Up against a deadline, feeling stressed about reaching the finish line, and wondering why nothing seems to be working—this is the moment we are least apt to step back and ask, “Is there another way to do this?” And yet, it is the very moment that considering a bit of flexibility may be just the right solution.
There are unlimited ways to solve a problem, to move a project forward, or to achieve our professional objectives. But comfort and habit keep us in a rut of doing the same things the same way, and alternative approaches become invisible to us. Neuroscientists have shown that our brains prefer repetition and automation because that takes less energy than carving a new path.
The more often you try something new, the easier it gets to find different ways around a challenge. And, while you don’t want to lose sight of where you are going as you experiment with new paths, trying different approaches can be fun, energizing, and ultimately more effective for achieving your goals and objectives. So take a leap and try something new—you may surprise yourself by getting to where you want to go more quickly and easily.
- Assess where you feel stuck. At the start of the day, take a moment to assess where you are stuck: which projects are not moving ahead and what feels like a challenge. Quickly note how you have been trying to work through each issue: head on, with partners, etc.
- Brainstorm ways to go around, under, or over your obstacles. Spend five minutes thinking about other ways to move forward each “stuck” project. Can someone else help? Will different rationales or methods be more persuasive? Then try one of these ideas.
- Practice flexibility. Each day, pick one project, meeting, or discussion, and try doing it a different way. Walk home a different way, have lunch somewhere new. Every time you step out of your routine, you create more neural plasticity, which can help you be more adaptable in stressful situations.