Pig wrestling: Solve problems and create the change you need

Throughout our Smarter Thinking series, we’re looking at the innovative ways that people have overcome challenges. Performance psychologists and authors of Pig Wrestling, Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden, share how they help people to change their mindset and think differently to solve a problem…

When we first meet with a new client, we often know very little about them. We have no idea what challenge they've been wrestling with, or what change they’re trying to create. We don’t know if their problem will be personal or professional, if it will be public or private, or whether it will involve just them or a larger group of people.

What we do know is that in order to enjoy more success in changing times, it’s important that each of us is able to create the change that we need. But sometimes, a situation simply gets the better of us.

Despite our best efforts and intentions, and in spite of considering every avenue available to us, we seemingly find ourselves no further forward. Frustrated, fatigued and at a loss about how to proceed, we might reluctantly conclude there is nothing more than can be done. That that is simply how the world is.

Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden

In the course of our work, we’ve come into contact with many highly successful people who, despite their prowess in certain domains, have nevertheless found themselves ‘stuck’ when trying to bring about change in other parts of their lives.

In working with these people, we’ve had the opportunity to study the characteristics of the problems that seem to bewitch even the best of us. Along the way, we’ve identified the various thinking traps that we can all too easily fall into, along with the assumptions that continue to hold many of us captive.

More importantly, we’ve also been able to discover a number of practical routes or ‘thought experiments’ to getting ‘unstuck’, helping even the most frustrated of us in taking meaningful steps forward once again.

Thankfully, it transpires that these hard-won lessons can actually prevent us getting stuck in the first place. By remaining mindful of these principles, and consistently applying them in our daily lives, each of us can continue to thrive in increasingly fast-moving and complex times.

This metaphor of ‘pig wrestling’, where you find yourself shattered, metaphorically covered in mud, and having seemingly gotten nowhere despite your best efforts, seems to resonate with people from all walks of life.

We’re not sure if you have ever tried wrestling with a filthy pig… if you haven't, don't! Because, as George Bernard Shaw famously once said, “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Often problems can get the better of us, despite our best attempts to solve them. But, ironically sometimes it is our continued attempts to solve a problem that actually keeps them stuck.

So why is it that intelligent, successful, and high performing people find themselves wrestling with such problems? Well, whilst human beings are naturally brilliant problem solvers, we are inherently limited in our thinking about the challenges that we face. This is nothing new. Decades of research have highlighted our biased thinking patterns and all too human frailties.

But we’re also inherently limited by our language and our communication. We make sense of our world, and the problems we face, by labelling them. As a result, we often suffer from a case of “premature evaluation”.

Once we have labelled a problem as a ‘thing’, the ‘language game’ that we play when talking about the situation becomes “sticky”. Our words shape our own and others’ perceptions, limit perceived opportunities for change, and often embed the problem further.

Unwittingly we craft narratives and stories that lead us to simplistically frame our view of the problems that we face.

Unfortunately for us, it is these frames that hold our thinking captive and lead us towards the pig pen with our sleeves rolled up. In the pen, we find ourselves wrestling with what might seem like meaningful problems, but are in reality just poorly defined and ill-conceived.

We’ve learnt that when one of our client’s find themselves Pig Wrestling, we only know one thing, but we know it with absolute certainty: they’re tackling the wrong problem.

Ultimately, people end up solving the wrong problem because the problem is covered in the following:

  • Assumptions
  • Biases
  • Story telling
  • Emotion
  • Judgments

All of these factors contribute to creating the frame by which we view the problem. When people get stuck we know they are looking through the wrong frame, and it’s time to try and get a different perspective on the situation we are facing.

To avoid Pig Wrestling, we have designed a series of thought experiments that help ‘clean’ a problem of the assumptions, stories, and judgment that are keeping a person feeling ‘stuck’ with their situation. Once we identify and lift our assumptions then we can find new frames by which to view the situation and therefore create new and more effective solutions. The Pig Wrestling coaching framework explores the following areas:

  • Exploring what our previous attempted solutions tell us about the assumptions we have made
  • Focusing on how we know the problem would no longer be present, rather than obsessing about how to solve it
  • Finding times when the problem is not a problem, and identifying what is special about those times
  • Establishing what the constraints are that are holding the problem stuck, rather than trying to find what has caused the problem

By exploring these areas in relation to your problem, it enables you to clean your thinking of biases, re-frames your problem and finds more meaningful solutions when you or your colleagues feel well and truly stuck in the pig pen!

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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