Spencer AA Big Book appendix to a Spiritual Experience.
Teach yourself to look at stuck as a MIRACULOUS opportunity to open your mind and find something new you never knew before!
Highly suggest it, just my opinion, might not work for you, working wonderfully for me. Take what you like and leave the rest but sample so you know if you like new stuff and if it has any value for you.You don’t know the temp of the water till you stick your toe in it!!!!!
The Dude Abides!
Shifterp OUT to Flourish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks Scott… love the intesity of “MIRACULOUS opportunity.” That’s a powerful way to rethink and redefine.
Frankly, we haven’t lived until we’ve been good and stuck.
Have a great weekend
Cool, I say we have not lived till we Boldly go where we have never gone before!
Watched videos we have never seen, read books we have never read, met people we never met before, TAKEN NEW ACTIONS we have never taken!
When it is time for my last breath, I want to be all used up! If that happens it will be so COOL!!!!!!!!!!!! hehe
This is a great and timely piece for me, Dan. I love the image of the person walking at night who hears an echo. Each step he takes, another can be heard! Is someone following him? When he speeds up, the other steps speed up! Frantically, he sprints to his car. But he can’t outrun his own echo.
The most powerful thing for me in this time of frustration in my life has been remaining calm and slowing down. I frequently stop to “look around”. If I walk with my head down, eyes focused only on the next step, I won’t see the dead end coming!
Thanks for your transparency, Justin.
Love the illustration. The problem with trying to escape is we are still there. Somehow we have to learn to turn and face the beast within.
For me, leadership was fragmented until it became integrated with who I am.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan. I’ve heard it said that we can’t get out of a tough situation until we learn what it was meant to teach us. For Christian leaders, the Book of James is a great study in finding joy and growth in and through adversity.
Echo that, Justin. Just finished a study on James, and it teaches so much on dealing with adversity; helps with the “why me” part. Thanks.
Did you walk through the Beth Moore study, Cathy? I haven’t, but my wife is LOVING it– the book is accompanied by an optional video series.
Justin heard once I can’t think my way into right action.
Have to act my way into right thinking.
Act differently, don’t look.
Agree with Dan your candor is cool.
Thanks, Scott. I appreciate you bringing that advice to my attention; you’re right! Movement sometimes creates that energy we need to get in the right mindset and out of a funk. Just have to make sure I’m not standing in quick sand and making it worse haha!
It’s great to see you regularly joining the conversation here, Scott. I enjoy your input.
You are most welcome and thanks and have a great weekend!!
Back to actions I see paradigms needin shifting everywhere!!!! Hehe
Absolutely agree, Dan. Refocusing is key, yet when we are caught in the drama of our “stuckness,” finding that alternative point of view can be hard to do alone. That’s where having a coach or a learning partner can really help. As Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” A coach can help open up a new level of awareness and a path to change. Your blog is a great door-opener in that process, so thank you!
Leaders can be so “driven” that even when they are stuck, they continue to try to drive through it . . . keep going in the same direction . . . even put the pedal to the metal harder (“it’s worked for me before, so maybe if I just give it more gas, that’s all it will take”).
It’s almost counter-intuitive for a forward-looking, gung-ho leader in such situations to Stop. Back off the accelerator. Admit that this time the same old approach is not moving things forward. Then ask himself/herself, “How can I approach this differently?” (It may even require backing up — a little ways at least.)
I play professional soccer, so being stuck can make times really difficult if it results in lack of playing time and/or confidence/comfort on the field.
I find that it is sometimes important to back off and step away from the field at certain times and mix things up a bit. Rather than heading to the field to kill myself doing extra training, there are times when I prefer to do a non-soccer-related workout or just do something that isn’t sport-related at all to try to free my mind, have some fun and take my mind off this feeling of being stuck. Finding enjoyment during times of stuck can make a big change in my mindset when I step on the field again.
