Excerpted from The Responsibility Process by Christopher Avery.
Consider this. If you are like most people, you have learned to respond to many upsets with “What should I do?!” Check these examples:
“I just got called to our manager’s office. That’s never happened before. What should I do?”
“The electricity is off. What should I do?”
Get the picture? The phrase is a ubiquitous response to the anxiety of an upset, of something gone wrong. The fact that I’m even talking about it probably has you thinking, Yeah, so what? It’s normal.”
Well, what if I told you that the question “What should I do?” is called up from a perspective of right and wrong, good and bad, or should and shouldn’t? And that means it maps to the coping states of Shame and Obligation. Any search for the “right” answer does because you want to be right to be responsible.
Why do we automatically search for the right answer when we’re anxious? Because we’ve been conditioned to. We’ve come of age during a time of unprecedented expansion of information, data, knowledge, and expertise. We’ve been taught that no matter what problem you have, someone has already solved it, and you just need to find that expert, tap into their wisdom, and follow it. You really don’t have to think for yourself. You just have to be responsible enough to ask for the right answer and do as you are told.
Consider where that’s gotten us. We’ve followed all of those shoulds and should-nots right into lives of being good and responsible with lots of unresolved problems. Prosperity on this planet has never been higher, yet anxiety, too, is at an all-time high. Note this headline: Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950s. “Normal” means to experience more and more anxiety. One of several reasons hypothesized for the high-stress levels in the article was pursuing the quick fix for problems. The quick fix helps us cope and alleviate some anxiety, but it never solves the real problem, and the anxiety returns again and again.
Maybe it is time for a new question.
“What do I want?” is that better question. Or depending on the situation, “What do we want?” or even “Look at this mess. What do we want about this, right now, that we can do something about?”
“What do I want?” invites you to think for yourself. It invites you to own your role in the situation, and it invites you to see your path to a satisfying solution. Only asking that other question (“What should I do?”) lets you avoid thinking for yourself or owning the situation.
“What do I want?” exercises your mind’s Intention muscle, and by so doing, “What do I want?” maps to the mental state of Responsibility. If you are looking for a shortcut to Responsibility when things go wrong, ask yourself, “What do I want about this?”
Catch yourself asking, “What should I do?” and change it to “What do I want about this situation?” Then forgive yourself and vow to catch yourself sooner next time.
Christopher Avery, “The Responsibility Process guy”, founded The Leadership Gift™ Program to make world-class personal leadership development accessible to individuals worldwide. His books include The Responsibility Process and Teamwork Is An Individual Skill.