50 Shades of Frustration, Root Cause Analysis and My Insecurities

What other people think of you is none of your business. Paulo CoelhoA friend gave me a stinging slap on my ass a few days ago.

And I liked it.

No, not in a 50 Shades of Grey way.

…but I still liked it.

A while ago I asked a few people for feedback on Authentic Gecko. I wanted to know what works and what sucks. Just over a week ago I received a freaking awesome email from a friend.

She started by saying that she had no idea why I started Authentic Gecko until she read the blog. She said, “Unlike the rest of us, you seemed to know yourself so well.”

I’m not sharing that to say, “Look how together I am.” I’m sharing it because I know exactly why she thought that — because I don’t talk about anything personal or uncomfortable with anyone. And when you don’t talk about anything it’s possible to look pretty put together (and/or cold, bitchy, reserved, stand-offish…).

I figure people have enough of their own shit going on that they’re not that interested in hearing mine so I keep it to myself.

But back to the email.

My friend also listed things she wants to read in this kind of blog.  They included (and I paraphrase), the dirt and the ugly bits – she wants to read something that digs deeper into the 50 shades of the  blogger’s life and psyche because figuring out who we are is never neat and tidy.

Reflecting on AG so Far

I spent a lot of time thinking about what she wrote. I was excited because she hit on a few of the things I promised myself I’d do with this blog – things I’ve been straying further and further away from. It was a great reminder of what I wanted to do, and I was excited to get back on track.

Before I started this blog I searched for blogs by people like me. Normal average people who wanted more. People who found many of the ideas put forward by the personal development gurus to be foreign and often unintelligible. People who struggled to make progress toward their personal  development and spiritual goals.

(Yah, I typed that. Spiritual. Now I’ve done it twice. Just typing it in a sentence associated with me makes my chest tighten uncomfortably. You should see me stutter when I try to say it out loud.  Maybe I could just call it the “S” word. But I digress.)

As I was saying before my heart palpitations started, I didn’t find what I was looking for in the blogs I read, so I decided to write it myself. I figured that if I wanted to read about people like me there’s a good chance other people were looking for something similar.  But so far that isn’t really what I’ve written.

I knew I had sanitized the last post I wrote, “One Thing You Can Do to Diffuse Your Difficult Feelings.” Originally I had a section about how I think there is more to the whole sit-with-your-feelings thing but for the life of me I don’t know what it is and I can’t get there. I edited that out thinking no one would be interested in my struggles. In fact, I’ve edited a lot of stuff like this out of my last few posts.

I thought about what I’d written when I started the blog, and wondered if I’d hit the mark back then sharing the dirt under the fingernails of my life. I reread “Why I Wanted to Hit Rock Bottom and Live in My Car.” When I wrote that article I was afraid to post it thinking I looked a bit idiotic, but when I reread I saw that it glosses over what I wanted to say. It touches on but doesn’t delve into something I struggle with a lot, which is: can you change your life dramatically and do great things from a comfortable place – or do you need a big wake-up call?

Pros and Egos

Then I started looking at other blogs trying to see what made them work. How did other people tell their stories in a way that captures your attention?

My husband sent me a link to jamesaltucher.com. The blog covers everything from finance to happiness. It’s captivating because James shares his story, especially the negatives.

Up until this point this whole introspective exercise was invigorating, but then my ego kicked in with something like, “Altucher is interesting because he has interesting stories to tell. He has made and lost millions of dollars, he’s written books, he’s been both a dick and a good person. You’re average and boring.”

I don’t have any dark corners. I’m happily married, doing fine financially and living in suburbia. What compelling stories do I have to tell? (Once again I find myself envious of someone who has more difficulty than I. Hmm.)

What the Hell Do I have to Offer?

I’ve started writing this post several times and have written enough to fill at least six posts. But it’s drivel.  It rambles and doesn’t make a point.

As I struggled to write and rewrite, I tried all kinds of my new-agey techniques like sitting with the feelings of fear that writing this post is bring up. I tried (but didn’t succeed at) letting go of my fear hoping “the universe” would provide an answer for me. I’ve exercised, meditated, journalled and gotten nowhere.

Out of the blue, I decided to apply a technique called “The 5 Whys” that I learned at work years ago.  It’s a root cause analysis technique used (you guessed it) to get to the root of a problem.

I’ve never seen it used in a personal development sense (and didn’t find any reference to it when googling), but it’s a technique for problem solving that I’m familiar with so I gave it a go.

The History of 5 Whys

The 5 Whys technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda the founder of Toyota industries and consists of asking why until you get at the root of a problem. The process might go something like this:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle wasn’t maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)[i]

At some point (usually around 5 questions in) you get to a point where you can start to propose solutions.

