Tool #10: Ask, What CAN I Do Now?
This is an edited excerpt from Ease: Strategies to Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy” by Eileen Chadnick. Reprinted with permission of author. All rights reserved. Ease is available from most major online book retailers. See more at www.Easerx.com
Estimated reading time: about 3 minutes
So you’ve practised many of the strategies in your toolbox, such as chunking down your mountains into smaller-sized tasks, and you’ve done your best to organize yourself so that you are more in control of your schedule and workload. And you know the difference between your inner critic and your voice of reason.
And yet, oh dear, you still find yourself in a moment of Stucksville and frustration. Oh, what to do?
The Story at a Glance
We all have those moments of feeling stuck.
I certainly have had my share, even as recently as writing this book. I had been in the midst of my busiest work season of the year. Without diving into all the details, let’s just say that one week was particularly frenzied, and I felt overloaded, to say the least. I had queued up some time to work on my book, but trying to write was a nonstarter that day. I couldn’t get a proper thought out, and worse, my frustration was compounded by a feeling that I didn’t have enough time to put in the effort and writing time I felt I needed to move this project forward.
But thankfully, I recognize when I am in that mindset and have tools to draw on. The key is to choose the right tool at the right time. I knew I needed two things: first, to be in action to get out of my moment of “brain stuck” (in this case, writer’s block), and second, to alleviate the frustration of not having enough time to do more.
So I went to one of my favourite big little ideas that always serves me well. Like many of the other ideas presented, this is incredibly simple yet works powerfully.
I simply asked myself, “What can I do now?”
The minute I brought that question into my consciousness, I immediately shifted into a more productive and more abundant state. Rather than focusing on what I couldn’t tackle (for all the various reasons), I chose bits that I could do right now. This gave me a sense of empowerment and control and put me into action momentum. Bit by bit, this appreciative approach of focusing on what I could do defrosted my brain freeze, enabling me to carry on. It also relieved me of the burden of feeling that I was not doing enough.
This type of question completely refocuses the brain on possibility and away from the perspectives of impossibility, limitations, and chaos. It also brings you into the present and gives you a sense of some control and choice in the now. This is a brain-friendly benefit because one of the conditions for optimizing the prefrontal cortex is to feel we have choice and empowerment. When those elements are threatened, our PFC (prefrontal cortex) functions become compromised.
In some ways, this idea is similar to the strategy of chunking down large tasks in the previous tool (“Climb Your Mountains”) because it helps get you started. But this particular tool also has the benefit of freeing you from the feeling of constraint or limitation that creates a threat signal to the brain. Rather than shutting down your brain, you feel an expansion of possibility and resourcefulness.
Sometimes we need to hold particular questions in a special place because we can use them over and over again; they warrant the title of “powerful questions”—or “power tools,” in my vocabulary.
“What can I do now?” is that kind of question.
Kudos for this powerfully worded question goes to Kim George,1 a fellow coach, author of Coaching into Greatness,2 and founder of the Abundance Intelligence Institute®.3 Kim put a luminous spotlight on this question in her work on Abundance Intelligence®. I participated in one of her advanced coach-training programs many years ago, and among other gems, I found this particular question extraordinarily useful.
Kim says this question is framed from an abundant mindset. Conversely, when we are feeling stuck and frustrated, we are likely operating from a scarcity mindset, where we default to a limiting perspective that focuses on what we can’t do and all the reasons why we can’t do something.
Keep this question close by at all times, and when feeling stuck, frustrated, or as if you do not have enough time or resources, ask, “What can I do?”
Make It Work for You
- Develop a structure for remembering this question. It’s easy to forget which question to ask when we are in a tailspin of doubt, fear, and other limiting beliefs. So find a way to keep this question (and any others you find particularly useful) accessible so that you can draw on it at any given moment. Perhaps you can create a poster, photo, illustration, or quote in your work area (remember how the brain loves visuals and metaphors) or a daily reminder in your calendar when you know you will be under big loads.
- When work and life are extraordinarily hectic and time is seemingly scarce, create a practice of asking this question daily. Whether you ask this at the beginning of the day or at some other time during the day, create the intention of asking it regularly so that it becomes more automatic and easily accessible than its counterpart (“Why can’t I …?”). Repetitive practice creates new neuropaths in the brain, and eventually, asking this question will become more of a habit.
The next tool will expand on the power of questions. Any question that opens you up to greater possibility is a good question. This one—“What can you do now?”—just happens to be one of my favourites!
When you feel stuck or frustrated with constrained time, asking this simple question can be the lever to get you unstuck and open up your heart, brain, and mind.
- You will be able to focus your mind on the present and on possibility.
- You will know you can right-size your actions for the situation, and you will have a sense of efficacy and accomplishment.
- You will reduce the brain threat associated with feeling as if you have no control and will put yourself back on the path to empowerment.
- You will experience self-trust, respecting your capacity for that moment in time.
About the Author: Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is Author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of ‘Crazy Busy’. She is a certified executive and leadership coach; a communications pro (20+ years of experience) and principal of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications in Toronto. Eileen draws from the science of positivity, leadership, neuroscience, emotional intelligence – and Conversational Intelligence®(C‐IQ®) in her work as a coach, consultant, trusted advisor, and facilitator.