You’re not stupid, or clueless, or helpless. Being stuck, as we talked about last time, is not your fault. It’s just that sometimes we and our circumstances get all tangled up and you just feel you have no good options. Or any options. You don’t know where to go or what to do.
And if some idiot comes along and says, “Why don’t just...?” or “Have you tried...” you’re so frustrated: you’ve done that and you know why trying that won’t work. Sheesh!!
So how DO you get unstuck when you are stuck?
I’m not going to insult you with any glib advice. What I am going to do is consult the “experts”: people just like you who’ve been as stuck as you and yet have found a way to get unstuck. Because the question is, What actually works for helping a person get unstuck?
In case you were looking for simple, here’s-the-magic-key advice, I’m going to have to disappoint you. If there were something like that, you’d have figured things out already. So I’m not saying any of this is easy or comfortable or quick. I’m just saying it’s what works.
Here are the principles. It’s up to you to put them into action.
* Move forward. Did you ever watch an escape artist try to get out of a straight jacket? They all do the same thing. They move. They wiggle and wriggle and twist and turn. Most of what they do doesn’t “work,” but the sum of all they do sets them free.
So okay, there you are, not knowing what to do. So do something. Do the least bad, the least stupid, the least damaging thing you can think of to do. Just DO it. Setting things in motion is always better than staying down in the dumps. Remember: when things are tough, the least bad thing to do is the best thing to do.
* Small, information-generating steps. Suppose you find yourself dumped in the middle of a large, scary, foreign city. What would you do? You’d get your bearings. You’d walk a block north from your hotel, just to check things out. Then a block east, south, and west. Then from the point you knew was a block away from your hotel you’d explore one more block farther. A step at a time, you’d get to know your neighborhood and soon your whole city.
You can do that now. If you have any choice of moves at all, choose the one that’ll give you the most information. That’ll show you something you need to know or want to know. Over and over, what I’ve heard who’ve gotten themselves unstuck is that getting new information is one of the things that’s helped the most.
* Take the hit. You might not like this, but trust me: you’ll thank me for it. Remember that movie about the guy on a mountain who had to cut off his own leg to get unstuck? 127 Hours,starring James Franco. He took the hit. And this was based on a true story. Now cutting off your own leg is the last thing any of us ever want to do. Nor is it something any of us imagine ourselves able to do. But he did it and he got unstuck. It was that or dying.
So let’s face it: most of us aren’t stuck because of good luck. Nope. It’s because of a perfect storm of painful option-limiting circumstances. Now getting unstuck often turns out to lead to better and better things. You’d be amazed! But most of the time it just leads to...getting unstuck. With things not as good as you’d hoped.
Too many people stay too stuck for too long because they can’t let go of hopes and dreams that were longshots before they were stuck and may be almost impossible now. So okay. Don’t worry about that. (I know, easy for me to say!). But just worry about getting unstuck. Getting some freedom and movement. Once you have that, you can return to whatever is left of your dreams, and maybe find new and better dreams.
* Get out of your doom loop. I know what’s in your head because you’ve told me. Because everyone who’s stuck tells me the same thing. It’s how what’s in their head is endless unstoppable recitations of how and why things are as terribly stuck as they are. “I can’t do this because...and I can’t do that because...and they’ll never let me do the other thing because...” and it's just on and on sifting through the wreckage of their current circumstances.
This never helps. You’ll never find a new house by sifting through the ashes of your old, burnt-down house. But it’s worse: by constantly rehearsing over and over in your head how and why you’re stuck, you demoralize yourself. It’s not worth it!
You need to tell yourself to shut down the doom looping. The minute you’re aware it’s going on, tell yourself, “Be constructive.” If you can’t have practical, constructive, forward-looking thoughts in your head, then try not to think about yourself and your life at all.
* Talk to people. People confuse being an expert on being stuck in their situation with being an expert on getting out of their situation. If you’ve been trapped in a room for a long, long time, you may be the world’s leading expert on that room. But you’re not the world’s leading expert on the world around that room.
All I know is what works, and people who get unstuck all report having talked to tons and tons of people—as many as they could find, anyway—and shared their situation and asked for ideas. Yeah, they get lots of bad ideas, but the good ideas they get are what set them free. Just like a police detective tracking down leads.
Well, that’s it. As I said, no magic key. But based on people who’ve gotten out of where you are, I’ve given you everything you need to do the same thing regardless of your specific circumstances and of how stuck you feel. If they can do it, you can do it!