Ever Been Stuck?

Of course, you have been.

Charlie Brown got totally stuck when the little red-headed girl walked by. I don’t think he ever got unstuck!

Family Systems Theory considers three indicators of “stuckness.” The first indicator is like tire-spinning, the trying experience when you (or a committee) keep trying harder and predictably producing banal results. Trying to stand up is a lot more difficult than standing up.

A second stuckness is when one thinks in either/or categories, like “I win, you lose.” Binary belief systems produce teeter-totter relationships where if someone is “in” then the other is “out.” Reminds me of couples in conflict. Religions do binary thinking a lot, as do political parties. Makes quitters of even the most faithful. In marriage its called divorce.

The third stuckness is cramping answers into predictable questions, rather than recasting questions in fresh contexts and perspectives. “Business as usual” is all about this — thinking we know the questions, so our task, we figure, is to find answers that fit, rather than “appreciatively inquire.” (Appreciative Inquiry is a great way to focus on new questions.) Of course, its usually more about the question than the answer.

For more Family Systems Theory wisdom see, Edwin Friedman in “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” (pp. 40-46).

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I wrote this post in 2011 and I am updating it now because so many of my clients describe being unable to decide. How do you decide to marry, let alone who to marry? Stuckness in marital conflict is a recurring theme. New clients are signing up to do vocational assessment. What job works best for him or her? How does personality relate to occupation? What about call?

It is easy to get stuck and harder to get unstuck.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

Called to Move (David Ducklow)

As we look around at the world, we are encouraged to “do this,” “love that,” “be more” and “expect all our dreams to come true.” But once we have them, we no longer appreciate them as much as we did when they were simply desires.

Life can look greener on the other side of the fence, and our current realities never match up to them. How do we get out of this cycle? How can we take our desires captive, before they do this to us, and we experience an unexpected and inevitable calamity? The answer is: move.

This does not mean that we change vocations, associations or relations. But, as priest, professor, Henri Nouwen writes, we must listen to our call. “You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid [them], you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses” when we desire what we see, just beyond the fence.

The idea of living from a new place, while physically living in our present place is a challenge that is avoided by many. But those who attempt to make this move realize that heeding its call is exactly what is needed. Then we realize that moving was the best decision we could have ever made.

What does it mean to you to live out of a new place?

(David Ducklow, Spiritual Director / Chaplain)

“ACTing”: A Model for Community Change

I don’t write much about my consultation work on these pages, but I think that “ACTing” is relevant for all of us that are going through some transition. E.G., I am of the age to begin retiring and I have just left the graduate school where I taught for 7 years.

This is a simple paradigm I use in my work with business leaders, community workers and church leaders. I think it for my own changes as well.

A stands for adjustment. The lowest level of change is to tweak what is not going well and hope that this is sufficient. Organizations might create a new logo, or a college might write a document intended to educate about sexual harassment. Even the most modest adjustments are potentially harmful; they lead leaders into the illusion that they and their organizations have changed. Adjustments don’t make change – they stop change.

C stands for change. Every system has a culture that resists change. We love the misbelief that we got it right the first time. Changes in organization are costly, impactful, hopeful and troubling. In changes we discard what does not work and design what does. We might change leadership in an organization; for example change is to design a work-from-home policy for the purpose of valuing parenting and child care costs or the time wasted in commuting.

T stands for transformation. The location of macro change is when we fresh-think purpose, mission and “way in the world.” A church I was consulting with decided to move from a central structure (e.g. Sunday morning at 11 am) to a simpler model where the people were disbursed into multiple “simple churches” of 20-30 people that met at various times of the week in various homes, coffee shops and other public facilities. This transformational change produced radical results and most of them positive.

Here are some ACTing questions for you.

  1. In the changes you are making in your life, are you adjusting, changing or transforming? Think of your partnerships at work, your marriage, how you interact in your neighbourhood.
  2. Most people are intentionally working their bodies. They may hope to gain muscle mass (not me) or lose weight (that’s more like me), or develop new hobbies like mountain biking, etc. How are you approaching your changes?
  3. Imagine a conflict you have that has been eating you up for a while. What changes are you making? How is it working out?

ACTing is a made-up verb. You change when you are in the verb tense.

My New Anxiety Mantra

Anxiety manifests physically before your brain can figure out what’s going on. You might feel it in your gut or in your breathing. But watch yourself to see what happens with you.

Today I was doing supervision with a fellow psychologist and she asks 3 questions of herself when she is anxious. I think that I will try it with myself and I recommend it to you as well.

First question: “What am I anxious about?” and give yourself some time to figure it out. It might surprise you that it is not what you first think it is. If you think a bit deeper, you might find a thread of anxiety that runs throughout your emotional life. And it might not be the current circumstance or tension you are dealing with.

Second, “Whose problem is it?” Most anxious people take on the upset feelings of others in their emotional world (e.g. mothers, teachers, neighbourhood children…) and think it is theirs to worry about. Again, think it through and get to the truth.

And #3: “Is there anything I can do about it right now?” If not, let it go. At least until you figure you need to pick it up again.

Now I have a weird disclosure to make. I use the “Reminders” app on my MacBook to tell me when I should start to worry about something! When I put a time clock beside the thing I am anxious about, my iPhone gives me a ding to remind me to be anxious. I laugh when I see that I have reminded myself to worry. Weird isn’t it? Reduces my anxiety though.