Create Momentum When You're Stuck in the Middle
There is no shortage of advice for visionaries, entrepreneurs and managers who want to start something. And there’s plenty of conventional wisdom to help you know when it is time to call it quits and move on.
But where are the resources for the times when you might really need the help -- when that startup or project bogs down and you're stuck in the middle?
The grueling middle ground crops up when what was new and exciting starts to feel stale, when the annoying habits of collaborators begin to outshine their potential contributions and when good ideas to get things done stop flowing. These cloudy days cause a person to question the value of the pursuit and the chance at success.
Whether you’re completely stalled out or just limping toward the finish line with no purpose and pace, here are six strategies to help you jump-start your progress.
1. Elevate the honesty.
Sometimes a new level of truth telling is the medicine you need. In your own internal considerations and in dialogue with others, sharpen the language used and identify the types of observations that might be hard to hear but needed.
Always separate the person from the problem to avoid unnecessary bruises and gain the courage for healthy confrontation from Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull's warning: “Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.”
2. Drop something heavy.
The motivational drain from a nagging, unfinished task can spread like wildfire to other areas. If you’re carrying around dead weight that's not essential, set it aside or drop it altogether. This will clear out the bottleneck and free your capacity for handling other vital pursuits.
You can always return to this activity when you regain momentum, but the freedom from the initial release can be the bump in energy you need to get going again.
3. Return to the core.
Think about this: Why did you take on the initiative in the first place? If you don’t have a compelling answer to this question, then it’s no wonder you’re all turned around.
Returning to the fundamental cause or inspiration can shake off rust and complacency. So before you abandon an effort, revisit the essential reasons and rally yourself around them to get going again.
4. Seek outside perspectives.
A fresh perspective can reveal some missing insight. To leverage these useful vantage points, sometimes you have to go outside your circle.
While it’s counterintuitive, competitors often make the best thought partners. If you can bring diverse stakeholders together and ask the right questions, then finding the answers can be easy. With a new perspective you can create what regarded Wharton professor Katherine Milkman has called the fresh-start effect -- a virtual clean slate that eliminates what got you stuck in the first place.
5. Shuffle the deck.
When you are stuck in the middle, sometimes you just need to change things up. Whether rotating team members, making subtle shifts in roles or adjusting the flow of how work gets done, fix the mix to escape the funk. The inertia of what isn’t working will carry on until you disrupt that status quo. So a quick shuffle of the deck can be the jump-start you need.
6. Tap champions.
When you’re stuck in the middle, look for support from people who have been where you’re going. You can gain traction through listening to their stories and insights about the very same things that hold you back. To tap into the wisdom of your champions, reach out and boldly ask for what you need. Once you connect, absorb their experience to make them your own so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
What you’re doing right now might have been right for yesterday, but if you’re stuck in the middle, then you need to do something different today. You do not have to implement all six of these strategies to get moving. Just pick one and it can jump-start your progress.
Once you start moving, the critical momentum shift actually lies with something internal. Changing your inner outlook from "stuck in the middle" to simply "not there yet" fortifies what innovative researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck has described as the growth mindset, which is the key ingredient for channeling persistent effort into achievement.
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