Do you ever feel like your life has somehow gotten “stuck”? Maybe you feel bogged down, trapped under the weight of your responsibilities. Most of us experience this feeling every now and then. Feeling stuck is not necessarily bad, but it is a signal you need to take action.
Within the last year, I hit an emotional wall. I couldn’t understand why. My health was good, I had reached all my goals for the year, and my business was experiencing its best year ever. Yet, I noticed a feeling of apathy beginning to creep into my life. I was doing all the right things, and doing them well. By all outward signs, my life was in order.
At the same time, I felt like I was in a boat going around in a big circle on the ocean. I was traveling a long distance, but not getting anywhere, with no land in sight. It felt like everything I was doing was pointless. The day that dangerous “everything-seems-pointless” thought popped into my head, I knew two things. First, I was skidding headlong into possible depression. Second, I had to do something about it, and quickly.
This state I was in could easily have become habitual. I believe we get to choose the emotional “baseline” we live with. In other words, I believe our default emotional state is a habit. And we can change our habits.
The day that dangerous “everything-seems-pointless” thought popped into my head, I knew two things. First, I was skidding headlong into possible depression. Second, I had to do something about it, and quickly. Before it became a habit.
So what did I do? And what can you do when you find yourself in a less-than-resourceful state? Especially a state you don't want to adopt as your habitual emotional baseline?
Ask good questions.
Questions break our pattern of thinking, and can even lead us into different patterns of thinking — which can lead us into a different state. This is how you decide and even reset your own emotional state.
7 Questions to Get You “Unstuck”
- What does this mean (and how do I know that)? Often we assume events have one meaning. We may or may not be correct. For instance, if your boss is rude or abrupt with you, you might assume she doesn’t respect you. Worse, you might think her sharp tone means she doesn’t like you and may consider firing you. Our imaginations get the best of us.But if you ask yourself, “What does this mean (and how do I know that)?” You might realize you don’t have any basis for your assumptions. You don’t know why she’s upset. When you ask, “What else could this mean?” you begin to look beyond yourself. You might think, “Well, it could mean she had an argument with her husband before work. Maybe one of her kids is sick. Perhaps she’s under pressure from corporate.” Instead of dwelling on negative assumptions, talk with your boss. You might discover she needs your help with something. That brief conversation could completely change both your demeanor and hers.
- What’s good about this (or what could be good about it)? Let's say that you’ve been feeling stuck lately. When this happens, we tend to view everything that goes wrong as support for our doldrums. On this particular day, your schedule is inconvenienced by a doctor’s appointment. If that weren’t bad enough, you arrive only to find out that you’ve got a 45 minute wait!You’ve got a choice to make. Either you can see this wait as one more setback in a long list of other setbacks, or you can choose to look for the good in it. Let’s say that you choose the latter. You take a deep breath and realize you’ve been running nonstop all morning. What’s good about this wait? You have the gift of a 45 minute reprieve from the rat race! So you pick up a magazine dealing with your favorite hobby. You relax and enjoy an uninterrupted three-quarter hours indulging in something you delight in. When you leave your appointment, you feel refreshed and renewed.
- What can I learn from this? When we feel stuck, we often sense that our circumstances are controlling us, rather than we them. One way to turn this around is to ask, “What can I learn from this?” This puts us back in control. We become students instead of victims.
- What will happen if I just ignore this? Many problems that confront us we do need to solve. But sometimes, the best solution to a problem is to simply ignore it. I am not advocating you ignore something that legitimately requires immediate action. But I absolutely do advocate thinking through the question, what will happen if I just ignore this “stuck” feeling? If the answer is, “Nothing disastrous,” then consider ignoring it as a solution worth testing.
- How can I use this? Feeling stuck often means we’re focusing on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Or we perhaps we can’t see past the negative aspects of what we have. For instance, what if you have an angry email from a disgruntled client? How can you use this? Perhaps this is a golden opportunity to repair a broken relationship and to fix a broken process.
If asking those questions doesn’t “unstick” me, then I bring out the “big guns.” I ask these two questions:
- If I think I can't fix this, then what? In a dour state of mind, we may default to ridiculous beliefs such as: I’m an idiot, that person hates me, God lied, etc. Don’t go there! Instead, face facts. Maybe the answer to this problem is beyond the scope of your expertise. Find someone else who can solve it. Or perhaps you’re trying to do something that no one else has been able to do either. It’s okay to chalk it up to experience and move on to something else. If you can't fix it, take it off your plate!
- If the worst is true… what can I do to make the best of a bad situation? Often the anticipation of a bad outcome is often far worse than the actual outcome. So the longer we dwell on what might or could happen, the longer we feel stuck. So, make a decision. Get it behind you, leave it and forge on. Mistakes and failures are inevitable. But how we deal with them can either be destructive or constructive. We always a choice in our response.
When you feel down, discouraged, or “stuck,” use these 7 questions to pry yourself out of that state. The key is you always have a choice.
Do you have a routine or trick you use to get “unstuck”?