September 28, 2009

A Game for Facing Down the Wolf at the Door

Close scrutiny will show that most “crisis situations” are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are. — Maxwell Maltz

It’s 3:36 in the morning, and there you are. Wide awake. Staring at the ceiling.

The wolf is at the door. Now what?

Here’s “now what”: Get up, get something (non-alcoholic) to drink, sit down with pen and paper, and get ready to play, “Just the Facts, Man.”

Rule One is to remember that thoughts are not real. As Byron Katie says, the worst thing that will happen to you is only a thoughts. Repeat that a couple of times: Thoughts are not real. They’re stories. That means you can use them to your advantage rather than choose to let them make you crazy.

Rule Two is that ungrounded, subjective statements about your situation are not allowed. “I’m going to lose the house” is an ungrounded statement — it is not a fact. “I have more expenses than I have income” is a grounded statement. See the difference?

Rule Three is that the question “How?” is not allowed. As Peter Block puts it, the answer to How is Yes.

Got it? Good. Here’s how to play “Just the Facts, Man”:

  1. On a piece of paper write, “What sensations am I feeling now?” Then list each physical sensation you’re feeling. Be specific. Examples: My neck feels tight. The sides of my head toward the back feel tense and achy. My upper back aches right between the shoulder blades. My eyes feel dry.

    When done, set this piece of paper aside and proceed to Step 2.

  2. On another piece of paper write, “What are the facts of mysituation?” Then make grounded statements about the situationyou’re in. Turn each of your worst-case thoughts into grounded observations.

    Continuing with the example from Rule Two, a grounded statement might be, “I have more expenses than I have income.” While acknowledging the fact may generate feelings of discomfort, it’s the truth and not a made up future like, “Oh, no, I’m going to lose the house.” Of course, it might be that you are in a situation that calls for tough decisions.

    Let’s say your bank has foreclosed on your home. The ungrounded observation: “I’m losing my house.” The grounded observation: “I must leave this house and find another place to live.”

    When done, set this piece of paper aside and proceed to Step 3.

  3. At the top of another piece of paper write, “The things that could happen are…” and list the possible outcomes of your situation, from best-case to worst-case. Again, make grounded observations rather than apocalyptic statements. “We’ll be homeless and hungry” is not only an ungrounded observation, but it does not actually happen to those who choose action over acquiescence.

    Once again, set this page aside and proceed to Step 4.

  4. Retrieve your facts list from Step 2. Now it’s time to create options and decide upon multiple courses of action. “But what if I fail?” is a useless question. The truth is, if you want to get out of a tough situation, you’re going to have to make many attempts to do so. Some attempts will succeed and others won’t. Double your failure rate — or even triple it — if you want things to change more quickly.

    For example, suppose one fact is, “I have more expenses than I have income.” There are two option questions here: “What can I do to reduce my expenses?” and “What can I do to increase income?” Be thorough and creative. It’s often helpful to do this exercise with someone you trust.

    For each option you create ask, “What actions must I take to bring this option into reality?” Refine your list to identify the steps you must take if, for example, you want to reduce expenses by $1000 in the next 30 days. Break the actions down until you know what you must do today to start making it happen.

There are always options that yield continued positive existence. You must decide whether you’re going to lead a life of fantasy or truth. You must choose between action and acquiescence, between doing nothing and creating options.

The very act of identifying options gives you control over your life. You have no control over outcomes, and you certainly have no control over the consequences you’re getting now from choices you made in the past.

When the wolf is at the door, surviving and thriving is all about identifying options and taking creative action.

Perhaps it’s time to whip up a little wolf stew. Got any carrots?

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