How do we move past a stuck stage?

Circuit breaker has ended and Singapore is moving into Phase 2 of re-opening of resuming activities safely. With Phase 2, physical retail stores, gyms, wellness businesses can resume operations. Groups of up to five people are allowed to dine-in at F&B spaces.

As we return to a new normalcy, what would you be doing come Friday 19 June?

The secrets to a complaint

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Whether we like it or not, things are not going to be the same.

With the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s forecast published in March, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat suggested that this may be the worst economic contraction since Singapore’s independence.

In many sense, our plans and goals for this year would have to change.

So, if you are complaining about how things could be better, that’s great news. Because things could indeed be better.

Do you realise we only complain about “could be better” when the circumstances around what we desire are challenging but we still have hope that they could improve.

In that sense, a complaint in itself highlights:

• An opportunity for change
• What matters to you
• You still have hope

Isn’t it beautiful?

What is the most difficult situation you’ve faced?

Most people get stuck because of the negative narratives that are always repeating in their heads.

You know, it’s the “I don’t know how” situation.

Sometimes it’s the “I just cannot lah”.

These are not inherently bad narratives but if they are the only stories you tell yourself, you’re probably in trouble.

The good news is that you have options. You’ve been stuck before in the past and you did manage to unstuck yourself.

• Can you recall the last time you were in a similar trapped situation?
• What happened then?
• What was helpful at getting you out of it?
• Where did you find the help and resources you need to facilitate that transition?

Take a few minutes to work through these questions.

What did you find?

In an earlier post about what is coaching, I shared that your awareness works like a flashlight in a dark room – where you direct your beam to is what you will see or find.

It’s easy for us to get focused on the problem or the limitations of our situation – cannot lah, tak boleh.

But what if you were to direct our attention to a past experience where things eventually worked out well?

What would you find?

Within that recollection, are you able to tease out your strengths and what it was you did that work well for you?

If so, could you focus on these narratives instead?

I wrote about my coaching conversation with a client who was stuck with her recovery because he didn’t know what to do. When I prompted further, he was able to list ten things that worked to his advantage. Some examples are:

• I am proactive at asking for help
• I know how to priorise tasks/activities that are important to me
• I am determined to learn/do my own research to have a good understanding of what I don’t know

It might not sound like much but these strengths – proactiveness, resourcefulness, prioritisation, determination – can be applied across any difficult encounters.

Even if they don’t directly lead you out of it, they could be a very good first step to changing the stories you’re telling yourself.

Imagine the difference it would make if you could shift from a “I don’t know” headspace to “I am resourceful” mindset.

No, I am not saying that you should just say positive things to yourself and make yourself feel good.

I am saying that sometimes we pay too much attention to what isn’t working and forgot to consider what works for us.

No, I am not asking you to make things up either. I am inviting you to try and see if you can look at things differently.

How did I liberate myself?

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I always ask coachees to pay attention to what is working or try to recollect what was working. Just because you are trying again doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch. If we know how close we are, we can just focus on closing the gap.

Remember, you’ve been here before. Maybe not in the exact same circumstances but we’ve all experienced helplessness, vulnerability, or being incapacitated at some point in our lives.

You got past that.

How?

If you are thinking of a single strategic move that turned your life downside up, I’ll like to invite you to move away from that for a few moments.

Because, more often than not, getting unstuck is not a miraculous overnight change.

It’s a step-by-step process that is interspersed with failures and setbacks.

There was probably plenty of 进一步, 退两步 (one step forwards, two steps back).

What else was there?

Creating eureka moments

Amidst all the struggles, you may recall a tipping point or a paradigm shift where the cloud of unknowing suddenly lifted.

In that moment, you knew exactly what it would take for you to find higher ground.

While eureka moments feel like random insights or inspirations, Harvard Business Review asserted that you could potentially change how you work to find your aha moment.

The article was based on the research The Incubation Effect: Hatching A Solution. According to the study, taking a break from from your work to complete an unrelated task before returning to your original work is helpful for boosting creativity and generating ideas.

The researchers think the divergent thinking one has to engage in during an unrelated task is significant at contributing to eureka moments.

It’s kinda interesting right?

It’s not about thinking about the problem. It’s not about wallowing in your emotions either.

It comes down to just doing something. Preferably not related to what you are trying to achieve.

It’s not at all intuitive.

You need to practise; even if it means failing

Now that we have established working on an unrelated task could be useful for you, what are the new skills you could pick up while you’re facilitating “distraction”?

I don’t know how true this is but Josh Kaufman says it takes only 20 hours to learn a new skill.

That works out to 40 minutes of practice time for a month.

If 20 hours is all you need to pick up a skill you genuinely need for a breakthrough, would you do it?

Toddlers would.

Kind of.

According to a 2012 study looking into how toddlers walk, the average infant takes 2368 steps and falls 17 times every HOUR!

To put that into perspective, the practice they accumulate in a day (assuming half of their waking hours is spent walking) would work out to 14,000 steps and 100 falls. That is 46 football fields or 4.2 kilometres!

