When You’re Stuck

“Stuck” is not my favorite place to be. Stuck in a job. Stuck on an assignment. Stuck waiting.

Stuck sucks.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the truth is, “stuck happens.” We’re all going to bump into it at one point or another, whether it’s in a creative pursuit, a career, or simply trying to figure out how to resolve a challenge that’s cropped up. Often, it’s the mindset that is as much the issue as the situation itself, but that doesn’t make it any easier to address! Sticky thoughts and persistent (possibly unhelpful) ways of thinking and approaching problem-solving can get in the way of finding new ways to become unstuck.

I’ve been experiencing this recently in a few areas, and I decided to experiment with ways to get unstuck from certain situations and to unstick my thinking from ways that were no longer helpful to me. Next time you start to feel a bit mired down, try these two strategies to see if you can get those gears moving again.

1. What’s the opposite of what you’re doing?

What are you stuck on? Is it a presentation you have to build for work? A blog you’re trying to write? A conversation you need to have but aren’t sure how to proceed with? Whatever it is, identify it clearly, and then think of something that is COMPLETELY opposite of it. For example, if you are ruminating over a courageous conversation that needs to happen, instead of talking more, try doing something that allows you to be completely silent. Meditation, listening to a podcast, going for a swim. Anything that could be considered an opposite of talking. If you’re trying to figure out how to put together a presentation but can’t quite figure out how to communicate what you want or how to represent it, is there something that’s an opposite of telling your story? Maybe watching a documentary or reading a book – someone else’s story. If you’re stuck in a career rut, waiting for some pieces to fall into place, what is something you can do where YOU can be in charge of all aspects of it? Try cooking a meal or throwing a gathering. If you’re struggling to find your mojo to do work, instead of grinding harder or forcing yourself into it, instead, try PLAY. Yes, play. Go for the opposite, really sink into that experience, and then re-evaluate the other thing you were trying to tackle. Oftentimes doing the exact opposite will help us unlock whatever’s stuck.

2. Lateral thinking

This is one of my very favorite exercises to deploy when I’m searching for some sort of spark, creativity, or in need of something to wriggle me loose from stuck thinking.

Step 1: For 60 seconds, take a mindful walk around whatever space you’re in. (If you’re somewhere where you really can’t be mobile, just use your eyes to scan the space.) Identify one object that captures your attention. Don’t overthink this, just find something that captures your attention.

Step 2: Write down 3-5 adjectives that describe your object or 3-5 characteristics about it. Color, texture, size, weight, malleability, how it makes you feel, etc.

Step 3: Call to mind whatever your stuck issue is. Write it down on a piece of paper so you can see it clearly.

Step 4: Ask yourself how the object you identified and its characteristics are like/similar to your stuck area.

Step 5: Ask yourself how your object and its characteristics can actually help you solve your problem.

To help clarify, here’s a recent (real) example of this tactic:

  • Step 1: A pair of leggings
  • Step 2: They are black, stretchy, comfortable, and make me feel relaxed.
  • Step 3: My stuck issue is putting together a presentation for a virtual keynote I have this week. It’s a new(ish) topic, and I’m stuck trying to pull together all my thoughts into a coherent set of slides and talking points.
  • Step 4: How is this pair of leggings like my challenging presentation? Well, I’m having to stretch my thinking and get out of my comfort zone. I feel a little bit like I’m in the dark (black). I’m definitely stressed out and not relaxed about it.
  • Step 5: How can these leggings actually help me solve my problem? First of all, can I use some material I’ve already created and am really familiar with instead of completely building from scratch? That might help me feel more comfortable. Second, I generally prefer to do my creative work in a bright lit space – can I physically move into a lighter environment to help me feel better? If I do need to stretch with some of this content, can I reframe that as an opportunity to learn and grow vs. something that’s “hard”? And finally, I’m always able to work better when I’m relaxed. Being stressed out has never once made it easier for me to produce work. What can I do to get more relaxed so I can tackle this project in that state instead?

Doing the opposite or using a random object to help you approach a situation differently may seem counterintuitive, but hey, as Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Try something totally different and see what loosens up for you!

- Nicole



free: 5 Steps to finding clarity worksheet