“Being stuck is a position few of us like. We want something new but cannot let go of the old – old ideas, beliefs, habits, even thoughts. We are out of contact with our own genius. Sometimes we know we are stuck; sometimes we don’t. In both cases we have to DO something.”
~ Rush Limbaugh
We all get stuck!
Writing being one of the many things we do, one of the common situation that we come across is writer’s block. Similarly, you have people in other creative and non-creative fields who find themselves in a rut now and then.
But being stuck is not just related to careers, many a time we get emotionally stuck, or stuck in a relationship or stuck in a mental loop, and we find it difficult to step out. So what does it take to get out of a rut?
Contrary to popular belief that if one perfects their talent, the motivation to do more will come. According to Brene Brown, success is more a consequence of effort rather than a skill. To be good and excel at what you do, you should be doing it often. There may be many people who write well, but how often do people write well consistently? The experts stand out due to a blend of discipline, self-control and dedication.
Perhaps you have a goal that has been out of reach? It could be anything from self-judgment or low self-worth that is stopping you from achieving it. Sometimes you also get stuck with fear that the choices that lie ahead may hamper our life. At times, it’s difficult to get out of unhappy environments as well.
The path to getting unstuck
“The Process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality…”
~ Pema Chödrön
We need to increase our capability of conscious choice, decision and intention. Brown claims that our minds have limited means of self-control, and honestly, the amount of times I’ve switched tabs while writing this article makes me agree with her completely.
She says that we can control our impulses and desires for a limited period of time every day, but with practice we can extend this duration. This in turn leads to the elimination of unnecessary decision-making, helps curb distractions and cut down on what doesn’t matter, and this leads to enhanced focus. With dedicated practice, this becomes a deeply ingrained habit.
Psychologist’s list the three stages of getting unstuck
In the 1960s, psychologists identified three specific stages we must go through in order to acquire those new skills:
The cognitive stage:
In the cognitive stage we first intellectualize the task, make loads of mistakes and come up with new strategies to perform even better.
To help you understand, I need to write an article on a particular topic, but I don’t know what the contents of the article should be, a self development guide or an inspirational article and if it is either what should it consist of.
All I know is that it should be of use, so I try to figure out what needs to be done, and then I start. In between I see that I don’t like where this is going, so I start over and when that fails I jump from self-help to inspiration and if that doesn’t work I try again and so on and so forth.
The associative stage:
The associative stage is when we still have to put in an effort to get done with the task at hand, but it’s mentally less taxing than what it was earlier. Certain parts of the task get easier and come naturally, but mistakes continue to occur.
To help you understand, I take far less time deciding what should come into the article, how it should be structured, but while working on it, I sometimes still don’t like what I’m doing and decide to change portions of it and rework on structure.
The autonomous stage:
The third stage in the process is the autonomous stage, where the task has now being ingrained into our minds, and we no longer need to consciously focus on it. This stage is when we move into autopilot as the subconscious mind takes over the task, and sometimes we achieve a flow state.
To help you understand, when I figure out a topic I know exactly how it should be structured to be of use, I know how the structure should be so that it can be insightful and the content I create helps and I’m pleased with it.
The problem here is that it isn’t easy to move from one stage to another, it does take time and effort. Most people seem to get stuck between the associative stage and the autonomous stage. The reason being once the work starts they start judging themselves, they feel that they could do better and the work that they are currently doing should have shaped out better etc. Sadly, this drives most people to quit before they reach this autonomous stage.
“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” ~ Ira Glass
But practice, discipline and a lot of work is what it takes for you to move into autonomous mode.
Ways to get unstuck
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”
~ Mandy Hale
Dan Cooper on getting unstuck
Honestly this is such a fun video to watch but for those of you who like me don’t really enjoy watching videos too much but rather read, here’s what I absorbed from it with a bit of spice added ~
Being in the right mindset
Dan suggests that one needs to be relaxed and comfortable, have a warm shower etc to get into the right mindset. Yes, being calm and composed can get you thinking, but sometimes I channelize my anger that leads me into a flow state where I can write poetry. I’ve written some of my best poems when I have been in a depressed state.
But this variable is totally dependent on the situation you’re in, if you’re stuck with overthinking getting in the right mindset isn’t going to be easy, but the other points here will be of use.
Being a little playful
The key is to break your chain of thoughts for something new to appear, so doing things that you usually don’t do helps achieve this. Playing with children’s art materials like crayons and clay tend to weaken the brain’s enforcement of conventional norms, thus making it easier to imagine unconventional ways of achieving your goals.
Rephrase the problem
Another very interesting suggestion is to restate the problem in the broadest, and simplest terms. For example, instead of setting a goal “I need to meditate to focus better on my inner work” you simply reframe it to, “I should find a way to focus on my inner work.” When you don’t choose a way, it opens the door to unlimited options.
Widening our perspective
When we start looking for options our brain usually leads us down the same road, using this technique we can push our brain out of the conventional thinking mode. Sit down with a piece of paper and start coming up with solutions that will can help you get unstuck.
To be precise, Dan Cooper recommends you to have a minimum of twenty or more answers to the problem. The first set of ideas come in easily but to get to twenty is really tough, this is when you don’t give up. But you get creative, this exercise helps you go beyond conventional thinking, and feel free to consider some crazy ideas.
According to the video, a study conducted in a university found that those in an inebriated condition found it easier to get out of the box. Now I’m not recommending this but some great discoveries and, not to forget music, has been created by people who got high 🙂
The extra effort
Blue is the colour of creativity, going for a walk in nature already has tremendous benefits and under the blue sky can get those creative juices flowing. One of my favourite ones, a messy or an unorganised desk or work environment can raise creativity as it helps one break free from traditions to get insights.
But gaining insights and incorporating them are different, putting things into action requires discipline and dedication, this is where an organised desk helps one to focus more on the task at hand, even the colour red induces focus. Taking the right steps when you’ve got your solutions and goals to work on requires a different behaviour.
You have to get uncomfortable until you reach the autonomous stage, you can do it!
You’re not stuck. You’re just committed to certain patterns of behavior because they helped you in the past. Now those behaviors have become more harmful than helpful. The reason why you can’t move forward is because you keep applying an old formula to a new level of your life. Change the formula to get a different result.
~ Emily Maroutian
Abdi, Hervé; Fayol, Michel; Lemaire, Patrick. “Associative Confusion Effect in Cognitive Arithmetic: Evidence For Partially Autonomous Processes.” European Bulletin of Cognitive Psychology. 1991. Vol. 11. No. 5