Being stuck is metaphorical. It’s a mental construct. Of the reactions one can have to something negative—fight, flight, or freeze—being stuck falls into the “freeze” camp. But unless you find yourself superglued to your chair or sinking in a pile of quicksand, you aren’t actually stuck. Loosely defined as a perceived inability to move, getting stuck can take on various traits including indecisiveness, second-guessing, and fear. It’s worth looking at each one individually.
The Stuck Indecisive
- I can’t do it wrong if I don’t do anything at all
- Choosing feels confining
- What if something better comes along?
Arianna Huffington once said, “Whatever your entry point, take it.” Simple and clear.
It may seem counterintuitive, but indecisiveness can be compounded by making lists of pros and cons, checking in with others, or reading tea leaves for answers. If those techniques work, by all means, use them. But if you feel stuck due to an inability to decide, try taking your entry point right now, today, this hour. Entry points can be any number of things including the next meeting on your calendar, the project you’ve committed to complete, the person you’re caring for, or the email that needs writing. Your entry point is what’s on your plate right now. It’s not what you wish was on your plate. It’s the slice of life that has unfolded for you, and to you.
One of my lightbulb moments of 2020, when I was lolling over a decision more than it warranted, was a message that floated into my thinking to “make decisions based on how much good I can do.”
I’ve noticed time and again working with clients, that decision-making is often loaded with “shoulds.” Rationales include “I should do X because it makes more money.” Or, “I should do Y because my family expects it.” Or “I’m a bad parent if I don’t do Z.” I’d even say that stuckness as indecisiveness almost always occurs because of “shoulds” crowding the room.
One remedy for the Stuck Indecisive is weeding out the shoulds and seeing if what’s left makes things more clear. Or in the case of my lightbulb moment, finding criteria that help to clear the mist. For me, the directive to make decisions based on how much good I could do naturally canceled out other options that didn’t fit those criteria.
The Stuck Second-Guesser
- What if they don’t like it/me?
- What was I thinking?
- What if I fail?
The Chinese monk Yunmen Wenyan said, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, sit. Above all, don’t wobble.”
Second-guessing is wobbling. At least when we’re walking, we’re getting somewhere. And when we’re sitting, we’re resting, being still, open to inspiration. But wobbling or second-guessing serves no one, particularly the wobbler.
In an ideal world, we’d have the reassurance that our choices are the “right” ones. People would pat us on the back, results would be immediate, or we’d get a telegram from the universe. Barring those, our best option is to trust the instinct, insight, or inspiration that made the choice in the first place and proceed.
In cases where red lights are flashing to stop or change course, pay attention to those. But either way, resolutely moving forward or pivoting to another direction keeps us from wobbling or spinning in place.
In his book, The Tao of Abundance Laurence G. Boldt says that hesitation confounds action. He recommends living in the spirit of Wu Wei, which means acting in an unforced, effortless manner, without struggle. He says: “To block action on an inspiration or intuition with the hesitation or paralysis of self-conscious thinking is missing the spirit of Wu Wei every bit as much as pushing and forcing a result.”
The Stuck Fearful
- I could lose everything
- I’ll make an idiot of myself
- I’ll be homeless by Thursday
Fear may be the most insidious of the three. Fear is paralyzing because its primal role is to keep us from being eaten by wild animals. The problem is that our fear gets triggered even when no wild animals are present, but rather the perception that [fill in the fear] is going to eat us alive. I see this repeatedly when coaching people for public speaking. While this fear is ranked right up there with the fear of death, I’ve yet to see anyone actually die of it.
Fear often appears bigger than it is. You see this when you break it down into component parts versus staring in paralyzed awe at its apparent vastness. While many people fear public speaking, they don’t always fear the same part of it. By breaking it down, we can address the component pieces to find some relief. If the fear is of looking stupid, we drill down into the message and ensure it’s watertight. If the fear is cottonmouth, we look at salivation techniques and hydration products. If the fear is profuse sweating, we address that. (Botox is apparently very effective I’m told).
The point is, fear can be diminished by addressing its component parts and handling them one by one. Will it go away completely? Maybe. If not, the next step is to decide if the goal on the other side of the fear is worth the discomfort of moving through it. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert offered a memorable strategy. Because she knows that some amount of fear is inevitable, she sees her fear as a 5-year-old that comes along for the ride but has to sit in the back seat and is not allowed to touch the steering wheel. This puts her (you) in the driver’s seat of her (your) life while the fear is relegated to the back seat. As happens with many 5-year-olds, it often gets bored or tired of chattering and drifts off to sleep.
Simply remembering that getting stuck is a mental construct that we have agency over can help get things moving again. Add in movement, flow, starting from where you are, eliminating “shoulds,” and putting fear in the back seat, and you have a powerful arsenal of allies to help you.
Kristin Brownstone is a certified, professional coach.