The recent incident in the Suez Canal reminded me that a significant part of our value as coaches is in helping our clients get unstuck. Let’s be real, we all have experiences of being personally stuck in life and we are likely to be stuck again at some time in the future. It is likely that this experience is way more common than we realise and we may be stuck without even being consciously aware of it. At times we’re simply having a vague feeling of discomfort but sometimes we experience a major EverGreen level episode.
How do you know that you’re stuck? What is it like? Here are a few common types of “stuckness”:
- Being indecisive or unable to take action in an important area of your life. You might find yourself ruminating ‘Should I leave my job or stay?’ – without making up your mind or taking any actions. Another example might be someone getting caught up in a pattern of over-working or over-eating and being unable to find a way out.
- Feeling that life is meaningless. You might perhaps have felt that your schedule is constantly packed with events and work but you don’t feel that you are going anywhere. Work doesn’t feel heading towards a particular direction that matters to or excites you. “Why am I doing this” is a question we heard more often over the past year than ever before.
- Unproductive thought patterns. We spend most of our conscious thought living in the past or the future. Some examples include overthinking mistakes you have made or excessively (and repeatedly) worrying about things that are coming or that might happen. These thoughts are accompanied by emotions that drain your energy but often do not lead you towards meaningful actions.
Whatever form of being stuck you experience, the overall sensation is one of literally being stuck, unable to move, being paralysed, or having lost your “mojo”. Yet, more often than not, we may experience but not notice these symptoms since we are too busy to notice and diagnose what is really happening.
Reasons for getting stuck
So how do we get down the rabbit hole in the first place? Understanding what gets us stuck is the first step to preventing it.
- We do not know what we really want. Most people can easily tell you what they do NOT want, but not what they want. The most paralysing “not known” factors driving stuckness are caused by unclear values, identity and purpose. To the busy successful 21st century person it may seem trivial and overly “soft” to think about these things, but without our values, identity and purpose, it makes it difficult to decide on what to do in important areas of our lives. A lot of times, we struggle over whether to stay or leave the company because we are not sure about our values and true desires.
- We try suppress certain thoughts or feelings. Contrary to the above situation, sometimes, we are totally aware of what we want. We may strongly desire a promotion; we may hate our job or partner – but we don’t acknowledge it to ourselves because we fear these feelings may get “out of control” or overwhelm us. So, we suppress it when it surfaces, such as shutting out these thoughts or distracting ourselves with other business about which we don’t truly care. This tactic of suppression is one of our brain’s favourite ‘defence mechanisms’. We use them so readily that we might not even be aware that we’re doing it. Conscious or not, avoiding thoughts and feelings leaves us with a vague sense of stuckness.
- Acting on autopilot based on unconstructive stories, beliefs, assumptions. These beliefs and assumptions may be deeply buried, or we may be well aware of them. The essence is that our behaviour is directed by or based on unexplored beliefs and assumptions. We act on them without truly exploring and evaluating them. They can be as obvious as the thought of “I’m not good enough” which most people are plagued with at some stage in their lives, or as sneaky as “I’m too tired to exercise” (no, you’re not!). These thoughts/beliefs/assumptions are not necessarily true, but we act on them instead of being directed by our most important values and a clarity of our identity and purpose in life. It is not a surprise that it often lands us in a place of stuckness.
In essence, we can say that being stuck is doing what we don’t want to do and not doing what we do want to do. And sadly, we are often mindlessly unaware of this whole dynamic of stuckness in our minds. When we are not aware, we frequently engage in behaviours that compensate for the feeling of stuckness like working harder, exercising more, over eating, drinking or excessive shopping – often making things worse. Stuckness steals our mental and emotional energy and makes it hard for us to adapt, change and be agile in the world. Most importantly, it can cause us to live “lives of quiet desperation” as the writer Thoreau described it. In the next article, we will explore ways to get unstuck.