Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Stuck: 10 questions to break a mindset. A strange conversation with a stranger, Post 2

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”―Socrates

As I was driving home, with the strange conversation about “stretch”  resonating in my mind and the strangely delicious flavor of the German Chocolate Cake flavored coffee waking up my taste buds, I started to think about “stretch” and it’s evil twin sister “stuck”.  Why don’t we try the new things that we keep thinking about?

As my mind wandered over the new things that I often consider, I could already hear the reactions: What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s a waste of money? What if you fail? What if others see you fail? Wow, I realized: It didn’t take long to squash the stretch.

It’s not the first time those mindsets have raised their ugly heads. I have been stuck on these things a long time. Maybe it was time to push a little harder.

I figure there are some common questions to be asked. I hope these are reasonable and useful questions for you as well. Of course, I have a few specific “new things I often consider” in mind (e.g., donating blood, organizing a trip to Paris, and yoga). Don’t judge―yours will be different and that’s okay.

I react differently to the questions depending on the particular “thing,” but they usually fall into a few obvious categories. As noted below, each reaction is either a negative (don’t do it) or positive (do it). I also discovered that some reactions are “louder” for me than others. This is interesting and they are big clues. My “loud” reactions are shown as [UPPER CASE]. I don’t have reactions to all the questions and I figure that’s okay too.

So think about something you have considered doing, something that would be a stretch, that would put you outside your comfort zone, and consider the following questions:

1. What if I don’t have all the information? What if I get part way and don’t know what to do next?

 – I will be vulnerable

+ I will figure it out

 2. What if I can’t do it? What if I fail [FAIL] or quit [QUIT]?

– I will be dissatisfied with my incompetence

– I will have to face some hard truths

– I may have to give up a dream

– I will disappoint others

– I won’t know when to quit

+ I’ll know that and I can decide to move on or prepare for a second attempt

+ I’ll be that much better prepared for a second attempt

+ I will be liberated from thinking about that as a dilemma again

+ I can create a new dream

3. What if others see me fail?

– I will be embarrassed

– Their opinion of me may fall

+ They might admire my courage

4. What if I never try?

– I won’t have the rewards of succeeding

– I’ll never know if it was worth it

– I’ll never experience the victory of overcoming that challenge

– I’ll set a poor example for my children

– I might regret not trying

+ I’ll never fail or quit [QUIT]

+ I’ll not be embarrassed

5. What will I gain just by trying?

 6. What will I gain by succeeding?

 7. What if I never do (accomplish) it?

 8. What would I gain by failing?

 9. What if I do it and it wasn’t worth it?

– I will have wasted [WASTE] precious time and money

– I will have missed other opportunities

+ I will know that and I can move on

 10. If I knew I could do it, would I?

This is the killer question for me.

If the answer to this is “yes,” then all of the others fall into place.


This is an incomplete list of course and, as such, it is exemplary. It’s uncomfortable to face such questions. Many times there are emotions behind the resistance.

I am reading “More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World” (1), which I strongly recommend to you, and I am sure these posts are influenced by Nancy Kline’s amazing work. You’ll have to take my word on it that I read the following sections after writing the questions and reactions above:

  • “But actually, you may ask, who is afraid? Everyone. Everywhere. You are afraid. Everyone around you is afraid. Most decisions, including the big organizational ones, emerge from fear.”
  • “And what are we afraid of? Surprisingly, not so much the obvious, like death, or shootings, or bankruptcy, or cancer. But quieter things. Things like failure. Like humiliation. Like being wasted. Like exclusions. Like having no dreams. Things that rip up dignity.”
  • “Fear is so prevalent and so forbidden that it eats away at our thinking much of the time.”

No wonder we get very comfortable in the status quo—being “stuck” is comfortable in many ways. We know what that scenario is like—we have learned how to control elements of that world.

“Stretch” represents the unknown. We become vulnerable. There is ambiguity and the outcomes can be unpredictable.

In fact, if considering these questions is not uncomfortable then maybe you are not pushing hard enough.

Did you come up with more questions? Please share in the comments section.

Creating safe options

Maybe it is a defense mechanism to consider risk in terms of right/wrong, good/bad. That sets up the negatives as so huge that it makes good sense to hesitate, even to decline.

When we break the questions down we can calibrate better and sometimes “ah has” can emerge. As Kline goes on to say, “…we need to build Incisive Questions to remove the fear and replace it with sound, sensible, scintillating thinking.” Sounds good.

All of this can open us up to taking one step forward (e.g., finding out the process for donating blood, or perhaps trying one yoga class).

Individual courage and persistence

I know that trying to reason with mindsets is like fishing―just when you feel a nibble on the hook and a little weight, that tricky fish slips away. And, just like fishing, you really have to go where the fish are and keep at it.

On the larger field of organizational change

Much of the time these are the questions that play in the background of change, like elevator music that we hear but don’t really listen to.

What if we tuned in to these struggles that people face when we change their jobs (by asking them to learn new skills or think about their priorities differently while we are concurrently doing a work force reduction)? In other words, where there is much more at risk than considering a yoga class―would we be more compassionate, more supportive?


(1)    “More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World,” Nancy Kline, Fisher King Publishing, England, 2009. Page 77.

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