What to do when you feel stuck

I grew up on a creek and it fascinated me. There was one event that I always looked forward to every Spring and it was the Spring thaw. We’d usually have some flooding that occurred on our creeks and rivers, and with the excess water, usually came some fallen logs. I used to love to make my way up above Crater’s Dam on our creek and watch for the log jam that would often occur. The logs would just sort of swirl together, suspended above the dam. It was fascinating to me as a kid. I could never figure out what held them there or how it formed. I remember a few lucky times when I got to witness one single log mysteriously breaking free from the rest and sail over the dam. It completely amazed me how that one log breaking free would then break up the log jam and they’d all then float over the dam – just by one log breaking free. One.

Over the years and in having coached as many people as I have, I have noticed that sometimes we face our own version of a log jam and we just feel stuck.   More importantly, what I’ve noticed is that sometimes, we simply need to get one log to become free and then things open up.  If you find that you are feeling a bit stuck and you aren’t sure how to move forward, here are five things that you can do to break up your log jam:

  • Increase margin.  When we are feeling stuck, we need to have the space to breathe, to reflect, to explore, and sometimes to simply be.  We simply cannot do those things when we are running at the red line all the time.  What this means is that we may need to find a way to cut back a bit at work or get some outside help.  You might also consider setting boundaries around your time.  Something that was hard for me to do, but that was hugely beneficial is that I started shutting down my e-mail at 5:00 p.m. every day and not opening it up until 9:00 in the morning.  I told my team that I’d be working this way, and, if something urgent came up that they could call me.  At first, I was nervous because I had always prided myself on my quick e-mail response time, but what I found is that I was still very responsive and no one objected.
  •  Create a practice of reflecting.  This is one of the most powerful practices that we can create.  It can take a lot of different forms, but my favorite is to set aside time first thing in the morning, before you’ve opened your e-mail or your social media or before you’ve started your morning chores and spend 20-30 minutes journaling.  There are tons of good resources out there that have writing prompts if you need them.  You can also start with simply taking an inventory of where your energy was yesterday:  where did you feel at your best, where did you feel your energy wane, when did you feel most energized?  You want to be specific in answering these questions.  So be sure to include what, specifically, were you doing, who else was there, how did it go or unfold, etc. 

    Another really effective reflection practice is to journal for 20-30 minutes and then to draw a line across the bottom of your writing, set a timer for 10 minutes and then just start writing about how you were feeling when you were writing/journaling about what you just wrote.  The key here is to focus on keeping the pen or pencil moving the entire time.  Don’t pause, don’t allow yourself to edit or judge, just write until the timer goes off.  You’ll sometimes be surprised at what you learn.

    A final note on journaling: there is something about the brain – hand connection so that there is less of a filter than if you are typing.  So, if you are trying to peel back the onion and gain insight, paper and pencil or pen is the more effective way to go.
  • Bring in new information.  A great way to get unstuck is to simply get something to shift a little bit and one of the best ways to do that is to bring in new information.  That information can come from reading, listening to podcasts, watching biographical documentaries, taking a course, and, of course, talking to others.  It’s especially helpful to reach out to those who are outside your immediate circle.  This is one of the best ways to bring in new perspectives and insights. 
  • Challenge what you think you know.  This is a big one.  Daymond John on an episode of Shark Tank once said, “It’s what you think you know that keeps you stuck.”  We all have ways of seeing the world or believing that we know the best way to do something (which sometimes becomes the only way), and even just believing that we have the answer versus having an answer.  To shake things up and to simply challenge ourselves to make sure we are continuing to grow, it’s good to occasionally challenge ourselves with:  What if my way or answer isn’t the only one?  What could be some other viable ways of approaching this that could work?  And, then try it.  Again, if we are stuck then we have to do something to get us unstuck and a sure way of doing that is to do something that we normally don’t do.  Even if you try it and decide that you still prefer your way, that’s great.  You have still brought in new data and you will have learned something, which can help move your forward.
  • Try something.  I’m very partial to this one.  All we are trying to do is to get the pendulum to move; we are trying to get some sort of momentum and, to me, there is no surer way to do that than to try something.  Take some action (for example, any of the steps above).  You can also do something completely unrelated, but something that might challenge you in some way.  For example, years ago, I was feeling not quite stuck, but more like I was in neutral.  I decided that I’d take a cross-country ski lesson.  I had only been skiing for about a year and I avoided the hills at all costs.  They terrified me.  To shake things up, I took a lesson that specifically focused on navigating hills.  I was completely terrified!  It wasn’t just outside my comfort zone, it was in the “you must be out of your mind” zone.  But, I did it, and what I noticed is that it created a new level of confidence and excitement in my skiing, which then carried over into other areas of my life. 

Again, when we are stuck, we are looking for something that will get even just one of the logs in the log jam to release.  Try out any of these five things and you might be surprised at how much movement you’ll soon see in your life.