Here’s an easy fix to social awkwardness — reading! A recent study found that participants assigned short excerpts of literary fiction scored consistently high on tests measuring empathy or social intelligence. The theory is that literary fiction gets you to imagine the thoughts and emotions of complex characters — which exercises and strengthens your empathy muscles, boosting your ability to navigate real relationships in the real world.
You’re on a roll. The ideas, the words, the pictures: They’re dangling right in front of you, and you won’t be satisfied until you’ve plucked every last one, even if it means staying till midnight. But if you put on the brakes around 8 p.m., while you’re still in the creative flow, you’ll return the next day refreshed and full of momentum. Think of it as breaking through a creative block before you have one.
Thanks to Lisa Mulhardt of SYPartners for this tip.
You can download the free Unstuck iPad app here.
Stuck moment: Oh wow. I didn’t realize that people in the office stopped asking me to play tennis because I take the fun out of it by correcting and analyzing their game. I just thought I was being helpful. I wish someone had told me.
We all have blind spots, little behavioral lapses we aren’t aware of. Often they’re small and seem unimportant to mention — for example, an inability to take a compliment, which can make others feel awkward, too; or a self-appointed role as Emily Post, which paints everyone (except us) as gauche; or a tendency to always naysay, which we think is being helpfully realistic, but can be a killer weed to others’ hopes.
Whatever our foibles are, we mean well. And the people who really know us — especially those who love us — know we mean well, too. Which is why they find it hard to tell us when we may have a habit in the range of mildly inappropriate to annoying. So no one lets us know when a particular behavior might be getting in our way. It’s like we’ve all signed some bro code or social contract that requires us to pat each other on the back, celebrate all that’s positive about each other, and stay quiet about the rest.
But sometimes a small tweak can open up big possibilities. So why not lean on a trusted inner circle to help us see our blind spots and illuminate a fresh perspective that just might help us get unstuck?
Here’s some advice on how to start.
Prepare yourself to get even better
The ego is a sensitive thing. Getting someone’s two cents on where we have room to improve can make us feel inadequate — and that’s the greatest sticking point to giving and receiving meaningful feedback.
Job 1: Recognize that it’s okay to have flaws, and to give ourselves the go-ahead to look them straight on. Embrace the following:
• Admit that no one’s perfect. Everyone has different areas to work on. Everyone. Our willingness to discover and address those areas is how we make life better.
• Separate judgment of behavior from judgment of self. Maybe you have a bawdy wit that gets you in trouble at your in-laws, or a zealous enthusiasm for sharing chapter-by-chapter Games of Thrones knowledge which puts a damper on office lunches (particularly mid-season!). There’s nothing inherently wrong with your wit or your enthusiasm. It’s just that particular behavior in that particular context that gets you stuck.
• Put yourself in others’ shoes. If feedback makes you uncomfortable, consider that the behavior in question might discomfit someone in a way you didn’t intend. Try to drop your defenses and shift your perspective from victimhood to responsibility.
• Compete with yourself, not with the crowd. The only person that’s really watching you — and whose judgment really matters — is you. Don’t get distracted by what anyone else is up to.
Pick your people
Shaka Senghor, who shared his story of transformation from angry young man with a rap sheet to published writer and neighborhood changemaker, emphasizes how important it is to build a circle of people who keep you honest. You don’t want yes men or anyone whose idea of comfort is to embrace victimhood. You also don’t want to be overwhelmed with negativity.
We know we can always count on a treasured few (your mom, your brother, a childhood BFF) to give it to us straight, but soliciting feedback from people outside that select set can be tricky. We only need one or two members to add to our feedback posse, however. Use these tips to help you pick your most effective circle:
• Work from a foundation of trust and shared principles. Someone who has your back is someone who understands your priorities and will help you stick to them with feedback that’s thoughtful and personal.
• Count on people with the confidence to say the unpopular thing and who know that your relationship can withstand it, perhaps even thrive from it.
• Make use of people’s strengths. When there’s credibility behind the advice — whether earned by life experience or formal training — you’ll hear it differently, and your friends will be flattered you’ve asked them. For example, it might be smart to get career coaching from someone’s whose career trajectory you admire.
