We all get stuck: paralyzed about a decision, unsure what choice to make. Stuck in resentment or disappointment we can’t quite recover from. Stuck in a plan that’s not working as anticipated. Stuck in a destructive, repetitive dynamic with family members, coworkers, or friends.
When we’re stuck, things feel immovable, entrenched, even hopeless. The good news is, they aren’t.
We human beings are actually extremely adept at getting unstuck, at seeing the same thing in new ways, discovering new insights and changing our attitudes, but we need some tools to create that movement.
Here are 16 of my favorite ways to get unstuck. Keep them all in your toolkit, or experiment to see which ones work most powerfully for you.
1. Find the reasons why it’s all just perfect.
Perfect? This dreadful, annoying, not-what-you-planned situation is perfect? Yup. It is. Your mind will figure out how if you point it in that direction. Say to yourself, “this situation is perfect because…” and brainstorm five reasons. Find the truth in each of them. Now what looks different?
2. Put on a soundtrack.
Pick a favorite song and connect to the mood of that song. Play the song out loud or just think of it. Then apply the mood of the song to how you look at the situation.
You might bring the spirit “What a Wonderful World” to the argument with your mother in law. Bring the mood of your favorite jazz piece to the last minute work assignment your boss just handed you. What feels different now?
3. Go to 10,000 feet.
Close your eyes and take a magic carpet ride into space. Take your time. Take some deep breaths. When you reach 10,000 feet, take in the gorgeous view, and then look down at your current situation from a great distance. What’s clear now that you are looking at the big picture?
4. Ask yourself, “What would make this fun?”
Oh, if we all asked that question more… what a world we’d create. Brainstorm ten ideas that would make the situation more fun. Then pick a few and experiment with them.
5. Ask for a dream.
Ask your mind to work on the problem in your dreams. Put a dream journal next to the bed. Give yourself a few days for the dream to show up. It maybe obviously relevant or connected through the language of metaphor.
6. Time travel.
Imagine a visit with a fulfilled, older version of yourself, one on the other side of this situation, fifteen or twenty years from now. Ask him or her how she navigated it. What was really important? What advice does he or she have for you?
7. Time travel (with the gear in reverse).
Pay a visit to your childhood self. Visit yourself as little girl or boy in one of your favorite childhood places. Sit down and play for a few minutes. Then ask that younger you what he or she makes of the situation, and what he or she would like you to do. What new possibilities do you see? What’s happening with the child in you?
8. Tell the truth.
Just tell the truth, including the parts that feel scary and vulnerable to share. Including the parts you’ve been repressing or avoiding. That unfailingly shakes things up and breaks stagnation. Be diplomatic, be kind, be your wise and sensitive self–but state your truth.
9. Take care of yourself.
In difficult situations, we typically focus on how they (those other crazy people) should be different, how they are wrong.
Bring your attention back to yourself. What do you need to do to take care of you? What do you need to protect your sanity, act in alignment with your integrity, and be the happy camper you want to be? Take care of your needs, and watch your relationship to the situation change.
10. Draw some pictures.
Doodle, paint, make a collage. Borrow your kids’ crayons and draw. Let your right brain take over as you make some pictures about the situation. You’ll process and evolve your feelings as you do.
11. Surrender, completely.
Feeling like you are banging your head against a wall or swimming upstream signals a need for surrender. Surrendering doesn’t mean endorsing or even tolerating what is happening; it just means accepting reality.
State what is. Make peace with it. Take five deep breaths, breathing in what is. Let go into it. Notice what new possibilities or insights appear over the next few days.
12. Gather new information.
Speak with someone involved in the situation, who is likely to see it differently than you. Ask them five open-ended questions about the situation. Here are the rules: no statements or reactions on your part. Just brief, curious questions. No questions longer than 10 words. No “yes/no” questions (i.e. “Do you think Jane is being unreasonable?”).
Ask “what” or “how” questions (“What do you think about all this?” “What do you think is needed to resolve the situation?”). Use all your experience watching legal dramas too: no leading questions.
13. Look for the pattern.
Something feeling familiar about this situation? Another jerk in authority? Another person abandoning you? Another situation where you are feeling betrayed or powerless or sad or whatever it is?
Look for the pattern: When in your life have you felt this way before? That will point you towards your part in creating the situation, your own issues and side of the street. Once you are looking there, your understanding of the situation will shift.
14. Get in the water.
Some day, science will be able to tell us why, I’m sure. For the meantime we can rely on personal experience to know that something magical happens with problem-solving when we bring our problems to water. (Personally, I think it has something to do with our early lives in the womb.)
Take a shower, take a bath, go for a swim, or listen to water sounds near a fountain or on your computer. Water gets stuck stuff flowing.
I know CEO’s who swear that their five-minute walks around the block are their most productive times of the day. Moving our bodies gets our minds and emotions moving. Only the crazy culture of mind-body separation we live with would have us think the best way to solve a problem is by sitting still at a desk thinking about it.
Take a walk, do some stretches, work out or dance and then see what has shifted.
16. Become the representative of love.
I don’t want to choose a favorite child from this list, but for me, the most powerful way to get unstuck is this one. I ask myself, “What would it look like to be the representative of love in this situation? What would it look like to bring love into the room, into the conversation?”
Or I set an intention, “May I be a representative of love.” This lifts me out of anxieties into a higher purpose. It reveals a new way to see things, uncovers new things that need to be said, and shows me what I (and my ego) can let go of. From there, I can have real impact.
Photo by Josef Grunig