I’ve found that there are two keys to making this technique work:

  • Asking the right “Why” questions
  • Exploring multiple answers to each Why so you don’t get locked into one path

Applying 5 Whys to My Writer’s Block, Resistance or Whatever It Is

The 5 Whys is a very rational thought-driven cause and effect technique.

Over the last few years I’ve been learning to put aside my rationale over-thinking mind and lead with my heart, my gut, my instinct or whatever you want to call it. But this week that wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I resorted to something more logical but with a twist. I worked through the 5 Whys but didn’t give my rational mind a lot of time to think about the answers to the questions.  There was no right or wrong, just whatever popped into my head.

I did the entire process on speed by typing whatever came to mind without evaluating it. The process took about 20 minutes. Here’s what I did:

  1. I wrote down my problem question at the top of the page. It was, “Why can’t I get this blog post about sharing more personal, nitty-gritty bits written?”
  2. I wrote down as many responses to that question as I could as quickly as possible.
  3. After the reasons stopped flowing, I made myself come up with five more. I was hoping to go a bit deeper into the problem by doing this. I ended up with 14 items including:
    • I don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver on (meaning I’m not sure I can actually write meaningfully about the difficult bits)
    • I don’t want to embarrass myself
    • I don’t want to embarrass or hurt anyone else
    • I don’t have anything interesting to share
    • This is a boring post that isn’t relevant to anyone but me
  1. I quickly grouped very similar answers and ended up with eight basic answers
  2. I started drilling down into each one with Why questions. First I tried doing this by asking open-ended “why” questions the way it’s outlined in the example above but that didn’t really go anywhere.
  3. I tried reframing my “why” questions back to my original problem like this “Why would that block me from writing this post,” and that worked better. (As I said earlier, one of the keys to this technique is asking the right “why” questions.)
  4. Whenever I could quickly come up with more than one answer to a why question, I wrote them both down and dug down further into each one. (Again, you have to explore multiple answers and not get locked into one path).

One of my points looked like this:

I don’t have anything interesting to share

  • Why would that hold me back? I don’t want to write anything boring
  • Why would that hold me back? I want to provide interesting and useful content
  • Why would that hold me back? People won’t like the blog and won’t come back if it sucks
  • Why would that hold me back? I want the blog to be successful and grow
  • Why would that hold me back? I’m afraid to fail

Twenty minutes later I was done. All eight points boiled down to two basic themes:

I want people to like me

and

I’m afraid to fail

There’s no big insight there, these are two things I struggle with continually.

BUT

Up until then I had no clarity. My thoughts, concerns and ideas were a mixed up, whiny mess in my head.

The Solution

The next step with the 5 Whys is to come up with solutions to the root cause of the problem.

I thought about this for a while, and tried to be creative but in the end I only have one:

Just Do It (thanks Nike)

With that I moved forward and wrote this article pretty much straight through without any mental whingeing.

Insecurities and Promises

I think these two issues are at the core of the next stage of my personal growth because they come up again and again.

I want to change that.  The only way I can see to do that is to work at putting myself out there again and again until I get it right.

So that gets me back to where I started. A friend of mine suggested I share more about the 50 shades of success and failure involved in my personal journey. I don’t know why this is hard for me, but it is. However I’m going to try. I may screw up and write crap sometimes, but so what. So here’s my pledge to you:

I hereby promise to share my 50 shades no matter how hard it is for me, and I give myself permission to screw up and fail and express what I think and feel — even if people don’t like it.

That is both scary and liberating to put into print.

What do you think?

What are you looking for when you read a blog like this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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4 comments on “50 Shades of Frustration, Root Cause Analysis and My Insecurities

  1. I think it takes rare courage to take your mask off and share yourself. Why is it easier to do in print than verbally? hmmm.. Print lasts longer, so why is it easier?

    • Speaking only for myself, if I write it down I won’t see whatever reaction I’m afraid of in the eyes of the reader. Someone has to put a lot more effort into telling me I’m wrong in writing.

      But the reverse is also true, by not sharing verbally we miss the chance to see the positive reaction in the other person.

  2. I like the 5 Whys technique. Great thought to apply it to your personal writing. You are very brave to accept such blunt force feedback from a friend. I think it’s really cool to show how you held back from sharing what you thought was mundane and that you edited revealing elements of the blog because you were scared and judged yourself as boring. That’s a pretty harsh judgement. Who are we to judge if we are boring? These days, people tweet about washing their laundry and somehow, I find that fascinating. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, (from whom one would expect deep meaningful insights) reveals his authenticity and his passion for outer space in how he talks about the everyday little things. I love reading his tweets. What brings us closer to others and ourselves anyway? It’s the little things. The lady who gives you a smile on the street, or the new detergent that smells great. Boring is beautiful!

    • I’m thinking the ego isn’t the greatest editor.

      I also think you’re right, boring is beautiful. Many of us don’t have dramatic stories and that is generally a good thing.

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