The Fuzziness

I recently noticed an interesting pattern in my sensory experience. I call it The Fuzziness.


The Fuzziness is a sensation that overwhelms my ability to think clearly, logically or simply. All of a sudden every decision, every thought, every simple action like pouring a glass of water becomes a knotted odyssey guarded by thick, tangled vines. There is no observable way in, through or out; it’s impossible to avoid yet impossible to see. If I try to face it directly, it jumps to my periphery.

The Fuzziness usually happens after a difficult or complex situation: a conversation, an unspoken dynamic, or even an outright action that leaves me grasping for clarity.

In the land of The Fuzziness solutions are dripping Dali clocks and simplicity is the plaything of Tweedle Dum and Dee. Mundane tasks become herculean; trips from the bedroom to the bathroom become journeys; making a morning coffee becomes so involved the sun is setting by the time it’s ready.

After observing this pattern in action and realizing the discomfort it causes, I discovered that, after some time passes, a coping mechanism emerges which I call Cutting to the Heart.

Cutting to the Heart is a simplification process that helps me peel back the layers to see what The Fuzziness is really about. I start by back-tracking in time. When did The Fuzziness begin? What happened directly before that? Could that be the source of the challenge?

Once I’ve identified the specific situation, I cut to the heart again, peeling back another layer. At what part during the encounter did The Fuzziness begin? Did someone say or do something directly before that? Once I’ve got my finger on the exact source that triggered The Fuzziness, I peel back another layer. How did I feel after that comment, dynamic or action? How did I respond?

Usually what I discover after Cutting to the Heart is that The Fuzziness is provoked by feeling criticized, getting defensive, and then feeling embarrassed by my defensiveness. It’s a shield to protect me from the excruciating feelings of hurt and shame.

Like magic, naming this almost always brings it into focus. All of a sudden that big golden shape that could have been a lion turns out to a be a sunflower. The dripping clocks stand erect again and a solution will often present itself. If I feel embarrassed, I can apologize. If I feel criticized, I can ask myself if I believe the criticism. If I believe it, I can consider changing my behavior. If I don’t believe it, I can ignore it.

To me this is Cutting to the Heart; others know it as Simplifying. Dave Viotti identified it as a regular phenomenon in business environments and calls it Smallifying.

Smallifying, Simplifying or Cutting to the Heart has numerous benefits: understanding, communicating and ultimately, change.

The understanding occurs as we peel back the layers. All of us have our version of The Fuzziness: paralysis stemming from some sort of external trigger. When we journey to the center of that space we clarify what the trigger is, why it’s happening, and how we respond.

Knowing the source allows us to communicate it to others with detached engagement (often starting with “Thank you” or “I agree with you on XYZ”.) When we are simultaneously detached and engaged we build a nutrient-rich environment for change.

Change is slow. Think: One of the ten biggest ships in the world making a u-turn.

Change is uncomfortable. Each person’s Fuzziness feels different, and they’re all unbearable. Whether someone decides to Cut to the Heart or not, there’s a there there.

Change is steady. Every day our bodies are changing. Our perspectives are shifting. We are having experiences, meeting people and hearing information. We are forgetting memories. These things happen in such small doses they are often imperceptible.

Last month I received a compliment from my boss. He said that I receive feedback well. I was speechless. Me? Receive feedback well? I’m the most defensive person I know and I’ve struggled with it for years, especially at work. Could it be that I’ve actually arrived at some level of comfort hearing constructive criticism?

Feedback used to devastate me. It’s still hard to hear, but the edge is gone. One day maybe I’ll even be grateful.

After all, it really is a gift.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!



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