Here is the full transcript of executive coach and consultant Dr. Lani Nelson Zlupko’s TEDx Talk: Staying Stuck or Moving Forward @ TEDxWilmington conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Staying stuck or moving forward by Dr. Lani Nelson Zlupko @ TEDxWilmington
Dr. Lani Nelson Zlupko – Executive Coach & Consultant
People come to see me when they have problems. These could be problems of personal problem; it could be a family problem; it could be a career challenge. Or it could be an organizational crisis.
But they come to see me when they haven’t been able to figure out how to get past this problem on their own. The good news is I absolutely love helping people get past problems.
The key is moving past a problem doesn’t mean we get to a place where we pretend it never happened. If we do this right, moving past a problem means that we are more strong, more whole, more the person we were ever meant to be than before the problem happened.
There have been some key shifts in the art and science of helping people over the last 30 years. And I want to share those insights with you.
Let’s begin with two different people, two very different problems. And I want you to see if you can figure out why they’re stuck and how they can move forward.
Let’s take Deborah. Deborah is very discouraged. She has the same problem every day. She starts her morning with the mommy pledge. Perhaps you know the mommy pledge. It goes like this: I’m not going to yell at these kids today, right?
But Deborah sees her kids as very difficult. They refuse to eat what she serves for breakfast. They won’t wear the clothes that she sets out. And when it comes time to get in the car seats, these kids are kicking and screaming.
So her day becomes not only a physical battle but a verbal battle. And inevitably she loses her patience. She drops her filter and she starts screaming things that she knows are harmful to her kids. She says things, like “Why are you so bad?” “And what kind of monsters are you?” “Kids your age shouldn’t act that way”, and “I can’t stand you.”
Well, she puts the kids to bed and the tears start. She says to herself: “What’s wrong with me? What kind of monster screams at her own kids? And why are my kids so bad?”
Well, let’s take a look at Keith. Keith is a hard-working professional, shows up everyday, ready for work. He’s smart, he’s diligent. He likes his coworkers, he’s a team player. But for the third year in a row, Keith has been overlooked for a promotion. And this year, his company is experiencing deep layoffs.
So Keith says, “My situation has gone from being frustrating to now I’m really afraid.” He asks me what if my boss doesn’t see my value? What if I get let go in the next round of layoffs? What’s going to happen to my home and my family?
A key feature of people who remain stuck is that they are using a problem-focused lens. They are asking problem-focused questions — questions like what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them? What’s going to happen if things go badly?
You know, what happens when we ask problem-focused questions? We get problem-focused answers. We know this from research, right, researcher bias.
If you ask me why you have problems, I might just go digging around in your life and figure all the things you’re doing that are contributing to you having that problem. I might even go digging back into your childhood and think of all the different complications that you have that have led you having this problem.
And while this might be very informative, what we’re going to find out is why you’re stuck, right? This — we run two risks here.
The first is you’re going to over-identify with your problem. By the way this problem might be an epidemic, right, not so unique to you.
And secondly, perhaps more problematically is this is going to shed very very little light on how to move past it.
What’s more? We now know from a variety of fields of research over the last three decades that talking about a problem for too long, not only isn’t helpful, it’s harmful. Across different spectrums we’ve learned this.
Now it’s absolutely true that if we’re going to get past a problem we have to start by talking about it. We have to name it out loud. We have to say the words and we need to get validated. We need to feel heard and understood. That is the crucial first step.
However there is a point of diminishing returns. We might call this in neuroscience wiring neurons associated with negative events, right. We might say from behavioral science that we are now conditioning and emphasizing the very behaviors we wish we were diminishing.
We might say biochemically that we are just firing negative bio-chemicals in our bodies and marinating in them. Not only is that harmful to you, but if you understand interpersonal neural chemistry, that’s not helpful to anybody around you.
More compelling than this is that we have learned, if you’ve got the privilege to study large populations of people suffering from a wide array of problems, and you try to look for the single greatest predictor of who’s going to suffer long-term dysfunction as a result of experiencing any one problem, too often what you’re going to find it isn’t even related to the problem itself. It’s related to who stays stuck and who moves forward.