One of the secret super sleuth skills I’ve developed in my time doing this work is the ability to figure out how close someone is to getting unstuck by listening to their conversation style. You see it’s not always about the content of the questions asked: the way someone asks questions (and what they do with the answers) is a massive insight into what is going on in their mind and the thought processes keeping them where they are.
There’s one thought process in particular that is almost an ironclad guarantee of long term stuckness. I call this the Multiple Barrier Loop, and it’s so pernicious that it stops the person getting any answers… even though answers are what they say they are looking for.
Here’s an (advanced) example of the Multiple Barrier Loop in action:
(BTW if you’ve ever had a conversation with a chronically stuck person the following dialogue will be familiar)
Person 1: “Gah! I’m so stuck! Here’s the big reason I’m stuck, there’s no way around it, can you suggest anything”
Person 2: “Sure, here’s a solution to that barrier”
Person 1: *butting in before they finish* “yes but there’s this other reason too”
Person 2: “ok, let’s talk about solutions to that barrier”
Person 1: *butting in before they finish* “you don’t understand, there’s this OTHER reason as well!”
Repeat this conversation on a loop until:
Person 2: *slaps them with a wet fish and walks away*
The issue here is not that Person 1 has multiple barriers in their mind. The issue is that the barriers are mooshing together, competing for attention all at the same time.
So when they see a great idea for how to approach the first barrier, they aren’t really listening. They are running a script through their mind that goes something along the lines of: “well that’s never going to work for me, my situation is more complicated”. Unless someone comes up with an answer that touches every single issue right away, the first person is essentially checked out of the conversation. They aren’t hearing the answers: they are perpetually scanning for a “yes but”.
That means they never get answers and get more and more buried in their multiple barrier loop as time goes by.
There are two ways these conversations usually end:
Chronically Stuck Mode: “I guess I’ll just have to think about it a little more” (read: “I’m perpetually stuck… I don’t think there really is an answer for me”)
Honesty Mode: “Actually, if I’m being honest I think it’s just fear”.
And… whoosh. There’s the voice of reason, right there.
You see, when someone is in the Multiple Barrier loop it may seem that they are asking sensible questions. On the surface it may seem that if you just answer their questions one at a time they will be fine. But that simply isn’t what happens when someone is in this loop.
The questions they are asking are only part of the picture. What they are really asking is often rooted in fear, or uncertainty or something far less tangible. Yes, they will want their practical questions answered, but until they are in a state to actually take in some damn answers and do something with them, it’s going to be a frustrating conversation for both of you.
(BTW this is why, in things like the 21 Day Course, I spend so long in the creation stage getting clear on how people would ‘really’ be thinking and feeling at each stage in the process so we could speak to what was really needed there and then).
How can you tell if you’re in the Multiple Barrier Loop?
When we talk about the multiple barrier loop it doesn’t mean “someone who has a lot of questions” (otherwise that would be pretty much every curious person around!). Instead:
You can tell if you are in multiple barrier loop if you kind of ‘check out’ of the conversation when someone starts to answer your question, if you get vague about what you might do with any answer… and can’t wait to jump to the ‘yes, but…’ you were thinking about the whole time.
A more advanced version of multiple barrier loop is likely to be in play if you feel ‘specially’ stuck and spend a lot of time explaining that most solutions can’t possibly touch what’s going on for you. Even when you’re ostensibly asking for help, you feel misunderstood / a tad pissed if the other person doesn’t agree that your situation is pretty impossible.
What can you do about it? (Two ideas).
1) Get honest about what’s going on, for starters. The answer will be different for each person but this is the most important part: getting clear about what is really holding the space in your head lets you voice that and deal with that issue (rather than going around in a loop of frustrated questioning).
2) Break the loop (aka clear thinking).
The Multiple Barrier Loop thrives on messy and panicked thinking. So deal with that in advance by separating out your issues and committing to dealing with each as they come.
One way to do this is to open a new document, and write down the big questions you think are in your way at the moment. Such as “I don’t know how to do X”, or “how can I do Y”.
When you have done that, go back to the top of your list and go down the page, writing exactly why you need each question answered in order to move forward right away. You may find a few questions drop off at this stage (you can save them for later!).
For the questions you have decided to keep, edit them to get specific. So “how can I do this without going broke?” might change to “what do I need in place to do [your idea] and make [amount of money] per month within [timeframe]”?
That is a question you can start to answer. The aim here is to have good questions (whose answers you are actually interested in!) so you can move forward.
Of course you might realize at this point that your question isn’t one that you’re ready for. For example “how can I do this without going broke” may not be something you can get specific about if you don’t know what ‘this’ means. In which case change your question to reflect where you are now.
Over to you
Remember the Multiple Barrier Loop can’t survive radical honesty (with yourself, about yourself) combined with clear thinking. I’m not saying the two are easy to hold in place but having them in your back pocket is a way more reassuring way to handle the ‘yes but’ spiral as it starts to strike.
Hope this helps (both with your journey and with helping others!).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic: have you experienced this loop? Have you met others who live with it? Drop me a line in the comments below!