Breaking the Stuckness Stalemate
A Path to Transformation
NOTE: This post originally appeared as an episode on my podcast, Andrew Petty is Dying. You can listen now with the media player below, or just read on…
Have you ever felt stuck? Maddeningly and totally stuck?
If you’re human, then the answer is 100% “yes.”
In this episode, we tackle stuckness–what it is and what to do about it. Plus, the surprising up-side of stuckness. Stories make it easier to “see” what someone is saying, so I share a snapshot from my own story to illustrate the point–a recent episode of stuckness that I’m just now emerging from. Here goes…
Sulking in the Snow
I’m sitting in my truck at a little historic landmark with a natural mineral spring and a small stone monument tucked back off of an otherwise unremarkable stretch of road parallel to the main street in Steamboat Springs, CO. It’s snowing hard–which is a welcome change in an otherwise dismally dry winter, a dry winter that’s followed another summer of drought and raging wildfires.
I love the elements. I think partly because the elements create an involuntary pattern interrupt in our lives. We don’t get to call the shots with Nature, and when it decides to change things up, we are all compelled to adjust–whether we like it or not. And for me, involuntary pattern interrupts can be a welcome off-ramp from my head–where negative feedback loops can start small but build on themselves until they’re deafening. They provide a welcome diversion when the mental static is beginning to put me in a tailspin. And when I’m feeling trapped in my head, buffeted by intangible forces, being out in the elements–surrounded by the tangible forces of wind and water and snow–is a refreshing, grounding, invigorating change of pace.
I’m sitting here now because my wife’s chewing was annoying me.
Super mature of me, I know. I was sitting on the couch in our home office. She was sitting at the desk–chewing something and banging away productively and energetically at her work. She was in the zone. Man, I love that feeling. And the problem was that she seemed to have it, and at that same moment, I most definitely did not. And instead of being glad for her, I was irritated and envious. That’s when I knew I had a problem. My internal jackassery certainly wasn’t her problem.
I was stuck.
Early Warning Signs
So that was Monday afternoon. I’d begun to sense earlier in the day that “stuckness”–a not-scientific but broadly useful term–was lurking at the door of my heart and mind. I lacked focus about how to use my time and was beginning to feel restless and increasingly agitated for no clear reason. A little anxious as I saw mental and emotional storm clouds gathering. Those are usually early-warning signs. But Mondays can be like that for me for some reason. Maybe I was just having one of those Mondays.
Giving My Horse Its Head
So, I’d given my horse its head, so to speak. Apologies in advance to all you horse experts out there if I’m butchering this saying. I let my natural energy determine what I did the first part of the day–which in this case meant a long walk on my favorite country road, then some time reading a book that called to me from my bookshelf. A book that I started once a bunch of years ago but put down unfinished for some reason. Books are like that for me sometimes: They sit patiently and inconspicuously on the shelf for months and years, then one day they catch my eye in a way that tells me it’s time to pick it up again. I’m not sure what that’s about, but most of the time it ends up being just the right read at just the right time. So I’ve learned to trust it. Does that ever happen to you?
I’ve learned that when I sense stuckness creeping up, giving my horse its head is a useful first response.
Rather than buckling down, dialing in, trying to get super “productive” according to the conventional definition of productivity, I loosen my grip and tap into other, less-celebrated forms of productivity–like solitude and following my curiosity. Hence the walk and picking up that book again.
The Last Straw
Then I had a couple of coaching sessions on the calendar–one with a client and another with a colleague with whom I exchange peer coaching. She’s an amazing coach with a lot of natural gifting and almost two decades of experience. It was my turn to coach her. And I struggled. I was in my head and trying to do a good job–which you might think would produce high-quality coaching. It most certainly does not. And it most certainly did not.
When I got off that call, my stuckness was in full force.
I felt incompetent, inadequate, and uncertain. And that led to the moment on the couch when I realized I had a problem and needed to get moving before I said something misguided and misplaced to my wife and caused unnecessary collateral damage.
Which led me to that little historic landmark that Monday afternoon–sitting in my truck as the snow fell.
The Big Idea
I didn’t yet understand what the stuckness was about or where it was coming from, but I did know this–and it’s what I want to share with you today, too:
If you’re stuck, get moving.
Even more specifically, get moving with and through the stuckness.
I was stuck–and on the verge of being an unreasonable jerk to my wife and anyone else I came into contact with–so I got moving.
Making It Personal
When have YOU felt stuck? Maybe it was for a day or two. Or maybe it was for a year or more. Maybe you feel stuck right now, as you listen to this episode. What patterns do you see when you reflect on when and how you most often get stuck?
For extra credit and additional insights, tune in to episode 005, How to Become the Boss of Your Fear: Bravery-building to Live With More Guts and Gusto, to hear about an especially long and painful period of stuckness in my life, how I got unstuck, the amazing new chapter that opened up for me and my family past the stuckness, and what I learned from the experience.
Normal and Necessary
It’s never fun–in fact, it can actually be really painful–but stuckness is a normal and necessary part of life as a human on planet Earth. It alerts us to the fact that there’s a gap between where we are and where we want to be. And something unconscious and unknown is in our way.
Stuckness is a chance to make the unconscious conscious–to generate fresh insight to which we can then apply action and achieve some sort of transformation.
