Sometimes we get paralyzed—afraid to step forward, unable to go back... life coach Tal Fagin points out the value of stepping away — giving yourself a rest.
Who among us hasn’t felt stuck at some point in our lives?
If my clients are any indication, very few. Whether it’s career related or personal, whether they know exactly what they need to work on or they aren’t quite sure, most people come to me looking to get unstuck.
They use words and phrases like lost and adrift, burned-out and in a rut to describe how they are feeling. They vacillate between optimism and despair—their hearts yearning for some better, more ideal existence, their minds skeptical that this is even possible.
They’ve tried the buck up, plow through, stop living in some fantasy “grass is always greener” approach, only to find themselves returning again and again to that more tender, more hopeful notion—there must be something more—that ultimately leads them to me.
They imagine that if they had made better choices—different schools, different partners, different cities or jobs—all might be well. They have lengthy personal narratives and well-rehearsed soliloquies featuring parents and siblings, teachers and hometowns, all intended to explain how and why they got to this moment in time. They are clear on how they arrived at this icky, confusing utterly dissatisfying place. They just can’t figure out where to go next or how to get there.
They are, well…stuck.
We all have so many decisions to make, so many possibilities we might explore. The plethora of choices can be overwhelming, even debilitating. We feel time ticking by, pressuring us to act, but the risks attached to would-be moves can feel prohibitive. What if we choose wrong? We get paralyzed—afraid to step forward, unable to go back, terrified of making an unwise turn—yet utterly certain we can’t just stay put.
Should you ever find yourself feeling similarly stuck, I invite you to try the following:
Take a Time Out. Most of us want to think our way through whatever the problem at hand. We want to weigh pros and cons and craft decision trees. We have little patience for process and scant tolerance for uncertainty or discomfort. We want answers and definitive direction, and we want to take action. Right now!
Try taking a break instead.
Giving yourself a rest can improve decision making and refresh motivation. The brain gets caught in repetitive loops, but taking breaks acts as a reset, improving attention-span, creativity and focus. This is true of productivity, tasks and projects, but also true of larger life decisions or anything that has you feeling mired in the muck. Whatever it is, try letting it go for a bit. If you’ve ever had a eureka moment—where the answer to a previously unsolvable problem is suddenly clear and simple—you know the value of stepping away.
Take a Walk. It’s a form of time out, only it adds the advantages of changing the scenery and putting you in motion—a one-two punch as nourishing and curative as chicken soup. Get up. Get outside. Get moving. There are myriad benefits to be had, with multiple studies to prove them all. Better yet, just give it a try. Some of the most perplexing conundrums of my life have been made better by movement and a change of location—whether this was travel to a distant land, a hike through the woods or a casual stroll through a new neighborhood.
Take Notes. There is nothing like a notebook for working it all out. I have boxes full of them, pages and pages of embarrassing, soul-bearing scrawl I hope no one ever sees. Whatever is on my mind—whatever choices loom or no-win situations seem to rule the day—my notebook is always the place to find clarity, balance and greater lightness of being.
Daily exercise: Write for 15 minutes without stopping. Begin with a simple phrase, like I feel stuck because…. Keep the pen moving, even if you are just writing THIS SUCKS or I have no idea what to say or WTF?!?! Think of it as vomiting on the page, better out than in. Empty yourself completely without worrying what it looks like or what anyone else would think. It’s the written equivalent of dancing around in your underwear and belting out tunes into your hairbrush. Let it rip!
Get Dreamy. One of my favorite Martha Beck tools, beloved by clients as well, is the “ideal day.” I think of it as fantasy with a purpose, transcendence at your fingertips. You can visit as often as you like.
Start by sitting back, getting comfortable and closing your eyes. Take a deep inhale, and let it out nice and slow. Repeat twice. Next, imagine that it is the future, maybe one year from now. It is not just any future, but your future—your ideal future. Begin from the moment you wake up in the morning, and proceed through the day until you go back to sleep. Summon all of your senses, as you move step by step through one ideal day.
Let go of any rules. There is no time on the ideal day, no limits or boundaries of any kind. Don’t plan it, just envision it—with an open mind and trusting heart. Where are you? Who else is there, if anyone? What do you do? Where do you go? Take note of everything you do, everyone you encounter.
Suspend disbelief. Be open to whatever comes up. Try at different times on different days and see what develops. Do not evaluate the experience or judge yourself in any way. Just pay attention to anything that feels particularly juicy or delicious.
Mull over the parts that feel like a hint, an invitation toward action in a new direction.
Take Small Steps. Mix up your routine, but avoid doing anything drastic. Start with small changes—take a different route to work or rearrange the furniture at home. Change of any kind stimulates the brain, arguably making it more receptive to change in general, boosting confidence and leading to greater clarity or creativity. Be searching and honest about what feels wrong to you, but also surgical. It may not be your entire job, but specific aspects of it. Perhaps your marriage isn’t doomed, but slight tweaks can make all the difference. Taking action feels great—and is better than running in place—but try starting small and proceeding from there.
Have Some Fun. Do more of what you love to do. Play golf, visit museums, take some classes. Whatever your hobbies, pursue them with gusto. If you don’t have any hobbies—or think you don’t have the time—consider trying something new, and making the time. Follow your curiosity, explore as many experiences as possible. It might seem unrelated to the task at hand, but it’s not. Making fun a priority will help you deepen your connection to yourself, help you better identify your likes and dislikes and generally brighten your outlook. Try not to have any attachment to outcomes or expectations, just focus on fun.
Think Again. All of the steps touched on above are geared toward shifting your perspective. This is by design. Looking at your reality in new ways is crucial for getting unstuck, and nothing widens the lens like questioning and expanding your thinking. Our thoughts tend to play on repeat, and our personal beliefs and oft-repeated self-talk often dictate both our actions and our emotions. Changing the way we think—learning to question our thoughts, let go of preconceived ideas and reconsider long-held stories—are some of the simplest, most impactful changes we can make. It helps us open up to new people, new ideas and new possibilities for living.
Enlist Support. As always, you might consider hiring a coach or therapist to help you go deeper with all of the above. You’ve had a lifetime to establish your beliefs and habits, and the way you view the world is likely deeply rooted. Working with a trained professional to gain new insights can be tremendously helpful, and one of the most beneficial moves you can make.
Whatever you do, aim to widen your perspective. Summon some patience. Get busy walking, writing, dreaming or doing anything that shifts your focus. Make small changes to your routine, practice questioning your thinking and see where it all leads. And remember, I’m here if you’d like some support.