How to become unstuck in life

Getting stuck is normal. It happens to us all, and often, we can laugh or shrug it off. However, sometimes we visit stuckness at the other end of the scale when it is no laughing matter. When we are personally or professionally trapped, profound stuckness can have severe consequences for our mental health and wellbeing. Unlike its temporary counterpart, profound stuckness is characterised by a strong desire to change our circumstances that prove impossible for known or unknown reasons. A vicious cycle establishes itself when we realise that our journey is taking us further away from where we need to be. Luckily, there are ways out of the impasse. How do we know this? Because people become unstuck all of the time. In my blog, How to become unstuck in life, I look at six ways that can help you.

How to become unstuck in life: scrambled ball of black wool being transformed into a smooth ball of colourful wool

How to become unstuck in life: conversations

The first way is to see stuckness as a reflection of our existing conversations, those we have with ourselves (self-talk) and those we have with others. Conversations that move us forwards in life – what I call conversations with impact – contain the qualities and characteristics we need to make the difference we are after. The working assumption when we are stuck must be that our self-talk and interactions with others are missing the attributes we need, which means that we:

  • must find them and put them into our existing conversations, or
  • need someone new to talk to

These realisations can be difficult to accept because they challenge our belief in ourselves and those around us to make the difference we are after. But as I have said, profound stuckness is no laughing matter, and when our current conversations are directly causing or indirectly sustaining our stuckness, we need to become selfish – in a good way. We need to ask ourselves if we can step up and make the same request of others. If we can find our missing qualities and characteristics individually and with our support network, then great, but if not, then our selfishness must take us to someone new who can. To help you find what you need, do the activity below.

Activity: Conversations With Impact Questionnaire

Start by listing your existing conversations, including your self-talk. Then, looking at the list below, consider the importance of each quality or characteristic to you. Choose a number between 1 and 7 (1=none at all, 7=all that you need) that reflects the degree to which a conversation possesses each quality or characteristic. If one is not essential to you, i.e. it makes no difference one way or the other, give it a 7. For those that are important to you, score it appropriately. For your self-talk, replace ‘the person’ with ‘myself’ for the first statement, and then replace the pronouns for the others. For example, ‘I trust myself,’ ‘I understand myself and what I need from me.’

  • I trust the person
  • They understand me and what I need from them
  • I feel respected by them
  • They have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • They do not judge me and accept me for who I am
  • They have the ideas, skills and knowledge I need
  • The conversation follows my agenda, not theirs
  • They believe in me and my potential for change
  • They give me the time that I need
  • I feel challenged by them in a good way
  • They respect my need for confidentiality
  • I feel they genuinely listen to me
  • I can say what I really want to them
  • They are truly interested in me
  • They help me to make sense of my situation
  • They help me set clear, realistic goals and strategies
  • They help me find solutions
  • My conversations with them make a difference
  • They have the X-Factor

What did you discover? Are you having conversations that can help you to become unstuck or not? If you are, then great, but if not, consider finding someone new who can show you how to become unstuck in life.

Meaning

The second way to become unstuck in life is to understand why we are stuck in the first place and why we cannot do anything about it. In my coaching and therapy practice, I see clients in various states of mystery. Some clients are entirely mystified, while others have some idea but not enough to make a difference. Fairly or unfairly, human beings are sense-making creatures; our nature compels us to make sense of why things are as they are, i.e., to find meaning. This can be a head-banging-on-wall exercise when we are stuck, but luckily, we have an in-built system that can guide us out of the darkness and into the light: our emotions.

Emotions are really messages sent from what I call our emotional self containing vital information about our thriving and surviving, the optimal state of existence that being stuck undermines. Thriving and surviving is the only show in town for human beings (and all living things), and achieving it is essential for positive mental and physical health. Given this evolutionary necessity, our emotional selves take their role in helping us flourish very seriously. What they need us to know are:

  • the causes of your stuckness, and
  • the solutions to it

It is when we don’t know causes and solutions that our emotional selves become concerned, and the way they express this is through emotions such as anxiety, depression and anger. If we could hear our emotional selves speak, it would probably go something like this: “What are you playing at?”

Getting emotional selves back onside: activity

To get our emotional selves back onside, we need to discover the causes of our stuckness and its solutions, which is the aim of this activity. Using a 0-10 scale (0=in great shape, 10=in very bad shape), choose a number that captures how you feel about the areas below. Any area scored 7 or above is likely to be a significant factor in your stuckness; any scored 5 or 6 is likely to be playing a role; and any area scored 4 or below is unlikely to be an issue or much of one.

Areas:

  • Identity: self-esteem/worth
  • Home and family life
  • Relationships
  • Work/Career/professional
  • Health (mental and/or physical)
  • Financial
  • Lifestyle
  • Social and cultural
  • Environment
  • Past, present or future

What did you discover? Do you have any scores 7 or above? If you do and consider yourself stuck, these will definitely be areas your emotional self is communicating with you about. And while becoming aware of your causes might be difficult, being aware of them means you are in a position to find solutions for them.

Patterns

What would we see if we were to place our stuckness under a microscope? We would see patterns, specifically patterns of:

  • thought
  • behaviour
  • feeling
  • relating (people, places, objects or ‘stuff’)

The thing about stuckness is it isn’t a state that we enter passively, but instead is one we actively create. So the third way to understand stuckness is to see it as the logical outcome of laying down negative patterns. We don’t mean to, but we do. For example, take someone unhappy in their career. They know they need a change, but their patterns are blocking them:

  • Thought: “I can’t risk it. I might fail.”
  • Behaviour: avoiding any steps that can help in finding a new career, e.g. speaking to a careers coach or consultant
  • Feeling: fear induced by a lack of confidence and self-belief
  • Relating: becoming irritated with people who challenge them to change career

The good thing about our ability to create patterns is that it works both ways. The trick is in knowing how to actively create positive patterns that can enable us to become unstuck, and for that, we need awareness because with it comes opportunities for change. The activity below is excellent for raising awareness.

