One of my favorite books when I was growing up was “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” With the stroke of a purple crayon, Harold designs the life he imagines. When he wants to go for a walk, he draws a moonlit path. When he’s hungry, he draws himself a lunch. When he becomes scared of his own illustrated dragon, he creates an ocean and a sailboat to escape just in time.
Harold uses his creative thinking to escape from life’s corners that constrain him.
People with big vision often find themselves painted into a corner. We set upon our path, often underestimating or unaware of the obstacles that may get in our way of progress. Or, we over-commit, and find ourselves completely overwhelmed with what we have promised to others. Wouldn’t it be great if we could draw ourselves an ocean and a sailboat, and simply sail away to a far-away land?
We can’t do that, but when our backs are up against the wall, we can create additional paths to lead us out of our corners. We can transform our corners into a doorway.
Here are 4 strategies I use to get myself out of the corners I’ve painted myself into:
1: Admit to the Over-Commit. Are you prone to over-scheduling? This happens when we haven’t clearly defined our priorities, and when we forget that “NO” is a complete sentence. I coach several business owners who have had difficulty focusing in on their priorities, which leads them to saying yes to too many commitments that don’t align with their goals. We work with a system designed specifically to align weekly tasks to goals, and we only work with a few goals at a time. Each week, I hold them accountable for those specific goals and tasks, and “force” them to say NO to non-essential commitments.
2: Think Differently. One of my favorite business books is “Decisive” by Dan Heath. So often, we narrow our decision-making process to two options. Only 29% of organizations look at more than two options (yes or no alternatives) when making decisions. The “whether-or-not” mindset limits our ability to look at creative options. Objectively evaluate your sticky situation, and brainstorm options to help you get through it. Think “and” instead of “or.” Enlist others for new ideas since fresh perspectives usually provide the best solutions. To quote a very smart colleague, “It’s hard to see the complete picture when you’re in the frame.”
3: Ask for Help. Can you delegate any of the tasks related to your obligations? Or perhaps offload a commitment entirely to someone else? “Delegating and elevating” is an essential strategy for busy leaders who are trying to get out of day-to-day activities. Admitting we’re in over our head and need help is often the only way we’ll get it.
4: Suck it Up for the Short-Term – Then Change. Admit you’ve painted yourself into a corner and deal with it. A close friend of mine is a very successful executive coach. She planted a lot of seeds for some high-potential coaching programs over the last 18 months, and now they are all sprouting at once. She’s completely over-committed. She asked for advice on how she can “keep this pace.” The answer is that she can’t. She’s going to crash and burn if she doesn’t correct her course. To quote one of my closest, longest-time advisors who is helping me build out my 3-year life plan, “If running a mile takes 7 minutes, and you try to do it in 4, you get hurt, fail, and then can’t even run the 7 minute mile you could the day before.” He’s helping me pace myself in a healthy way so that I can actually meet my goals. However, there are times when we have to endure a grueling pace to get to the other side. When this happens, acknowledge it – but plan a recharge. Knowing that relief is in sight can help us manage the pressure.
Everyone finds themselves painted into a corner at one time or another. The important thing is that we learn from our situation, and put safeguards in place to ensure we deliver on our promises, stay healthy, and minimize the chances of it happening again.
So to recap:
1. Admit to the over-commit.
2. Think differently.
3. Ask for help.
4. Plan a re-charge.
Life’s a marathon – not a sprint!