It’s not always smooth sailing though, one of the infants in the study fell 69 times in an hour.

It takes practice. At some point, you would get from attempting to stand and fumbling around to being able to walk without falling.

Day by day.

Moment by moment.

Breath by moment.

Finding your first step

I could keep talking about what you should do or what works. However, that’s unlikely going to be enough reason for you to take action.

So, let’s negotiate.

What are you willing to do today — right now — that could bring you just a tiny bit closer to your goal?

N.B. I am not asking you about what would work or what would deliver result.

Based on the unique circumstances you are currently in, what is reasonable?

(According to your standards of course!)

There’s no denying that times are tough, the economy is fragile. Perhaps we, you and I both, have to take a step back from our expectations.

Your small step today may be a tenth or what it was a month ago.

Perhaps your goals would need to shift.

Are you flexible with your expectations? How willing are you to sacrifice? To do more for less?

Here is my action plan for you:

Step 1: Identify and recognise your capabilities and resources

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Asian Parents Be Like. Source: Reddit

If you find this hard, there’s no better time to work on it than now.

I do empathise that our entire teenage-to-young-adult life is centred upon that we are not good enough.

Just have a think about school exams. How many of us actually got perfect scores?

There’s tons of memes on social life criticising the Singapore kiasu culture where getting a 99/100 score is still room for improvement.

I hear you. The narratives we were given, and possibly now give ourselves, often come from a “I am not good enough” perspective.

All of these things aside, do you think being able to know what you are good at and learning to leverage on them will be helpful for you to break out of this plateau?

If so, are you willing to give this a shot?

Give yourself 15 minutes (or even an hour), a pen, and a blank sheet of paper. Start writing on whatever you think is your strengths.

It will probably take a bit of time to come up with your first one. But I promise you, you can get to ten.

Once you are done with that, consider what resources you have.

Time? Friends? Business network?

What can you tap into should you come to a point in time when you need it?

P.S. This exercise not about what you do not have!

Step 2: Set your goals, know what you want to build

It’s possible that you don’t really know what you are trying to achieve at this stage and that is okay.

Take the time to explore and consider:

• What is important to you?
• How would life be different if you were to achieve these important things?
• Based on your current understanding, what are the milestones you’d need to meet to bring you to those important things?
• What is the first step you can take to get started?

Goal clarification is more of a process rather than a box you want to check.

Once you start committing what you want on paper then questioning it, you’ll start to develop the awareness of what it is you’re after.

Remember, you can always use SMART goals.

Step 3: Match your current resources to what you want to build

I’ll tell you this right now: It is not going to be perfect.

It’s about using what you can find. It’s about learning what you are willing to sacrifice. It’s about having a deeper understanding of what is truly important. It’s about doing something.

It’s about getting started.

You should have already established the first step you can take earlier. Consider if you have enough to make it happen. If so, just do it.

If not, assume what you have is enough to get started and make the best version of it.

Like I said, it’s not going to be perfect.

Getting started is more important. Once you have started, you may want to consider what might be some of the best ways for you to recreate the good from the past into now.

You have overcome before.

Use your past working solutions to find new solutions and answers.

Step 4: Strip away the fat

This is a bit controversial because we buy into all things cute and pretty.

When you’re trying to unstuck yourself, you’re not exactly looking to get the crème de la crème at your first shot.

Just focus on being here and now – what do you have that is within a hand’s reach?

Can you do more with less?

Is going lean the new sexy?

Do we really need it to be perfect?

Step 5: Be kind to yourself

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I think we are so used to thinking we are not good enough but we don’t stop to appreciate the advantage we have in Singapore. How can we be kind and compassionate to ourselves while still waiting more? Souce: The Economist

I am so used to the negative narratives that I use on myself that I sometimes find self-compassion contrived.

“Jesse, I love you.”

Uhhh, no thanks.

But we still have to start somewhere right? Perhaps start with leaving unkindness to yourself for others.

When you catch yourself being derogatory or unnecessary harsh to yourself, congratulate yourself for noticing!

Then tell yourself that it’s okay. You are learning.

Honestly, we can be kind to ourselves because we deserve it.

Also, being self-kind and self-compassionate doesn’t have to be hedonism. It’s not always about feeling good or not suffering. It can also be because we thrive better when we are not operating in fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Nourishing yourself is not indulgence.

It’s preparing yourself for the long road ahead.


If you find yourself not ready to embrace Phase 2, complain to others what could be better.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to observe what is your opportunity for change.

If you are genuinely stuck and you don’t know what you need for your breakthrough, book an appointment with me via the form below. Let me facilitate the change you need to help yourself get past this.

Your Recovery Journey Begins Now

Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, chiropractor Jesse Cai founded Square One Active Recovery to deliver recovery goals in just 4 to 7 visits.

Not getting results from your chiropractor, TCM doctor or physiotherapist? Book an appointment to discover the difference the right care can make.

*We do not offer short-term pain solutions such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.

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