Getting Unstuck


Do you ever get stuck? I mean, stuck in a big way, not just solving a problem, but really STUCK? Well, what I’m about to say may not help. I’m kind of stuck right now myself, and in the process of figuring out how to get unstuck. But maybe you can learn something from my bumbling. My first piece of advice? Don’t search “how to get unstuck” on Google.

There are thousands of web pages out there, eager for your traffic, most of which serve up a shallow article about how to get unstuck. But odds are, you will end up feeling more stuck as you find yourself overwhelmed with all those thought-provoking ideas about being stuck. I just spent about twenty minutes doing that, and then remembered that I have most of the knowledge and tools right inside me to figure this out. Which means you probably do too, because – although I like to think I am – I’m really not that unique.

So let’s start with basics. Although one of the likely causes of “feeling stuck” is some form of depression, that is the extent to which we’re going to touch on it. If you think this is a possibility, by all means examine the possibility with a qualified professional, it’s a common problem, and nothing to be ashamed about. So as we dig in, a little warning: rather than laying claim to answers, we’re going to ask questions.

The first is: are you stuck doing something, or not doing something? I have ingeniously created a situation that involves both. I say “ingeniously”, because being stuck in a dead-end job can be an unfortunate side-effect of “living responsibly”, but I’m self-employed! It’s all my own doing! I’m involved in several projects right now, and with a couple of them, I feel like I’m swimming through concrete, and others, I’ve been completely stalled. But this is an important question. Are you stuck in the sense of immobilized creatively? Are you stuck in a negative relationship? Stuck in a dead end job or stalled project? Are you just plain bored with your existence? The solutions to the first and last items mentioned can be fairly easy to fix.

If you’re stuck creatively, the worst thing you can do in most cases is ponder the fact that you’re stuck creatively. That brings all your focus to the “left brain”, a guaranteed brick wall for creativity. My worst experience with this recently was sitting down with a group of business people that were trying to name a new venture. They decided to meet at one person’s house, and “brainstorm”. After two hours, this group of people – not really “creative types” in the first place – had nothing but a large collective headache to show for their efforts. And a few really dumb names. The surest way to kill creativity is say “Okay! Now let’s be creative!” and then not hand out some fingerpaints or something. You’re putting the rational brain to work on an irrational problem.

Even if you have to use weird tools like Roger Von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack Cards (also available for the iPhone, by the way) or Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, STOP THINKING ABOUT BEING STUCK. Crap. Maybe even go for a walk or something. Or imagine what you’d like to do to the person who gave you the task in the first place. Exploring your Jungian Shadow can be fun, even if you do end up realizing you want to duct-tape your boss to an F-18 or something. And it can get you back in your “creative brain”.

And if you’re bored with your life, the answer is even simpler… DO SOMETHING! Anything. Especially something you’ve never done. Years ago, a friend of mine said “take a new way to work, you never know who you might meet”. Sounds trivial, but think of a big ship. Small course changes now translate into a vast differences in your destination later. And if you’re having trouble deciding what to do next, remember what Yogi Berra said: When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

As an amusing example of this idea, I ran across this video (also below) today on YouTube. The guy in the video did it for a blog he just started at Who knows where it will end up, but there’s already a pretty amusing thread about it over on Reddit. I imagine whatever is going on for that guy today, he feels a lot less stuck.

And that leads me to those bigger kinds of stuck. Stuck in a job? Stuck in a marriage? Stuck with projects going nowhere? It is almost certain that the reason you feel stuck in any of these instances is fear. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of living without financial security, or in the case of stalled projects, fear of imperfection, fear of failure, and so on.

Elsewhere, I’ve talked about fear before, and imperfection too. In an upcoming piece, I’ll talk about about eliminating fear altogether. I had a conversation with a friend earlier today in which they said “yeah, but whenever you get rid of one fear, another comes along to replace it“. For a moment, I had this anxious feeling of “Oh God, what if she’s RIGHT???” And then we had a great laugh about the idea of fearing never being without fear.I believe the kinds of fear we’re talking about can mostly be done away with, and I’ll share some of how soon.

But for now, I have some unsticking to do myself. And it involves doing something I’ve been afraid to do for a while, which is taking several major activities in my life, and saying “hey, this isn’t working, and the only solution is to chuck it”. Something that people like Seth Godin talk about on occasion. Am I afraid? No. How can I be? I have no idea how it will really turn out until I actually do it. And that’s where almost all our fears exist – in an imagined future.

Who knows if the guy who made this video is on the right track, but at least he’s taking action. Let’s just hope he had permission to use the much talked about song Friday by Rebecca Black.