Go Versus Stuck
This week, it’s all about a familiar refrain of the chronically gritty: “I know where to go and what it takes to get there...how is it that I am not moving?”
This is the signature stuck move of someone who is used to being super productive, who can look back longingly at the good old days when effort was easier. When outputs were flowing.
At issue? That if the going was doable, these folks would be busy doing. So the very fact that go has turned into stop has to be looked at. If we were being literal about this, suppose you were stopped because your foot was caught in a trap, or you were sinking in quicksand. You would not mindlessly keep yanking on your leg or moving your legs sluggishly through the enveloping quicksand while looking yearningly at the horizon. You’d directly address the here-and-now problem that is holding you back.
How We Get Stuck
On the more surface level, some sticking is simply due to bad work or training processes or our propensity to prioritise the urgent over the important (I am a card-carrying member of this club, just saying). This is the hallmark of the person who tells you how busy they are or how hard they are working and training but doesn’t seem to have much to show for it. This maybe you if someone asks you how your day went and you have trouble even remembering what happened, much less what you accomplished. There are many good resources and books out there to help get you on the other side of your bad productivity habits—let me know if you want to know more and I can point you in the right direction.
We also undermine our own progress—consciously or unconsciously—in any number of more subtle ways. Last week it was about the destabilising power of doubt but there are other fan favourites:
Denial. I know I am injured but can’t let that stop me! It’s not that bad. I’m tired but I can muscle through. For me personally, this last year has been a rollercoaster ride in this space. For the better part of last year, my dad was in steady decline, which led to a host of unrealised and unexamined anxiety and guilt that fed into a complete lack of personal self-care, crazily enough…you’d think a psychologist would know better.
After he passed early in 2022, I was sad and lacking the wherewithal to do much of anything social or productive. I was easy on myself through January but come February started looking forward without continuing to acknowledge the burden of grief I was carrying. I wanted to be excited about the coming year…but couldn’t even muster the energy to care beyond the day-to-day. And yet…there I was, beating myself up for not getting where I had planned to go.
Fear. I know where I want to go, but am afraid I’m not the person for the job. This emotion, doubt’s close cousin, leads to questions like, who am I to think I can do this? I am working with an athlete whose biggest fear as he attempts to return to his sport after his fourth ankle surgery is not whether he is up to the task, but about what others are thinking about him. Everyone is asking me if I will be back for the next game and I’m afraid they think I’m weak for following my Physio’s advice. Fear coupled with mind-reading, a powerful energy drainer if ever there was one.
Frustration. What the #*%$ is wrong with me?? Why am I being so ridiculous? I have everything I need to go, and here I’m sitting, wasting time. Here, we have devolved from denial (where we know there’s something wrong but we pretend it’s okay) to beating ourselves up. As if we woke up this morning and forgot to train or do our job--or worse, just decided to slack off… and need a kick the pants to get back at it. As if. I have yet to meet a single person in all my years of working in this space who enjoys being stuck in this way.
Yep, being stuck may be a sign of fear - fear of failure, fear of success…and when we give in to our fears and stop doing the scary thing, we can feel a sense of relief or reprieve in the moment of stopping. But it never lasts long unless we also discover that the journey isn’t worth it. Most often, when fear strikes and stops us, we are living in painful limbo, not wanting to go…and hating the stop.
How We Un-Stick
Check the Trap. Observe the quicksand. That is, we first have to realize and own our stuckness. This sounds simple but it ain’t easy because, if we are in denial, we don’t know how, and if we are afraid or frustrated, getting into the “ick” of our feelings is for many of us, well, icky. And once we start paying attention to what is in us that might be fueling our stuckness…that informs our next steps.
Call off the SuperEgo Hounds. This is the voice in our heads, the manager voice, that so often pulls us up by our bootstraps, kicks us in the ass, and sends us on our way. The voice that denies us the pleasure of hitting the snooze button in favour of the early morning workout. The voice that has in many ways helped us Get Things Done. Until it does not. When we are legitimately stuck—not just a blip or a motivational dip—giving ourselves the what-for can have the opposite effect. Especially when by all appearances we should be getting at it. We look around and see a great life, or a past history of productivity, and double down on our stuckness by assassinating our character. Nothing better than feeling like a failure AND a slacker AND a whiner. How’s that working?
When we are stuck, this voice is unhelpful. Not the enemy, just unhelpful. When it comes—which it will—thank it for its good intentions. Seriously. This same voice can be so helpful, just not now. You know when it’s not, when you are still stuck…but just feeling worse about yourself.
Don’t Forget to be Kind. Even the well-meaning among us miss this step too often. Okay, sure, if your foot’s stuck in a trap, that’s not a great time to stop and empathize with how much pain you’re in…you want to alleviate the pain. And releasing the trap is the quickest way to do that. But when the trap we are in is of our own emotional making, things are not that simple. Kindly acknowledging and even honouring our emotions for the stories they tell us about why we are doing what we are doing provides good intel for us, and helps us move forward. It’s so easy to blow off this step and in so doing, we miss a chance to build our resilience. A simple acknowledgement, “this is tough, I’m okay” can be enough. Jeff Warren, a pragmatic meditation teacher, calls this move “having our own back.”
Honour your Emotions. Fear and frustration have stories to tell you. What are you afraid will happen? Failure? Success? Allow yourself the space to consider these outcomes and their implications. So often, when we give ourselves the time to just sit with our emotions, we learn things. With frustration, it might require some training to be able to tolerate the discomfort of goals remaining unmet. Yep, it’s uncomfortable but no one has died from frustration. Yep, you want to get going bad…but if the wanting was all if took, you’d be moving. Living with and learning to work with (not against) your frustration can be very useful.
You will notice that in none of these strategies is the guarantee of unsticking. But taken together, they can give you the space to ponder, to think, to consider the support you might need. At the very least, they might ease your current reality. They may even loosen up your internal gearing to the point you find yourself moving again.
I know that it was only after I gave myself permission to back off from my normal pace of business that I felt a slight bit more ease. And in the space that my permission granted, I can feel myself beginning to move again. My next task? Not rushing back in too fast—I call it holding my nerve—and remembering to pay attention to how I am actually feeling, not how I want to be or think I should be.
If anything in this struggle sounds familiar, and you're stuck...or stuck in some other way that is keeping you from getting where you want to be, let me know. I can help.
In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on how to achieve the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org