Because Insight + Action = Transformation.
And the stuckness is always there for a reason.
Snake vs. Caterpillar
With practice, we can learn to see the stuckness as an indicator that we’re on the brink of a new opportunity to grow and evolve. But moving through stuckness to the good stuff beyond is less like the caterpillar emerging from a cocoon than it is like a snake shedding its skin. It takes effort and intention and time–and it’s uncomfortable. The accompanying psychological pain of stuckness is essential, though. Our desire for relief from it motivates us to do the work to get unstuck.
Stuckness is What It’s All About (In a Sense)
BTW, if you’re new to Andrew Petty is Dying, there’s a sense in which this podcast is largely about how to recognize and move through the inevitable encounters with stuckness to the good stuff that awaits beyond–with Mortality as our most powerful motivating force.
Back to the Story…
In my case, in this recent round of stuckness, my first movement was away from the house and to the local historical landmark on that Monday afternoon, where I began to write–to document what I was experiencing in an effort to understand its origins and begin finding my way forward through it. As I wrote, it dawned on me that I was in the midst of a real-world case study on stuckness, unfolding in real-time, and it could be a good way to illustrate the value of “if you’re stuck, get moving.”
Well alright, I thought, there’s one thing useful about this stuckness already.
It also dawned on me that it was yet another chance to practice what I preach, so to speak–maybe most specifically in episode 012, How to Harness the Winds of Discomfort to Get Where You Want to Go: Becoming a Seasoned Sailor on the Seas of Life–where the big idea is “If you’re uncomfortable, good; get used to it.”
Put your money where your mouth is, Petty.
We Interrupt This Program for An Exclusive Offer…
Speaking of money and mouths…Here’s a chance to put YOUR money where MY mouth is. Which kind of makes sense but mostly doesn’t–but I couldn’t resist the symmetry in the transition. It certainly doesn’t mean that I want you to put money in my mouth. Here’s what it does mean, though…
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Now, as they used to say back in the day, back to the programming already in progress…
The Stuckness Stalemate is Broken
As the week progressed, I kept one eye on the normal duties with family and clients and one eye on the stuckness. But I set learning the lesson of the stuckness as the biggest win for the week. And I prioritized walks–periods of physical movement that for me are reliable ways to generate mental and emotional movement. I cataloged the unconscious things that began to become conscious–in this case, an accumulated mix of personal and professional stuff that needed sorting. I processed what I was uncovering for a bit with my Graveyard Group guys on Thursday morning–which led to an impromptu lunchtime conversation with my wife, Charis, about what I was beginning to see more clearly. This was the first conversation I’d had with her about what was going on. She knew I was stuck because a) it was obvious–I was distant and heavy and irritable–and 2) I told her as much Monday evening–and let her know that I was working on it.
And in that lunchtime conversation, my energy began to shift from reflection to action as clarity about the nature of the stuckness–new insights–illuminated the next steps on the path ahead.
This marked the turning point in this episode of stuckness. My wife seems to be a common denominator in those turning points, doesn’t she?!
As I processed out loud with Charis, she pointed out again–just like she had in the aftermath of my first-ever personal retreat just a month earlier–that the mess was necessary to produce the insights that lead to action that result in some kind of transformation. This is part of what we talked about when Charis joined me for ep. 025, The Contentment Conundrum: Cracking the Code.
Stuckness, my friends–though unpleasant, even painful, and sometimes prolonged–is a guide appointed by our hearts and minds to show us the way something even better.
The 5-Part Recipe for Breaking the Stuckness Stalemate
As we land this plane, here are the five basic ingredients in the recipe for using stuckness to our benefit:
- Become familiar with your own tell-tale signs of stuckness. In my experience, some of the typical signs include irritability, distractedness, restless energy, a lack of focus, and loss of a sense of humor.
- Acknowledge that you’re stuck, and invite the stuckness to teach you. This acceptance will create the openness of heart and mind that allows the unconscious to be made conscious. Don’t fight it or try to muscle your way past it. Resistance or avoidance or sheer force of will makes the stuckness an enemy rather than a useful mentor.
- Take 100% responsibility for your stuckness. It’s your problem–no one else’s. Request help from others–friends, experts, a therapist, whomever or whatever seems appropriate to the situation–but retain full ownership of the problem and the solution.
- Tap into the negative energy–frustration, anger, etc.–to fuel positive forward movement through the stuckness.
- Finally, get moving–with and through the stuckness.
Retreat, Stall Out, or Advance?
We have choices, of course, when stuckness shows up. Broadly speaking, we can retreat from it, stall out in the face of it, or advance through it. Neither retreating or stalling out will produce a good result. Only advancing through it will.
So, if you’re stuck, get moving. Even more specifically, get moving through the stuckness so it can teach us what it’s there for.
The more skillful we become at leveraging life’s many encounters with stuckness, the more we will milk out of this life, the more we will bring into it for our own fulfillment and others’ benefit, and the fewer deathbed regrets we’ll have.
Because remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
I Can Help You Find Your Path to Transformation
My purpose as a coach is to help you live the life you know you were made to live. A big part of that is helping others move through their stuckness to the good stuff that awaits beyond. I can help YOU with that. Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me. Go here to learn about Graveyard Group masterminds—-where we make time each week to invest in your life’s most important work.