There is a leadership story that illustrates being trapped in repetitive tasks. The story goes like this:
There was a hermit who would cut enough wood each summer to heat his forest cabin through the winter. One day, he heard on his shortwave radio that an early winter storm was heading his way. He rushed to his woodpile.
Examining his dull and rusty saw, he realized that it needed sharpening. Worried about the approaching storm, however, he began to cut. As he worked, he noted that his saw was getting increasingly dull and that he was working harder and harder. He told himself repeatedly that he needed to stop and sharpen the saw, but he continued to cut. As the snow began to fall, he sat exhausted next to a sizable pile of uncut wood.
Isn’t this what many of us do, especially when the stakes are high, and you are focused on your fears? When problems arise, especially under time constraints and the need to perform, your fear can trigger a reactive/problem mindset and you get trapped in old, repetitive habits.
When under pressure, the pursuit of repetitive tasks becomes your comfort zone, justifying your old way of doing things. You tell yourself you are only reacting to the problem when it is your fearful emotions that have your attention. Your anxiety triggers the action—any action—rather than a thoughtful plan that can address the immediate challenge.
As you fixate on your fearful state, you work harder and harder in response to that anxiety, with little to show for it, except exhaustion and maybe even burn-out. Innovation and new ideas in this mindset are almost impossible.
Trapped in repetitive tasks can also fool you into thinking you are making progress. It is later, sometimes after many rounds of the “insanity” of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, that you realize it is your thinking that must change.
It takes courage to experiment with something different and “think about the way you think,” which is what the 1st Vital Question is all about.
The important first step that will help you break the trance of repetitive tasks is to ask: “What am I focusing on? Am I focusing on the problem and what I don’t want, or am I focusing on the outcome and what I do want?”
When you shift your mindset from problem to outcome, you immediately begin walking down a different path. The hermit did not pause to clarify the outcome he wanted. If he had, it might have sounded something like: “I want sufficient wood to keep me warm through the few days of this impending storm.”
An outcome mindset would help him calm down and understand he had time to “sharpen the saw,” since he only needed wood for the impending storm. By focusing on the storm (what he didn’t want), he got hooked by his fear and kept using his dull saw, even when he told himself he needed to stop.
Shifting your mindset lifts you off the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) and its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The hermit felt Persecuted by both the impending storm and the dull saw. As a Victim to those two Persecutors, he thought he was Rescuing himself by working harder. Locked in the problem focus, the hermit never transcended the DDT.
Over the next week, notice when you get stuck in the problem mindset or when you are engaged in repetitive tasks that are not producing the results you want.
And then pause and ask yourself: “What is the outcome I really want here?” That question will shift your focus to the outcome-focused Creator Orientation.