How to Get Unstuck

Jane Herman

September 21, 2009

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Being stuck is not a fun place to be. Like a jeep in a mud hole the only thing that happens when you step on the gas is lots of dirt flies everywhere - but there is no forward movement. The good news is there really are techniques that can work to get you moving again and here are three of the most powerful ones I know.

1. Look For Proven Solutions

Sometimes when you are stuck there is no forward motion at all - you just can’t seem to get any traction. In this type of situation, when there is something you want to do but can’t seem to make it happen, the first place to look for solutions is in your own memory banks. Ask yourself, “When have I been in a similar situation in the past and what did I do then that worked? Can I apply that same thing now?” Although this seems pretty obvious, many people overlook this simple first step. If you can’t find something in your own past that you know works for you, try looking at what you know works for others. Look for people around you that have done what you can’t seem to do and ask them what worked for them.

2. Reframe and Reconnect

Sometimes when you find yourself stuck you may be ‘moving’ but you are actually ‘in a rut’ - simply moving forward and backyard over and over again following the same track. In this case a two-step approach can be helpful and it involves uncovering and reframing your underlying beliefs about the situation and reconnecting with, and harnessing, the power of the emotions you are feeling.

At some level we all understand that our beliefs and feelings /emotions underlie our behaviors. Events trigger our beliefs and assumptions - which in turn trigger our emotional response - which in turn influences our actions. If our beliefs and emotions stay the same in a given situation then it follows that our actions will be the same - hence the ‘rut’. The two-step approach for digging out of a rut is as follows:

a. Get clear on the underlying beliefs and reframe them

When you see yourself taking actions that are not getting you where you want to go, the first step is to uncover the underlying beliefs behind your actions. Try asking yourself the following questions: “What thoughts do I have about what is going on in this situation (i.e., what assumptions am I making)? What evidence do I have that this is really true? What is it bringing me to believe this is true (i.e., why am I holding on to this belief)? What is it costing me to believe this is true? What could I choose to believe instead that will serve me better and allow me to move forward?”

Sometimes, because the assumptions we make are often unconscious, you may need to use some round-about ways to get at them. One is to look for triggers you observe in yourself that could clue you in to when you are making negative assumptions - for example, noticing when you begin to feel negative thoughts or doubts surfacing, or when you feel twinges of uncertainty or self-doubt. Another way is to ask someone close to you to help - by being willing to challenge you when they hear you making assumptions that don’t seem to be true or might not be in your best interests.

b. Reconnect with the emotions involved

The beliefs and assumptions we have about a situation can trigger the emotions that we experience. Often just identifying and reframing the underlying beliefs or assumptions (as described above) will cause the associated emotions to shift to the positive or dissipate completely. But other times, it can be very helpful to reconnect directly with the emotions in the situation and then use them as a catalyst to shift into action and gain traction. This is especially true when the emotions are being triggered by your Values: Here is the process:
  • Notice how you feel in a given moment

  • Label how you feel (e.g., I am feeling angry)

  • Ask yourself what personal Values you hold that might be underlying the emotion you feel and how you can harness the power of your emotion to your benefit. Thus, for example, anger is a key emotion that can be triggered when you are very passionate about something (such as a Value that is core to who you are). So when you find yourself reacting in anger to something that is said or done in a given situation try asking yourself, “What is the underlying thing that I am really passionate about that is triggering this anger? What Value is being highlighted here?” Then see if you can flip the negative energy generated by the anger to positive energy directed towards engaging with the underlying passion/value. Emotions generate energy - but negative energy perpetuates ‘stuck’ while its flip side ‘passion,’ when positively engaged, can facilitate forward movement.
3. Accept and Commit

Sometimes what is required in order to move forward in a given situation is simply “acceptance” or “commitment” or a combination of both.

Acceptance: Many times when we are stuck, especially when we are stuck due to fear, we perpetuate our stuckness by ‘wishing’ things were different than they are rather than just accepting what is and moving on. Here’s an example. In a given situation we might ‘wish’ we did not feel afraid of taking the next step (e.g., of making the call we need to make, saying what we need to say, giving the presentation we need to give). An effective solution is to accept that you are afraid - and that it may be perfectly normal to feel afraid in the situation - and just move forward in spite of it. It’s the Susan Jeffers approach of “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Ask yourself - “What do I need to accept in this situation in order to be able to move on beyond it?”

Commitment: Sometimes committed action is the antidote to stuckness. Ask yourself, “Can I just commit to take this action, even though I don’t really feel like doing it?” Or “Can I commit to a process, even if I cannot commit that I am sure of the outcome?”

The Bottom Line

The bad news is there are lots of things that can get you stuck. The good news is there are lots of proven techniques that you can use to get unstuck. Those listed above are just some of the techniques that I personally have seen to be very effective in a multitude of situations. Next time you are stuck perhaps you will consider giving one a try.

Jane Herman is the Personal and Business Success Coach who helps managers, executives, and individuals take control of their lives and reinvent themselves, their careers, or their businesses. To receive a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Jane, and/or sign up for Jane's free Success Tools electronic newsletter, log onto or email her at [email protected].

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