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- On Making Friends & Partial Solutions
There are three main questions you can ask yourself for just about ANY issue that will help you get to what’s really going on.
This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
A little reminder that right now I’m sharing with you even shorter, more frequent episodes here than we usually do, to help remind us all of what’s good out in the world and that we’re not alone.
In this episode, I want to share with you a little tip I learned a few years ago when I started going to a life coach in my town to help me get unstuck with a few personal and professional conundrums I was trying to solve. Most of us are home all day with little social interaction (at least I hope that’s the case for you right now — except for you all doing essential work, which if that’s the case, again, thank you), and since we’ve been at this for several weeks now, you might be starting to climb the walls. Maybe you’ve got little kids surrounding you with their loud voices and sticky hands, or you’re in an apartment with no access to the outdoors, or you’re far away from people you desperately want to be with right now.
Now, let me just say right now that if you’re struggling with legit anxiety and depression, or in general you feel yourself genuinely spiraling out of control emotionally and you feel like you’re starting to lose hope, please consider teletherapy. There’s a number of good services out there, like Better Help, and I hear they’re fantastic. But if you’re just feeling in a daze, or lethargic, or lost, or just blah, you might want to consider a little thing called self-coaching. It’s not anything formal or official; it’s simply the idea of asking yourself some pointed questions that help you get the root of what’s really going on so that you can come up with your own solution that works for you in the moment. (Fun fact: the art of coaching specifically focuses on helping people find the answers they already have inside them, not giving advice or counseling — so, this is what you do when you work with a life coach, they just ask you the questions instead of yourself.)
And I’ve found in my experience of both being coached and going through life coaching certification that there are three main questions you can ask yourself for just about any issue that will help you get to what’s really going on. Here they are:
This question asks us to name the present, to acknowledge where we are today, and to notice the details. No judgment, no panic, no stress. It just asks us to name the place where we stand right now. So, in the case with us right now, your answer might be something like: “I’m in my home, a small 3-bedroom house in the suburbs with my 4 kids who are all out of school and starting sudden homeschooling, and my office is now the kitchen table because my place of work is now closed. I’ve got a work meeting over Zoom later, and the kids are being loud and crazy, so I’m having a hard time preparing my notes I need to present in this meeting.” It could also be broader if you’re not quite sure what specific issue is going on at the moment, but you know something’s off. So, “I’m quarantined at home because there’s a pandemic, and I’m an extravert who hasn’t had friend time in weeks. I feel like I could burst out of my skin because I’m just fidgety and cabin-fevered.”
Now, obviously for some of us right now, there can be a literal place we’d rather be — right now for me, that’s Maui or New Zealand. But I’m not really talking about geography in this case. Asking this question drums up a few possibilities and gives us permission to dream a little, or be honest about stuff, which helps us get clear on what’s just beyond the fog in front of us. Basically, this is an invitation to be honest with ourselves and give a name to the thing we want most right now — again, without judgment. We’re simply being honest with what’s already inside us.
So, your answer could be, “I just want some childcare so I can get a day’s worth of focused work done,” or “I really want the kids to be back in school,” or “I’d like to just go get a quick drink with a friend,” or, “I’m tired of all the kid movies we’ve been watching — I miss having a date night where we watch something we want to watch as adults.” It could be broader and more open-ended, like, ‘I want to be self-employed and out of this demanding job,” or, “I wish I was in a relationship right now,” or how about just simply, “I just want all this to be over.”
This is The Question, because by parking here, we’re inviting honest feedback and a gentle reality check. Again, this question doesn’t hold judgment, but it does ask us to get real about the thing behind the thing — what’s behind the curtain, after the bend in the road, or hiding under the clutter of our mind. And once you name what’s getting in the way, you can move forward with a healthy reality check, which leads to one of my favorite concepts, partial solutions.
So, let’s name what’s getting in the way. You might state the blatantly obvious for just about every one of us right now: “Well, a pandemic. Duh.” Fair enough. But that’s actually really helpful because then we can take it a step further and get specific. “Because we’re quarantined, I’m unable to go out and get drinks with my friend.” “We’re stuck at home, so the kids just aren’t in school,” or, “It’s unwise to have childcare come in because of social distancing.” Or how about, “This working-from-home lifestyle has made me realize how much I want to be my own boss, and fear of failing is getting in the way.” Or, “It’s out of my control for this pandemic to be over, so what’s getting in the way is other people and them needing to do their jobs to eradicate the virus.”
These answers can then lead us to the magic idea of partial solutions, which, if you’ve read my stuff or heard me talk for any length of time, you know I’m a big fan of this idea that my therapist taught me over a decade ago now. Instead of just throwing in the towel because things can’t be ideal, or perfect, look for the partial solution, the good-enough you can do right now, in the midst of whatever’s getting in the way. Instead of just saying, “Screw it, I guess nothing will go exactly how I want it, I’ll just stay in my pajamas for the fifth day in a row and binge-watch another series and eat my weight in junk food,” you can find your good-enough solution.
And this is where there are infinite solutions, far beyond the black-and-white results we prefer that taunt us in our thoughts. Since you can’t have childcare right now, what are some partial solutions? Well, you could maybe pay your oldest a few dollars an hour to come up with some sort of kids’ club for her younger siblings. Or, you can institute a new routine of a daily quiet time with an audiobook download, where everyone has to find something quiet to do while they listen and you try to cram in some work (spoiler alert: this one won’t be easy to do at first if this is new to your kids). Or maybe the partial solution goes the other direction — could you ask your boss to let someone else do the presentation prep, someone who maybe doesn’t have kids? Or since you can’t get a drink with a friend, could you set up a little Zoom chat? Or try a new routine of setting up the kids with their own movie in the living room, and you and your partner go to another part of the house to watch your own movie at the same time? Or if you’re going big here, maybe your partial solution is, Okay, once I’m done with my work for the day, I’m going to research my idea for a business, or I’m gonna take an online class to help me learn that thing I’ve always wanted to do.
None of these solutions are perfect, and some of them might be obvious You might even be doing this sort of thing at lightning speed throughout the day — coming up with good-enough solutions again and again again. But this is a reminder whenever you feel stuck, or overwhelmed, or like you’re in Groundhog Day and you’ve lost what day of the week it is. Be more intentional about this than you usually would. Maybe journal these 3 questions every day, or just put them on a sticky note on the fridge so you remember to stop and self-coach yourself when you’re SO tempted to just throw in the towel and give up on the day. Here they are again, as a reminder:
And then after you answer these questions, look for the partial solutions available to you, and pick the one you’re drawn to most. It won’t be perfect or ideal right now, but it’ll be good enough. And good enough is really good right now.
A little reminder that if you haven’t yet, to sign up for my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things, where I share 5 things I either created or loved from the week. Go to fivequickthings.email to sign up, and you’ll get the next weekly email that goes out on Friday mornings.
I’m on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider, and you can also find a transcript and the show notes of this episode, and all episodes, at thegoodlistshow.com.
And don’t forget to leave me a voicemail or send me a voice recording, telling me one thing you’re doing to stay sane during your quarantine and social distancing. Leave me a voicemail at (401) 684-GOOD, which goes directly to voicemail; or, simply record your voice and email the voice file to firstname.lastname@example.org. Just state your name and where you’re from, and what’s one thing helping you get through this right now. And we may feature it here on the show.
Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you in just a few days — thanks for listening to The Good List.