Patterns activity

  1. When, where and with whom were you when your stuckness started?
  2. What stressors or changes were occurring in your life around the start of your stuckness?
  3. How often does your stuckness occur and how long does it last?
  4. What significant persons are present or absent when your stuckness occurs?
  5. Where does your stuckness occur?
  6. What are the steps involved in the generation of your stuckness? Put another way, can you identify the stages where you go from not being stuck to being so?
  7. When does your stuckness NOT occur?
  8. What do you think other people know about your stuckness e.g. friends, family or colleagues?
  9. What are your beliefs about your stuckness? For example, I can never change it? It’s my fault that I have it?

Answering the questions below can help you build a detailed picture of your stuckness and the patterns that formed it. Once you have this, you can construct a blueprint of patterns that can show you how to become unstuck in life.

Acceptance

Profound stuckness is a fact of life, and most of us will experience it at least once. So when we are stuck, the best stance to take is one of acceptance, which is the fourth way. But I need to be clear with you. By acceptance, I do not mean resigning to your fate and waiting passively for it to change. No, I mean seeing acceptance NOT as resignation but as the first stage of transformation. All we can do is accept our current reality, no matter how difficult. When we can’t, we open up what I call a Fantasy-Reality Gap, which is the difference between:

  • Who we think we are and who we actually are
  • What we think we are doing and what we are actually doing
  • How we think our lives are and how our lives actually are

The bigger the FRG, the more stress, anxiety and depression pour into them because FRGs are unsustainable. When we’re stuck, we’re stuck! And a failure to accept being stuck is a Fantasy.

  • “There is nothing I can do to get fitter, so there is no point trying.” (F) vs. “Fitness levels are not fixed, but changeable.” (R)
  • “I can never find happiness because of my past.” (F) vs. “People do overcome traumatic pasts.” (R)
  • “There is no point changing career because I don’t have what it takes.” (F) vs. “Employers accept people all the time who don’t have the exact skills, knowledge and experience.” (R)

As soon as someone accepts, transformation becomes possible because acceptance changes stuckness from something that can’t be changed into something that can.

Challenge

My fifth way of understanding stuckness is its connection with challenge. Often what keeps us stuck is a belief that the challenge of becoming unstuck is insurmountable. While understandable, this assumption fails to understand the nature of challenge. Challenge is like solving a puzzle; the clues to its resolution are there to be found. And in the vast majority of cases, those clues are:

  • A change of perspective
  • A change of behaviour
  • New resources

When we find one or more of these clues, a magical thing happens: the challenge of stuckness begins to break down into its constituent parts. Instead of the mountain in front of us, we see the individual pieces of rock we can climb. Take my client, Steve, who was profoundly stuck with depression.

  • Perspective: Steve assumed that the relationship with his parents was the issue, whereas I showed him it was his low self-esteem that allowed his parents to treat him like a ‘second class citizen’.
  • Behaviour: Steve moved to be near his parents, hoping that this would lead to them becoming closer. It made no difference. Once Steve put himself and his family first, he put his house on the market to move nearer to his wife’s family, where they had been happy before
  • Resources: Steve replaced his view that people asking for help, especially therapists, were weak with one that saw it as a strength. (Therapists are a resource, by the way.)

The outcome? Steve is no longer stuck and is living proof that the challenge of stuckness is conquerable.

Transformation

Finally, to my sixth and final way: transformation. All of us are on journies of transformation whether we like it or not, otherwise known as the ageing process. Ideally, we are in control of our journeys and are confident that at the end of them are desired personal and professional destinations. But like a landslide blocking a mountainous road, stuckness can bring our journey to an abrupt halt. Now we might conclude that setbacks that cause stuckness mean we are no longer transforming. If only that were true, but unfortunately, we are still ageing on that mountain road. And this is an unpalatable truth about becoming stuck: adversity takes our transformation out of our hands, and that can be scary.

To become unstuck, we must be brave, begin a new journey, and retrace our steps back down the mountain or climb upwards. Denial means we start clearing a path through the landslide with our bare hands, only to collapse, bruised and bloodied, by the roadside, going nowhere. To avoid becoming stuck means accepting multiple journeys to our desired destinations exist. And this is the beautiful thing about starting a new journey; we only need to take a few positive steps to free ourselves from our stuckness, to which my blog hopefully points.

How to become unstuck in life: Transformation activity

Looking back at the areas listed in the emotional self activity, and using a 0-10 scale (0=very negative, 10=very positive) choose a number that represents how stuck you feel in each area. Follow the same scoring guidelines, i.e. 7 or above suggests significant stuckness.

What did you discover? Did you confirm what you already knew, or did the activity (and this blog) raise your awareness of your stuckness? Taking each area, consider what to do next. For example, do you need to change who you are talking to? Either way, be kind to yourself and commit to changing your numbers, putting your stuckness behind you.

How to become unstuck in life: getting support

I hope you have enjoyed my blog, How to become unstuck in life. If you would like support, I’d love to hear from you. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have helped many people become unstuck (read my testimonials).

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.

Here is another good article. It describes another great active on how to become unstuck in life.