Part one of a two-part series on Getting Un-stuck.
Sometimes we find ourselves stuck when we want to be moving ahead.
What looks like plain inactivity to the outside world can often reflect very active, conflicting urges of desire (approach) and fatigue or fear (avoidance) on the inside. Known to psychologists as approach-avoidance conflicts, such dilemmas occur when you want something that includes potential positive rewards, but also includes unwelcome challenges, things that frighten you, or situations that you really don't like or can't manage. It’s kind of like being stuck inside the Pushmi-pullyu creature from Doctor Doolittle.
I have been struggling with an approach-avoidance conflict with The Emotional Detective. I had planned to begin the New Year with a series on A Sense of Self, but soon found this to be a huge, meaty topic -- one difficult to wrap up in neat, digestible bits. And so I became overwhelmed by my own goal. Additionally, my failure to publish a post in a timely manner has made me increasingly uncomfortable, growing worse with each passing day. I wanted to post, but was fearful of proceeding with such a complicated and important topic. I’ve been stuck. To get unstuck I decided on a new topic, one very much on my mind (Being Stuck). Suddenly – almost magically -- a new pathway appeared that led me back into the flow of my work.
I faced a similar struggle last fall. At that time, I used a different strategy to get unstuck: I reached out and asked for help from someone with talents that compliment my own. My friend Joan Goldfeder started editing my posts in October, helping ground my theories in real life examples. Her background in advertising and creative writing has lent a more user-friendly tone to this column, prompting inclusion of the new Tools section each week. She is an antidote to my tendency toward abstraction.
Using myself as an example, I ask:
How can you move forward when filled with indecision, fear and uncertainty?
If you are feeling overwhelmed and stuck:
- Break down your task into smaller pieces (for example, start by surveying the scene, move on to gathering your materials, then try sitting down at an appointed time, ….)
- Start your task somewhere new, be creative and flexible. (I started with the issue of approach-avoidance because I wasn’t ready to write about The Self.)
- Try sharing bits of your struggle with a friend with common interests. (Talking helps organize thoughts, and random comments from someone else can spark new ideas about how to tackle gnarly tasks.)
- Give yourself permission to be less than perfect (it’s usually better to do something than nothing).
- Offer yourself rewards (for example, I got to read the Sunday newspaper after I finished this post).