One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”
I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.
I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.
It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.
So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.
From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.
- Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
- Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
- If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?
Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.
It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.
As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.