• And yet, sometimes the best feedback comes from people who have earned insights the hard way: through struggling, failing, and trying again. They may not have it all figured out, but compassion and a capacity to reflect on missteps go a long way. For example, if you’re having relationship problems, maybe it’s better to approach a single friend who is thoughtful about her own romantic issues rather than a glowing newlywed.
Set the stage for conversation
A feedback circle is most effective when you create an open channel for those you trust to offer constructive criticism whenever you need it to get unstuck — sometimes, even before you know that you’re stuck. You’re giving them a blank check to always have your back.
But the first feedback conversation is the hardest to initiate. Before you approach your friend for a one-on-one over dinner or coffee, set some ground rules for yourself:
• Be clear about boundaries, both your own and others. If you feel that someone’s comments cross a personal boundary of trust, be honest about it.
• Avoid asking for feedback when you’re angry, depressed, or feel like you hate the world. Everything your friend says will be shaded by that negative emotion. And that’s not fair to them, nor to ourselves.
• Know when you’re venting, and when you want advice and say it out loud. If you have a reputation as a venter, people might assume that you don’t truly want feedback.
• Be upfront about why you’re soliciting advice. What do you want? What are you stuck on? How are you feeling about it? How will the feedback help you? Who else is involved? If you’re not sure, the Unstuck app can help you surface the answers to many of these questions.
• Once you’ve given someone permission to offer you advice, don’t fence them in. They’re on your team; trust them to be sensitive and respectful. (And if you can’t trust them to do that, maybe choose someone else to talk with.)
Make the feedback count
Now it’s all about framing the feedback in a way that’s most useful to you. Here are some strategies:
• Lead with a discussion of what you’re already doing well before requesting feedback on where there’s room to improve. This keeps the tone of the conversation positive, and also keeps the focus on how to build on your strengths and not how to tear you down. This approach comes from the animation world, where it’s called “plussing.”
• Context is everything. Ask whether a behavior is inappropriate in all contexts, or just one in particular. A quirky fashion sense might have to be muted at work, for example, but be a wonderful source of inspiration to your friends.
• If you hear something that you don’t agree with, try to avoid an immediate defensive reaction, such as, “You just don’t get it.” Say: “That’s something I need to think about a little more” and do so when you’re alone. Consider it from your friend’s perspective.
• Ask for feedback that breaks things down to particular actions and behavior, with examples. Feedback that focuses just on outcomes (i.e. “You didn’t get the promotion because you’re too shy!”) doesn’t give you enough to build on. What exactly about your shyness is holding you back?
• Do NOT ask for gossip about yourself. There’s a reason that you’re requesting feedback from a person you trust — whose opinion is so much more valuable than noise from the peanut gallery could ever be.
Once you’ve digested the feedback, you’ll start to notice behaviors and reactions in yourself and others that you were blind to before. This is great progress! And it’s the opportunity to start adjusting your behavior. But please be patient with yourself. Habits are difficult to change, but not insurmountable. It takes practice.
Next week: Nine original stories about dealing with disrespect
Last week: How to find your missing motivation
The biggest sign that we’re acting like a Deflated Doer is when we stop caring as much about doing our best. It feels pretty rotten. What used to inspire us can’t compete with an overwhelming sense of futility. We’re unmotivated. Just going through the motions.
But for every stuck moment, there is a way to move forward — guaranteed. For Deflated Doers, it’s about seeing the situation in a new way. What way? you ask. That depends, we answer.
There are four kinds of Deflated Doers (take our mini-quiz to discover your tendency).
• Discouraged Doers are puzzled that their driving enthusiasm has landed them on the sideline instead of the finish line. They need to take stock of the reality of the situation.
• Detached Doers have distanced themselves from others, and that outsider feeling leaves them less inclined to give their all. They need to figure out a more engaging role for themselves.
• Defensive Doers are self-protective to the degree where very little of the good stuff penetrates their shields of safety. They need to open their eyes and minds to positive possibilities.
• Deluged Doers are overcome with so much responsibility that they‘d like to wash their hands of it all. They need to focus on the moment rather than anticipate the future.
