I was on the phone with a client and I had just asked a question. I resisted the urge to ask, “Are you still there?” I knew better. I knew what this was.
We were stuck.
I say ‘we’ because that’s what it feels like as a coach when you are with a client on the edge of change. The edge is that profoundly uncomfortable space in a change process between what you are leaving behind and what you are stepping into. You can’t quite see the path ahead or worse, you can see it and fear has you paralyzed.
I’ve learned that when someone is stuck like this, the worst thing I can do is dive in and try to offer a solution. In times like this, less is more.
Stuck is a natural part of the process of change and transition.
This can feel unsettling or even frightening. It can also feel deeply frustrating, like throwing yourself against an immovable object. But I’ve come to respect moments like these because they can also be the point before a major breakthrough or insight.
There is no one right thing to do if you’re feeling like this. Sometimes you need to hang out in stuck until your impatience becomes stronger than your fear. At other times, a little intervention can make all the difference.
If you’re sick of feeling stuck, here are five techniques that can get you moving forward.
Change the Scenery
Has this ever happened to you?
You’ve been ruminating about a tough problem or decision for days and despite how hard you focus, the answer doesn’t come. Then one morning, you jump in the shower and ‘voila’! Problem solved.
Why do we get some of our best ideas in the shower or while going for a walk? Neuroscience offers some potential explanations.
- Light, pleasurable activities like taking a shower or going for a walk tend to increase the flow of dopamine which can contribute to creativity.
- Further, being in a relaxed and slightly distracted state can take some of the executive and analytical functions of the brain off-line long enough for other areas of the brain associated with creativity, emotion, and making links and associations become more active.
“… the subconscious is just a much better problem solver. It’s far faster, far more energy efficient, and has nearly unlimited RAM—meaning, while the conscious mind can handle about 7 bits of information at once, there appears to be no limit on how many ideas the subconscious can juggle.”Steven Kotler, The Art of Impossible
Whatever the reason, putting the problem down and going for a walk works often enough, that it’s the first thing I do when I’m feeling stuck.
Try on different perspectives
Often, being stuck is less of a problem of circumstance and more of a problem of seeing.
When we are working on a hard problem or trying to make a tough decision, our focus narrows and intensifies. Like using the zoom function on a camera lens, we lose sight of the bigger picture or critical information in the margins.
Perspective-taking, the act of looking at a situation from several angles, is a crucial strategic leadership skill. The easiest and most effective way to see things from a new perspective is to ask different kinds of questions.
You can find a list of my favorite questions for getting unstuck, here.
Take the smallest next step
Often, we get stuck because our minds make the issue much bigger and more significant than it needs to be. Amplifying the significance of our actions is a recipe for paralysis. Sometimes it helps to ask, what’s the first, easiest, smallest logical step I can take?
My husband and I knew our house needed a major renovation. We’d been putting it off for years. There was so much to do, we just felt overwhelmed. Finally, a friend, tired of listening to me complain said, “Look call this person. She’s a designer. I’ve worked with her. She can help.” I did. That simple call was all we needed to get out of paralysis and into action.
Do the hard thing
I recently read, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. She repeats this line in her book over and over. It didn’t originate with her, but it was a powerful and inspiring reminder.
“We can do hard things.”
Sometimes we are stuck because every option available to us is hard or ugly EXCEPT perhaps doing nothing.
I have found (the hard way) that avoiding the hard thing almost NEVER works. Maybe it’s the hard decision to leave your job or the hard conversation you need to have with your kids or the bad behaviour at work you need to confront or own.
Whatever it is, avoiding the hard thing almost always leads to something much harder down the road. If you’re stuck because all the options are hard, remind yourself, “I can do hard things.” Because you can.
Ask for help
Sometimes you’re stuck because you feel you have to do it alone. That the answer must come from you.
I know this one well. I once participated in an exercise with a group of leaders called “The Maze.” The organizers blindfolded us and put us into a rope maze. Our job was to find our way out without peeking. We were told that if we felt we couldn’t do it, we could call out and ask for help.
Turns out, the game was rigged, as these things often are. There was no way out of the maze. Asking for help WAS the way out. Out of 23 participants, there were only two people who failed to get out of the maze that day.
I was one of them.
When you feel stuck, don’t assume you are on your own. Assume people want to support you. Be vulnerable. Ask for help.
What do you do to get unstuck? Please share what works for you in the comments below.