Getting Unstuck

January 16, 2016


Ever felt stuck in life? Like you want to do something, but it just feels like there is some kind of blockage inside you that’s preventing you from making progress? Maybe it’s a goal, or a decision you need to make, or a habit change that you just can’t seem to get up the will power to get done?

Feeling stuck and dealing with these blockages is an incredibly common phenomenon. While there is a way to work through blockages productively, we often take the very approaches that get us further stuck without even realizing it.

I frequently encounter blockages. I get them in many aspects of my life. Sometimes I show up to work and I seem unable to get to work or tackle a specific project. Sometimes it’s writer’s block or it’s a creative project I can’t seem to get going on. Sometimes it’s a life change or a habit I want to create or undo that I just can’t muster up the motivation to accomplish. And I’ve felt stuck more times than I can count around my Zen practice. There are all sorts of possible blockages.

At its core, a blockage is an inner conflict. One part of you wants to do something or achieve something specific, but the other part of you seems to resist it or at least seems uncertain or confused enough as to not enable you to take any steps toward that goal. And that inner conflict is inherently painful.

Any inner conflict is painful, but when you’re stuck, it can be particularly tough. Usually you’re prone to judging yourself pretty harshly because the part of you that wants to accomplish something thinks it KNOWS it’s in your best interest, yet you, you piece of crap, can’t seem to make it happen. So what is there to do?

Typically, whether we realize it or not, the first thing we do is we judge the blockage. If we’re feeling stuck, that’s usually a great sign that somewhere inside we’re judging ourselves for not being able to move forward. It just happens to be that judging the blockage usually serves to make it worse. It’s there because of an inner conflict. It’s often freed when that inner conflict dissolves. So piling more inner conflict on top of it, even if just a very mild amount of judging (“why can’t I seem to get going?”), just serves to sink you more deeply into the quicksand.

So what can you do?

If it’s a really significant blockage around a big life goal, life decision, habit change or the like, then I want to offer one thing to consider trying. But it’s not necessary, and you could skip straight to step one, the one and only step required. In fact, this can even serve to get you further stuck if approached in the wrong way.

However, for a really big blockage, it can be helpful to do the following: spend a very short time doing some reflection. What kind of reflection? Before going there, I want to make sure I am really clear. Spend a VERY SHORT TIME doing some reflection. Sometimes something needs to be seen about the blockage itself if you’re stuck in a major way.

Simply take a look at the inner resistance if you can find it. But be extremely careful not to judge the inner resistance. Instead, just look at it in the spirit of understanding what it is saying. What’s its story? Usually there are some hidden beliefs in there. If you just listen to the story, you begin to see those hidden beliefs.

Now this is why I think it’s so important to time bound this activity… you could get lost in the unhelpful abyss of some fruitless psychoanalysis that isn’t insightful or worse yet, tricks you into thinking it is meaningful but in reality isn’t the real reason for the resistance. It’s not always easy to look at inner resistance and uncover the story. There are lots of potential stories, and we can trick ourselves without even realizing it, or we can go on a witch hunt and never find the real reason. And it’s really easy to end up judging ourselves, which is counterproductive.

But if you are able to identify a story that seems to be the narrative behind your inner resistance, it can be very valuable to just listen to it, to see it for what it is. DON’T dismiss it or try to talk yourself in the opposite direction. Just seek to understand it, and when you do, simply investigate the truth to it.

Very often there will be some truth to it, but the opposite point of view also has some truth to it.

And this is what gives it the freeing power:  When you let yourself see the story without judging it and consider the truth of it as well as the truth of its opposite, this can sometimes create just enough space not to get rid of the story and resistance, but to free you that tiny iota necessary to enable an eency wheency little bit of action.

I hope you’re picking up on a theme I’m trying my best to convey here… it’s really important not to engage in this exploration with the overt goal of demolishing your story of inner resistance so you can immediately get unstuck. The story is smarter than that and it doesn’t work. You really need to be open, receptive and nonjudgmental toward it. Seek to understand. And even if it is ludicrous, there must be at least a tiny amount of truth to it or you wouldn’t believe it. But just as importantly, there is truth to its opposite. That’s just the way things work.

Now you could skip all of that and go straight to what’s next, because ultimately action is what frees blockages, even if it’s not perfectly directed action. The problem, of course, is that if you were able to just take action, you wouldn’t be stuck.

Here’s the important difference — we get so hell bent on our progress toward our goal looking a specific way. Then we beat ourselves up for not making progress that specific way. But sometimes that just ain’t the way things work. Sometimes you go straight up the mountain, other times you need to wander along the base of the mountain for quite some time, maybe going up a little and back down before you finally wind your way around.

So your first step is to do just that — take a first step. You just have to do something in the direction of your goal. But the trick is to identify the smallest possible step that gets you moving. Literally the smallest conceivable step, I mean it.

One guy’s goal might be to meditate every day, but he can’t seem to get going, let alone stick with it. His smallest conceivable step is to meditate for two minutes today.

Another girl’s goal is to go on a diet and start exercising so she can lose fifteen pounds. Her smallest conceivable step? Maybe it’s to go on one ten minute walk around the block today. Or maybe it’s to make one small change like replacing one thing she would eat or drink with something healthier today.

Suppose I’m dealing with some writer’s block… I want to write but can’t seem to lift the pencil so to speak. What’s my smallest conceivable step? Write five sentences right now. Just five. Maybe it turns into something, maybe that’s as far as I get.

Do you see a pattern? Keep your first step smaller than small and do it TODAY. Do it NOW. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t even think about tomorrow until it comes. Just think about today. Just think about now.

Secondly, you have to reframe success completely. Success is not losing fifteen pounds, it’s making the single substitution or taking the single walk. If you do that, you’ve succeeded today. Truly. If you meditate for two minutes, you’ve succeeded. Truly. You have to completely reframe success and believe it. Totally internalize that. I can’t write my five sentences with the obvious secret aim of writing more and then beat myself up if I’m still stuck at the end of five sentences. I have to really see success as just getting those five sentences written.

But the tiniest of actions starts to loosen things up. Step two is the same as step one. And we shouldn’t even be thinking beyond that. If you get to step two, enough said.

The last thing I find incredibly important is to know your rhythms and take your small actions at a time where your mind and your body are best primed for action. Sometimes we make our blockage worse by trying to force things at the wrong time. We dwell on our inaction when we’re just too tired. Or we set aside time and fail to act because we lack the inspiration or motivation.

But there are times where we are suddenly energetic or motivated or inspired or just feeling good and it’s not the time we might’ve planned to take any kind of action. Our goal might be the furthest thing from our mind at that point. If at that moment we remember our goal, that’s the best time to drop everything we’re doing and use that motivation and energy to take a small step toward our goal.

In the end, you have the ability to get unstuck. Your inner resistance is no match for the power you have within. Action, even if it is imperceptibly small, is what unlocks that power. You don’t need to go from 0 to 100mph. You need to go from 0 to 1mph first anyway.

I’d wish you the best, but I don’t even need to. You already have the power.

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