How to get unstuck in life
As I sit here at my computer, with my Pomodoro Technique timer quietly counting down I sit staring at a blank computer screen. A list of a million different “things I could be doing” starts to form in my head. The procrastination monster is strong in this one my friend. I have so many different pieces I want to write. I have the beginnings of several books in my head, I even have some of them started. I have committed to publishing at least one article per week. There is no shortage of things to do yet somehow I still feel like I’m not even sure where to start.
For me this is one of the myriad forms of what “stuck” feels like. It comes into my life a lot and requires an immense amount of discipline to move through it. Discipline. That seems to be the answer for me.
For many of the clients I work with in a one on one coaching capacity, the reason they came to me is because of this feeling of “stuckness”. Often they come from the context of business. They feel like they have hit a bit of a plateau and are restricted in their ability to move their business forward.
I find it fascinating to note that typically when someone comes to me with this feeling of “stuck” or they report that something is impeding their business growth, we almost always find that the “stuck” extends out to most arenas in their life.
I can’t tell you how many times when talking to a business leader we end up spending a fair amount of time talking about their personal relationships. Almost always it ends with a “Well, I really didn’t expect that we would go down that path!”
For many visionary leaders there comes a time in their life where they feel overwhelmed. They feel defeated with the sheer enormity of what they want to bring to the world. The weight of the task at hand becomes crippling at times so they stick with the tried and true. They stay with what they know or at least what they think they know. The challenge of course is the well known quote “If you continue to do what you have always done you will continue to get what you’ve always got.”
And that my friends is exactly what “stuck” feels like.
Add to that the feelings of anxiety, depression and our desire to avoid difficult emotions, it can become very easy to get caught up in a cycle of avoidance and procrastination. Stuck might include a fear of success, it might include a fear of failure, it might include a longing so large that it seems impossible, causing indecision and paralysis of action.
How do we break out of stuck?
Motivation follows action. For me there have been many times where I have sought to cultivate motivation in order to inspire me to take action. I spend time reading texts, listening to speeches and digesting words of wisdom from gurus around the world.
There are certainly days where I feel ill equipped to carry on my mission. There are times where I feel like I just need to learn a little bit more. That I need just a little more training, knowledge or expertise to move forward.
There is this feeling of imposter syndrome. Often accompanied by the question “Who the fuck am I to think I can do this?” Or “Who am I to think that people will care about what I have to say or what my vision is?” Surely I need to be better before I can proceed.
While there are times when you need to enhance skills, this line of thinking can also very easily contribute to the “stuckness” by giving us a justifiable place to spend our time. After all, we are taking in knowledge, we are learning and we are growing. Certainly that is a worthwhile endeavor right?
Sure. Maybe. Well, no not really.
My guess is that you likely have all the knowledge you need to get unstuck and what you really need is to take action. It took me a long time to realize that it isn’t motivation that drives action but rather action that drives motivation. Seeking motivation is simply another form of procrastination. In his book The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield talks about Resistance, that mythical force that keeps you stuck.
He has a very eloquent way of defining “Resistance” and talks about how ‘Seeking support” can easily be just another form of resistance.
“Seeking support from friends and family is like having people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye”Stephen Pressfield
In my experience, “stuck” rarely has anything to do with a lack of knowledge, resources, or preparation and almost always has to do with a lack of action. It is not about looking for external resources, conditions or information. It is all about our internal discipline.
What can we do?
Once we realize and accept that “stuckness” is internal then we can start to make change. As my friend and editor, who is a Canadian living in the southern United States reminded me, being stuck feels like spinning your wheels. It feels like being caught in a heavy Canadian snowfall with nothing but summer tires on your vehicle. It doesn’t matter how hard you tromp on the gas pedal your tires just spin faster and faster.
In order to break out of being stuck in a snowstorm it means that we need to first off slow down. If you’ve read or listened to any of my other work this may be starting to sound familiar to you. The first piece of almost any puzzle is to slow the F down. In our snowstorm analogy taking your foot off the gas is the first thing that needs to happen. When we talk about this in the context of being stuck in a snowstorm it immediately makes sense. It doesn’t matter how hard you push the gas pedal, all you do is spin faster.