We’ve put together a Motivation Boosters Worksheet that offers a perspective-shifting exercise for each type. But you don’t have to swim just in your own lane. Try any of the activities that sound like they’ll give you a spark.
DOWNLOAD THIS: A printable worksheet to boost your motivation
Stuck moment: Your motivation has gone missing. It was here just the other day, helping you dig in, think bigger, and high-five with everyone. But now, well, you’re feeling kind of flat about things. Take it or leave it. What does it matter, anyway?
These are the telltale signs of a Deflated Doer — the once-and-future go-getter who needs to get re-stoked. Like most things human, there is more than one path to this point. And how you got there determines how you get unstuck.
To zero in on your deflated moments, take our mini-quiz below to find out what kind of Deflated Doer you tend to be, plus the approach that will best help kick you into gear again. We’ll follow up next week with exercises tailored for each type of Doer.
Think of a time when you lost your motivation for something that you usually enjoy. It helps to have a specific instance in mind. What did you Feel, Think, and Do? Pick one answer from each group. This works best when you answer quickly, following your gut instinct.
What did you Feel when you were unmotivated?
C. Lack of control
What did you Think when you were unmotivated?
A. I’ve done the best I can…
B. Why do people only listen to themselves?
C. I’m not sure any good can come out of this.
D. I don’t know how I can handle all of it.
What did you Do when you were unmotivated?
A. Rewind the situation again and again in your head, looking for fault.
B. Wait for someone to ask your advice on the matter.
C. Quietly go about your business so no one asks how you’re feeling.
D. Start to question if it’s worth the effort.
If you chose mostly A answers, read about Discouraged Doers, below. Mostly B’s, you’re likely a Detached Doer. C’s are Defensive Doers, and D’s are Deluged Doers. If you had a mix of letters, you’re a hybrid, which means you’ll find parts of yourself in all four types.
A. Discouraged Doer. We brim with enthusiasm — it’s one of our most attractive qualities. People want to be near us, know us, and follow our forward drive. But somewhere on the road of progress, there was a wrong turn, and now we’re feeling sidelined and a little confused. We’re not sure what stopped our hopes in their tracks.
You need to see things for what they are so you can turn it around. Goals are great; they getting us moving. But sometimes, if ours aren’t working in concert with the world around us, we get derailed for what seems like no fault of our own. That’s when we need to zoom out and look at the whole picture so we can see our role in it. This helps us adjust our expectations and actions.
B. Detached Doer. We definitely have smarts on our side, with an uncanny ability to see straight through to the solution. Everyone who knows us says so. But what they may not say to our face is that a hint of no-one’s-listening or a smarty-pants attitude can block the camaraderie that is necessary to fully enjoy success. What might have been a ticker tape parade becomes a party for one, dining on pride.
You need to believe that you fit into something bigger than yourself. Sometimes our means of expression (whether our voices are big or small) can unintentionally back us into a corner, isolating us from the meaty stuff everyone else is doing. We may have better ideas, but few are asking. And that’s a shame. If only we were more inviting of others’ ideas, we might learn something and build our fan base.
C. Defensive Doer. We’ve got it under control. Been there, done that, no one has to worry. Too bad our steady-Eddy reliability wears an invisible cloak that deflects the growth that comes from change. Okay, we may never scale new heights, but at least we won’t get hurt trying. So why are we feeling let down?
You need to think in a new way so you can take the good along with the bad. Despite all of our efficiency and know-how, deep down we’re feeling pretty powerless about our situation. Things haven’t exactly panned out — and we’re not all that surprised. But we didn’t expect the sting of disappoint to get through our armor. This is a good time to widen our lens to let in positive possibilities.
D. Deluged Doer. We had a very good plan, maybe even a perfect one. The payoff exceeded the tradeoffs, and we started off with a gung-ho approach. Then it all became too much. Instead of pulling our weight, we’re cowering under the load. Somebody, make it stop, please!
You need to see differently so anticipation doesn’t stop you in your tracks. Being able to see things coming down the road is a talent that keeps us ahead of the game. But when we have too many balls in the air, our vision get muddled, and we tend to shut down. That’s when we’re better off chunking our ambitions into bite-size pieces.
PRINTABLE TIP CARD #20: What kind of Deflated Doer are you?
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