5 Questions to Ask When You're Banging Your Head Against a Wall

I was sitting at my desk and noticed a large fly buzzing around my office.  Annoying me, actually.  But I moved from frustration to empathy as I watched him zoom into the window again and again and again.  It was as though he thought he could get outside through the pane of glass if he just kept trying. So he did keep trying.  Again and again and again.  Same results every time.  Buzz, buzz, buzz, bam!  buzz, buzz, buzz, bam!  By now, I would've had a serious concussion.  But he just kept on slamming himself into the glass window.  Same results.

My empathy turned to judgment when I realized the larger reality---had the fly turned around 180 degrees and flown out my open door on the other side of the room, he would have successfully made it to freedom outside.  But he never made that discovery because he was intent on continuing to try flying through the closed window pane.


And so true about many of us.  We sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep on doing something a little bit harder, and a little bit longer, we'll get the results we're looking for.  Instead of changing strategies by first evaluating our current strategy that clearly isn't working, we insist on simply doing more of the same thing but with greater energy.

What was Albert Einstein's statement?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

So let me suggest five questions to ask to help you avoid the metaphorical concussion from this kind of insanity.  Whatever it is you're wanting to accomplish, you can use these questions to evaluate your current strategy to lead you to a more successful outcome.

1.  Is what you're doing working? 

This is basic.  But not always simple.  You have to be brutally honest with yourself.  You might have some personal stake in your current strategy that makes it more difficult to give up.

If I find myself locked into a particular step even when I'm not making progress, I immediately look at what I have a stake that is keeping me from adapting.  It's most often my own ego---I want to convince myself and others than I know what I'm doing or that I'm good at what I do and can be a success.

So put your ego aside and answer that question---is what you're doing working?

2.  Is your current strategy moving you incrementally forward so that you simply need to keep doing it? 

Maybe you're wanting a bigger forward momentum than you should expect right now.  If so, and you are making small progress, you can keep working it.

One of my top 10 strengths is Focus---it's the capacity to zero in on something and stay with it until it gets done.  The upside for me is that this is a lot of how I Execute my steps forward.  It helps me keep working to accomplish my goal.

The downside is that it at times keeps me, like the fly, slamming my head against the window unnecessarily.

So one of my wiser strategies is to call on my Strategic strength (#1 for me) and let it inform me about the reality of what I'm doing---is it working or not?  Is there a better, more effective alternative path forward?  If so, do the 180 degree pivot, pay the necessary cost, and go for the open door.

3.  Have you done all you can through your current strategy? 

If yes, than stop it, adapt, pivot, look for another open door, and move forward.  If no, then ask, are there more ways I can use my current strategy that I haven't considered yet?  Explore other possibilities your current strategy might work with.

I've discovered that sometimes it's the 100th turn of the flywheel (as Jim Collins puts it) that moves it to a self-sustaining momentum.  So had I stopped too early, I would have missed the forward energy of my current strategy.

Knowing when to stop or keep going is the key.  And that's often difficult on our own.  So ...

4.  Do you have trusted and experienced people who can give you perspective and wisdom on what strategic options there might be for your goals?

I'm learning more and more the wisdom of surrounding myself with knowledgeable, experienced, and wise people who have been on the path longer than I have or whose experience and intuition I trust.

I'm learning how to be more comfortable asking for what I want and need (rather than expecting others to read my mind, or thinking that I need to be the all-wise, super-omni-competent professional).

So I have a circle of people that are my go-to's when I need perspective.  I begin with my wife Shasta who's one of the most accomplished, wise, intuitive, skilled people I know.  I belong to a Mastermind group of experienced and competent people whose wisdom and intuition I trust and admire.  I have regular conversations with my prayer and accountability partner who shares significant perspective and history with me.  I have several friends whose judgment and views on life and the world frame things in transformational ways for me.

I have learned that I cannot do successful living and working without others' input.  If I can't see the window pane (for whatever reason) and keep banging my head against the glass, my trusted others most likely can see this insanity and they can help redirect my energies to a much more strategic and successful direction and strategy.

5.  Are you developing and utilizing a 360 degree vision?

The fly's problem was that it's vision was limited to what was in front of it.  Unfortunately, the only thing it was looking at was the closed window.  Because its vision was limited, it missed the open door 180 degrees from the window.

I often do 360 degree evaluations with clients.  It's a process of getting feedback from important people in their lives that surround them.  They get significant information from a 360 degree view that they don't have on their own.

What might you be missing by focusing in only one direction?  Try something next time you're feeling stuck.  Stand up, look in one direction, close your eyes, and think of an alternative possibility.  Then turn 90 degrees, look and observe what's there, close your eyes, and think of another possibility.  Do that for 360 degrees.  The actual moving of your body in a circle, stopping to think, observe, evaluate, provides a powerful opportunity to refocus your brain in 360 degree terms.  You just might see something you've been overlooking.

So don't miss a strategic alternative because you're facing only one direction.  Don't be like the fly and miss the open door.


Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in coaching for how to be an effective culture architect in your groups? Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.