You’ve invested a great deal of time and determination in pursuing the plan you, or perhaps someone else, wrote for your life. Though you don’t totally despise what you’ve been doing, you wake up each morning with the nagging feeling that you’re not moving in the right direction either. As the days tick by, the nagging turns to unease, and unease into discontent. The pressure mounts, and you’re unable to find the connection between who you are, what you’re certain of, and what you’re doing with your life. Simply said: you’re stuck.
You probably took a stab at trying to get unstuck by doing what most people in that circumstance do—you decried that you weren’t stuck, and to prove it you began taking action. You set out to either add things to the plan or subtract things from the plan: trying everything and anything to make it work. But the more you focused on making it work, the more the sense of discontent grew. Today turned into tomorrow, and tomorrow into next month, and you still didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t. You were more disheartened and even more stuck.
But getting unstuck isn’t about continuing to do what you’ve always done plus or minus a few things. After all, where’s it written that you have to stay on the path you’re currently on? And yes, I know it isn’t easy to think about giving up on a plan that you’ve dedicated years to pursuing—yet you have to accept that being stuck is your first and best signal that you’re ready for an important realignment in your life.
Being stuck is a great puzzle to solve, and it isn’t as difficult as you think once you accept that being stuck can lead to that start of something new. Digging out of the hole starts when stuck becomes the springboard for understanding what might be within your grasp. Knowing what we want starts with knowing what we might want and then figuring out what we what we need to pull it off.
There are many paths to living an incredible life, and many chances in our lifetime to reinvent ourselves—you won’t be stuck for long if you accept where you are, get over being stuck quickly, and start getting about the business of discovering what you might want to do next.
Expanding your possibilities gets simpler when you follow these four steps:
1. Realign Your Compass
Feeling stuck often leaves you questioning everything: your past, your present, and your future. Before you can even begin to find out where you want to go, you have to take a moment and figure out where you are in relation to your true north. Spend the time you need getting back in touch with the things that honor your values, interests, and core beliefs. Take the time to really ask yourself questions that shed light on what you really want to do with the work you do each day, and then ask yourself questions about what you want your life to be about. There are many great tools and exercises to help you do this (shameless plug: many of them you can find posts about on the Leadership Compound blog—check some out and give them a try). Find and ask the questions that most resonate with you, or the tools that work best for you, and if you don’t see any you can create your own. There really are no rules other than to write things down—it really does help you bring them into reality. The key is to begin.
2. You Have To Generate Ideas And Quantity Is King
Once you’ve realigned your compass and know your true north, you can begin to explore new ideas, preferences, and capabilities. In certain things quality does matter more than quantity, except when you’re trying to dig yourself out of the roadblock known as being stuck. Getting on with your life starts when you consciously engage in activities that spike your creativity and idea generation to the levels where ideas, options, and possibilities begin to flow freely and without judgment. The key is to begin free-associating, imagining, and coming up with lots of outrageous, enticing, and electrifying probable and improbable ideas that spark your interest or intrigue you. Zeroing in too quickly and/or attempting to think up a handful of high quality ideas in the early stages of idea formation is totally counterproductive to becoming unstuck. It only serves to intensify the pressure and indecision, stymie your creativity, and block any forward progress. Options—and lots of them—are what eventually lead to better quality ideas. They magnify our thinking, and energize and help us give thought to things we might have previously dismissed as impractical or outlandish. Quantity then leads to more choices, which result in better options and eventually a few quality ideas, which are optimal to implement. Some of my favorite tips for doing this are creating mind maps, journaling, word association, vision boards, and writing ideas on post it notes—find something that is creative and works best for you.
3. Choose What Fits—And First Isn’t Always Best
Despite our best intentions, our biases can often work against our best interests, especially when we lose sight that they exist. Failing to recognize and take into account their impact on our decision-making can prove disastrous. In highly charged emotional situations, like overcoming being stuck, we can sometimes forget that biology outmaneuvers rationality. The high and rush that we get from generating new ideas and seeing possibilities again can cause us to view more favorably our first idea and consider it “the one,” even though we’ve given it little scrutiny. Our desire to do this is more related to the chemical response of the brain’s positive hormones than a rational validation of the solution. Getting moored to a solution just because it seems good enough might right the ship, but it also closes down the exploration of many other really good and often beneficial options. Many times, what we first come up with is the safe or familiar choice. In the long term, choosing what is safe or comfortable could lead to being anchored in another sandbar: stuck again with some familiar issues. Learning how to keep working beyond the first quality idea and coming up with several other options helps us overcome the natural inclination to settle for the first thing we arrive at. Once we’ve uncovered, walked around in, and reviewed in depth several really solid options, we have the information we need to begin to draw the contrasts and weigh the advantages of each choice. The process of learning in depth about several high quality choices by asking questions and getting additional data and facts reduces the fear of uncertainty and increases our clarity about our choice and the outcome.
4. Don’t Critique, Sabotage, Or Stifle Your Forward Progress
The more ideas we have, the more choices that are open to us. If we are to imagine things in ways that we haven’t before, and think about things more broadly than ever before, we can’t sabotage ourselves along the way. Our brains are designed to be critical, find problems to solve, and make spur-of-the-moment judgments—nothing could be more detrimental to free-associating for creativity and inside-out thinking. Knowing this is how our minds work is the first step toward quieting the inner voice that, if left unattended, can impede our ability to do the two steps outlined above. You have to be mindful as you embark on this journey. Prepare yourself by first spending some time becoming aware of your own destructive self-talk: the messages you give yourself that say you can’t do something. Keep a journal as you start this process and make note of every time you think, “You can’t do that,” or “This idea is too crazy.” Put a plan in place to stop yourself from making that judgment and reward yourself for banishing the inner voice that says no and choosing to do things differently. Enjoy the benefits and the stress relief from knowing that this isn’t about getting it right the first time—it is about experimenting, learning, and small steps. With practice, you’ll see the fog will lift and you’ll be less stuck and more willing to push the door open to consider what once seemed unimaginable.
If you’re feeling stuck today, I encourage you to embrace it, accept it as the great puzzle it is to solve, and figure out what path will lead you back to your true north. If you’ve solved the puzzle before, I’d love to hear about your journey and what worked best for you.