Thanks for bringing up a futbol analogy Ryan. An attacker with the ball is a magnet for moving into being stuck. Defenders (potential stickers) all swarm toward you because you are beginning to disturb their calm (Firefly). You will get stuck if you push too hard and be closed down. What to do, create negative space, pass back, pass square, but pass. Creating a negative space (open space) allows you to see more options to continue. How many potential stickers do we encounter on a daily basis, especially if we are pushing for a change or improvement. Getting those stickers join in to help pull is always of benefit too.
When I feel stuck I ask for help. Sometimes it is easy to do and other times it is hard, especially when I feel as though I have failed. It is difficult to remember that getting stuck is part of any difficult journey. Asking for help by cashing in on some of my trusted relationships has helped me in the past. Thanks for the perspective.
Dan I can align with your look within approach, still I also do look outside too. Not in blame, but in ‘what did WE do’ to get stuck AND what can we learn from it. Organizational stuckness is not a Lone Ranger proposition (and he did have Tonto anyway).
Being stuck in the muck is such an opportunity waiting to unfold or as SP noted, a miraculous moment. In quicksand, the more you struggle the more you sink…so go with the flow, which is slow and slow yourself down, take stock, look for new options that your blinders prevented you from seeing before you went headlong into the muck. With 20/20 hindsight, bet you actually even saw the stuckness on the horizon, but opted to ignore. That can be done introspectively or even as root cause review as a group.
Final thought, feeling stuck is not necessarily being stuck…but there certainly may be handwriting on the wall there…
LOL Dan apparently, judging by my current situation, what I do when I feel stuck (job-wise) is “nothing.” For that reason I love this post, it almost brought me to tears, and I find it motivational. No surprise that my word of the year is “direction.” Being as it’s almost the halfway point of the year, perhaps I should revisit! http://biggreenpen.com/2012/12/30/2013-getting-out-of-the-box/
So true, sometimes you just have to pull back and BREATHE
This blog clearly delineates what we do when we are stuck. We tend to push harder believing that we will ameliorate or solve the problem completely, whereas it doesn’t solve the problem. It is better to know how you get there, and then take shrewd measures that are productive.
It is hard for leaders to “be” leaders without knowing who they are to begin with. No matter whether a leader in the home, within a group of line workers, or in the executive room. This is the difference between position and action. I like that you point out the fact that action doesn’t always have to be ongoing but that good leaders know when and how to act and when to take a step back, re-evaluate, allow others to take the lead for a while, or a whole list of things.
Dan, you conistently deliver and illustrate the underlying message that all leadership starts with yourself, and having the courage to be honest about what I need to change and do differently. Especially if I want my team or family to follow. Thank you.
“The problem isn’t getting stuck. The problem is trying harder after you are. Trying harder makes stuck worse.”
Often, this is true; very often the minor variation “… Trying harder wastes effort without benefit.” is true. I would still caution against generalisation, seeing that there are many other cases where trying harder or keeping at it _is_ the right way to go. (This is the more likely to be the case the easier or more physical a certain problem is; however, it can also apply to somewhat more complex issues, e.g. through building a critical mass of customers or surviving a temporary economic slump.)
My advice would be “If method A has failed to give results, step back and _think_ about the issue, investigate alternate methods, reconsider priorities—and then make a decision on what to do next.” (where the “next” part could be more of method A, method A with clever modifications, the completely new method B, abandoning the problem altogether, ….)
Dan, I just recently began following your blog and have, in just a week, learned more and gotten more useful information that I have gotten anywhere prior. Excellent, work. Please keep at it!
This posting of your made an impact in me. Now I am asking different questions to myself. Thanks for adding everyday value to us.
VS KUMAR .PCC
Take my foot off the pedal, switch off the car engine, come out of the car, take a different perspective from outside and scan the external environment for creative solutions to get the car out of the rut! Thanks, Dan. A timely reminder not to keep banging one’s head at the wall.
That’s a great expansion on the “stuck vehicle” analogy, Albert! And I agree: I too needed this this morning!
do not be nervous and begin to solve the problem 🙂
Looking at the whole situation in a better ,wider and out of the box perspective. Unwind , relax and have a good sleep, then start all over so as to solve the problem. Sometimes it just does not need one to do anything about it. Actually it is going with the flow!