A lot of men feel stuck. It doesn't matter how or where--it could be in their marriage or romance, as fathers, their job and career, or maybe with their own sense of mission.
I hear it all the time.
It's incredibly unsettling, isn't it? Up or down? This way or that way? Door one or door two?
This happens, especially in times of decision making. Unless you're someone who has committed to never taking significant steps in your life, and limiting yourself to the mundane hell of playing it safe--you've been here. Gridlock.
If I were to diagnose Gridlock in a man's life I'd be looking for three characteristics.
One: The Myth of Trying Harder
In George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" the horse named Boxer was always saying, "I'll do better." or "I'll try harder." or "I can do more." Guess what, his efforts didn't improve anything. In fact things continued to degenerate even though Boxer kept giving his all.
If you've ever been in a crumby marriage or relationship you know exactly what I mean. You keep trying harder and harder to change your partner. Or adapt your behavior to theirs. Or do something to please them. Guess what? It's a tread mill, and you know it!
This hamster wheel is really powered by an assumption about success. This point of view assumes that technique, and effort, are what win the day. It incorrectly believes that failure is the result of lack of hard work, and a lack of proper information or data.
Its easy to see that this is false. The Beatles were a force unlike any other in music, but there were scads of bands that had better technique and worked just as hard, if not harder. Where are those bands now? Literally, who knows? Or, how many times have I heard spouses describe the demise of their marriage, concluding with "We did everything we could."? The image that comes up for me here is of an eddy or a whirlpool in a river--lots of action, but not much real movement.
Two: The Myth of Answers
I remember a moment in my life when a girl had broken my heart and I couldn't get over it. She had dumped me and I couldn't understand why. The break up had been brief, come in the form of a hasty note, and left me torn up. I just kept repeating: "I need closure--if I just know why, then I'll be able to move on!" You know what my buddy said? He told me that I wouldn't move on. I would simply have more questions to feel upset about. Today, I can't agree with him more. Rather than try and work to understand what was going on for the ex-girlfriend I should have worked on, and focused on, my own development.
Innovation happens when we shift the information that's really important. The answers that we needed so desperately become irrelevant.
When we are concerned about finding the right answers we fail to realize that this is usually part of the obsessive problem in the first place. Because the problem isn't intellectual, its emotional.
Often in my past work with chronically suicidal clients they would require massive amounts of data to prove, up front, that this treatment would work or was effective. At first I would play into that, placating it. I would give them stats, data, and loads of pamphlets. Eventually, I figured out that this was a trap. In the end I'd say, "Don't believe me. Just try. Then see." Their need answers for answers was a barrier to actually dealing with the situation at hand.
Three: The Myth of Either/Or Thinking
These days its everywhere: all or nothing thinking. Good/Bad, black/white, and all other forms of non-dialectic thought. Things that are simply differences of opinion get chalked up to character statements, intense-oppositional, commitments to labeling the other perspective.
Whenever I hear someone launch into a diatribe about the evil-ness or good-ness of almost anything I silently assume an emotional process is at work. Whenever differences polarize us there is almost always a maladaptive loop that contributes to the failure to validate the other side of things.
Recently a buddy of mine went to a well known couples seminar. He told me that rather than try and fix the problems or reduce the differences in each other, the goal of the seminar was to help people become less reactive to those things. What do you mean not fix the problems? What do you mean tolerate the difference rather than pummel the hell out of the "other"?
Either/Or thinking is a kind of blindness, in which options rapidly disappear because we become locked into a self-confirming loop. From this position, even when approached with new data we begin to interpret it in ways that justify our pre-existing perspective. If a real challenge is brought, we tend to dismiss it instantly.
Each of these myths contribute to the inability to imagine options. Trying harder with a fix-it mentality, relentlessly needing more information and answers, or dualistic thinking are three obvious factors that let us know when we're stuck in Gridlock. The great news is as we unwind each of these--even if we're only pretending or going through the motions--it allows for a new capacity of creativity.
What do you think? Is that you? Can you identify these elements in your life?