Most of us have been in this situation at one point or another in our lives. However when it comes to business, life and what we want to accomplish, this idea of taking our foot off the gas is incredibly counterintuitive. I mean certainly if you want to move forward faster you need to be working harder, doing more not less right?
The reality is that this is not at all the case and in fact just like spinning your tires in the snow the harder we work, the more we push, the deeper the rut that we are stuck in starts to become. This is what makes “stuck” feel all the more frustrating.
“It doesn’t make any sense!”
“I’m working harder than ever, why am I not moving forward??!!”
Sometimes when we are stuck it isn’t even just that we need to take our foot off the gas, but sometimes we actually need to put the car into reverse. Sometimes we need to put a little backward momentum into our efforts.
If you’ve ever been stuck in a Canadian snowstorm you likely know this well. There’s this art to putting the car in reverse and then back to drive. Creating a rocking motion. Slowly but surely starting to build some momentum so that you can eventually move far enough forward that you are out of the rut and back on solid ground.
Why do we get stuck?
Once we start to slow down we can really take a look at where this stuck feeling is coming from. I am cautious writing these words since much of “stuck” for me can be perpetuated with over analysis. Don’t spend a lot of time here but see if any of these resonate with you.
Stuck can come when we start to play a role in our life, when we stop being authentic and we try to live the kind of life that we think others feel we should be living.
Stuck can also be a result of being held back. Your environment. What is the environment that you have created for yourself? Who is it that you are surrounding yourself with? Is it time to reevaluate all of that?
What are you committed to? Who are you committed to? Are these commitments moving you forward or are they holding you back? Is it time to reevaluate what and who you are committed to?
These are incredibly difficult questions to really look at with open and honest eyes. It is really hard to have a deep, honest look in the mirror. The truth is that often “stuck” is a result of our reluctance to look at what is holding us back. The truth is that if we were to actually admit what is keeping us stuck, we might have to make some difficult decisions. So instead of having an honest look at ourselves we avoid and distract.
In business I have seen this in the form of ignoring employees whom we really like but truly are not a fit for the role they are in. Maybe if we have an honest look in the mirror in a business context it means we need to adjust our budget, or have a difficult conversation with a supplier, competitor, colleague or boss.
In personal life there are many things that might be keeping us stuck. Do we need to improve our physical, mental or emotional fitness? That takes time, effort and commitment.
Do we need to cut some people out of our lives?
Do we need to stop drinking, gambling, overeating?
These are all incredibly difficult decisions we have to make and even once we make them we have to have the discipline to see it through. When we find ourselves “stuck” it is often because we are not willing to have honest conversations about these decisions that need to be made.
Before I wrap things up, I want to talk about one of the biggest reasons people remain “stuck” by choice. Even when they have identified the thing that is keeping them stuck it can still be hard to move forward for this one major reason. I have had this conversation with dozens, if not hundreds of people.
Sunk cost fallacy
The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.
In other words, the more time and energy we have invested into a course of action, a relationship or a certain direction the harder it becomes to abandon. This happens because no matter how logical we like to think we are, our decisions are heavily influenced by our emotions. Feelings of guilt, regret or even shame if we do not follow through with a decision influence our desire to stick with it even if that decision no longer serves us.
Sunk Cost Fallacy is tied to commitment bias where we continue to support past decisions despite new evidence that the decision may not be the appropriate one.
As I write this I realize I could easily write an entire book on what it feels like to be stuck, and how to move forward out of the “stuckness”. I hope that this article has given you a little food for thought and I will leave you with another Stephen Pressfield quote from “The War of Art”.
“It’s not the writing that is hard. It’s the sitting down to write.”Stephen Pressfield
Pressfield is speaking in the context of writing however this statement can be applied to any course of action. It’s not the doing of the thing that is hard, it is starting doing the thing that is hard. That being the case then let’s make sure our energy is focused on starting the thing.
If you take nothing else from this article then take this, motivation follows action. Therefore action is the most important piece. You don’t need any more skill, you don’t need any more knowledge, you don’t need any more support, you simply need to take action.
If you have a list of 1000 things you need to do and don’t know where to start, simply close your eyes and point at the list. The item you land on is where you start. Don’t second guess, just sit down and get it done.