Help! I’ve Painted Myself Into a Corner!

I’m sure everyone here has heard the expression, “Painted myself into a corner.” The idea is supposed to be that you are in a place where you have no choice but to make a specific decision or perform a specific action, whether you want to or not.

Well, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now if you read this blog a lot, I really love quotes and anecdotes. And here’s another one; frequently when I am talking with someone who is convinced they have painted themselves in a corner, I see something different instead.

“So you are convinced you’ve painted yourself into a corner. But if you turn around and look behind you, you’ll find that you’re not in a corner at all. In fact, there are no walls behind you, boxing you in! You can take a giant step in a different direction whenever you’d like.”

This is a fairly common recurring scenario that I play out with people. They are convinced that they have to do something, there is no other choice or alternative, even when I’m looking in and trying to point out all sorts of alternatives. Sometimes it even gets to the point where it’s almost combative or antagonistic. Speaking personally, this has been a huge learning moment for me. I now know that whenever I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner that the reality is I probably haven’t and there are alternatives, I’m just not seeing them.

So if you ever feel like you’re out of options or have no choice on some matter, maybe try these steps:

First, stop for a second, take a breath, and open your mind to the fact that there might be an alternative you’re not seeing. To be blunt, this is hard because it forces you to accept the fact that you might be wrong. But if you can’t have an open mind that you might not have thought of everything, then none of the next steps matter.

Secondly, try to look at this from the outside. This is also hard because you have to separate yourself emotionally from the situation. What I’ve found helps for me is to role-play a bit; if someone else was explaining this situation to you, what advice would you give them? What alternative ideas would you be able to present to them?

Thirdly, have that candid conversation with a trusted confidante. But as I mentioned in the first step, you are going into the conversation not to prove that you are right, but instead to listen with an open mind to the other person’s thoughts and opinions. If you find yourself just being defensive and trying to explain to the other person why you are right and they are wrong, then this isn’t going to work. You have to be humble and open-minded.

Another challenging scenario is when this is someone else’s dilemma, and YOU are the person on the outside looking in. It might be obvious to you that there are options that the person is not seeing, but if they are not willing to be open-minded then there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is give your advice, and it is up to them whether or not they want to take it. Just be mindful about not getting into a state of mind where you are just trying to prove that you are right and they are wrong. You need to maintain control of your ego and not find yourself in a place where you are just trying to prove that you are correct. And at the end of the day, that other person owns their own decisions.

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