Does it always have to be hard? Tackle emotional hurdles to change by drawing it out.

Change (no matter how positive and inspired) is frustrating, it is a source of conflict and it is scary. And it should be. How else do we get out of our comfort zones? But there are ways to make it easier. You can handle these emotional hurdles in a light yet effective way with some visual thinking techniques.

Let’s start with frustration. Change is messy. Lack of insight and overview of the problem or the way to go create stress. Existing difficulties and uncertainty also lead to pointing at others instead of looking for solutions.

Visual thinking, in this case: mapping out the problem on a big piece of paper helps to create overview and gain insight. The success of visual approaches like process mapping (brown paper) or the soft systems methodology (that use a ‘rich picture’ to capture the situation) show this effect. A quick and easy way to unlock some visual brainpower on a complex problem is to create a joint mind map with some of the key figures involved. Exploring issues, relations and patterns on a big piece of paper boosts group thinking. It unloads the working memories of participants and allows for zooming in and out. A big benefit of this visual thinking technique is that it leads away from shaming and blaming and focuses our mind on the problem itself.

Still conflicts will arise. Contradicting views on the problem and possible solutions create tension. When listening to two diverging opinions our brain wants to pick a ‘right’ one to make the world ‘whole’ again. That is where the stress comes in.

When two views are presented in simple drawings next to each other, we can just look at them. Stress levels are reduced opening up mental space to explore each others view. A helpful side effect is that most people do not regularly draw. The drawing quality of most of us will not rise above primary school level, leading to a light and playful atmosphere further releasing stress. And the nice thing is — ‘bad’ drawings are just as efficient for visual thinking as ‘good’ ones. Maybe even more, since messy or unfinished drawings set our brain to work. They are also more inviting to add our input. A piece of paper with your thoughts drawn and scribbled on to it immediately turns into an open space for thinking together.

At last fear, we cannot escape it. Our brain likes predictability. Not change, especially not fundamental change. For which there are no blueprints and the end result is developed on the way. And it is definitely out of our comfort zone.

Mapping out the parts of the road you do know and a rough sketch of the destination function as an anchor during the process. The paper offers a ‘holding container’ for difficult emotions. By dealing with the uncertainties in a visible way our brain can let go a bit. Next to that the paper offers space to explore diverging thought lines and experiment with different views. Sketching out possible next steps or directions without immediate repercussions lets people freely think. It leads them away from their own positions or ego’s.

You will be surprised (I still am, every time) how the mood in a room or in a conversation changes when people make their thinking visible. How combining simple shapes with a some key words lead to clarity about what is known and where things are still vague or unresolved. And how much fun it is to explore and create from there.