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Four kinds of stuck – and how to get out of them

You know what you want to be doing, but you’re not doing it. You focus for a brief moment, then it’s gone and you’re away, floating around in a cloud of stuck. Or you’re floating around, knowing that you’d rather be getting on with something, but you can’t engage your forward gears. Stuck.
Being stuck can be triggered in a number of ways. Let’s go through these, starting with the simplest.

1. Your body is telling you something and you’re not yet listening.
Sometimes, you’re stuck simply because you’re tired, hungry, or thirsty – even too warm or cold – and your body is telling your “No, not at the moment, you need to sort something – i.e. me – out first!” If you ignore your body for too long, it starts to tell you in its own ways that you need to pay it some attention. And in the meantime, you feel stuck.

Luckily, this is usually easy to sort out: stop, tune in to yourself and ask yourself what you need. Go through the list and ask yourself “Am I tired? Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I too warm, or too cold?”

Then do what needs to be done. Rest – even for a few minutes, eat, get a glass of water, check your temperature and adjust your clothes or your heating/air con. It’s amazing the difference a little bit of physical TLC can make!

2. Your mind doesn’t know exactly what it needs to be doing now.
You get this kind of stuck when you have a big picture view of where you’re going, what you’re doing, but you haven’t yet drilled down into the details of specific actions to take. Although the big picture view is inspiring and necessary to give you the motivational fuel for the journey, the executive function part of your mind – the part that says “do this, now, in this way” – hasn’t yet received its instructions from you, and it spins its wheels, not getting any traction on the road to where you’re going. Stuck.

To straighten this one out and get your wheels engaged, answer the simple question “What’s my next step?” You’re looking for the very next concrete thing that you can do. Imagine for a moment that you have a minion to do the work for you – but you need to say exactly what they need to do. Your executive function can be that minion: tell it precisely what its next step is: open this file, go to that section, find out these figures… Whatever it is, make it specific. Once you have it: specific and concrete, you find that your wheels engage and you move forward into your next step.

3. You’ve got something emotional going on that you haven’t addressed.
This is a more subtle kind of stuck. You’re physically ok, and you know what your next step is. But something stops you from engaging. You still can’t get yourself into gear, even though you’ve sorted out your body and your mind’s executive function. Sometimes this feels like sitting in a fug, a vague state of not being clear. You might be aware of some tension in your body, if you turn your attention towards it. Or you might have a niggling thought or two about something – this is the clue that points towards an emotional situation that you’ve not yet addressed with some proper attention.

When you have a good moment to yourself (I recommend going for a bio-break and taking a minute extra for yourself in your cubicle!), let yourself become aware of recent events that might have led to something unresolved for you. Let your thoughts and feelings become conscious. Allow them in, give them some space to become known to you. If it’s a small issue, this might be enough to settle your emotions and gain clarity for moving forward.

For a larger issue, you may need to acknowledge your emotions and thoughts, and say to yourself “Ok, this needs some proper attention. When I get time to myself later on, I’ll have a look at this and do what needs to be done.” Strange as it may seem, you can even say this straight to your thoughts and emotions: “hi there everyone, ok, I can see you all need some time and attention, and I want to give you that. Right now, I’m not able to, but later on we’ll have some time for you all.” You can put a time and place on it, for instance making a promise to yourself that you’ll go on a walk by yourself at lunchtime, or have a coffee solo later on, or that you’ll phone up a good and trusted friend with whom you can talk things through.

4. You’ve got a more fundamental disconnect going on.
This last type of stuck can be a blend of all of the above, plus even an existential flavour: who am I ? what I am doing here? why? You may have been experiencing this for a while: weeks, rather than days, even months. This type of stuck takes times to explore and resolve. It may be that you’re in a relationship which no longer fits who you are, or a workplace that fundamentally goes against your deeper values, or that you’re experiencing ill-health such as depression, or heading for a burn-out. You might be missing a deeper, spiritual nourishment, and so suffering spiritually. These are not pleasant experiences – but going through them and out the other side can be incredibly valuable in the long term.

To resolve this kind of stuck, you’ll probably need some time, and some support – good friends who really listen to you, friends you have fun with, or get someone in your personal team: a coach, counsellor, or physical therapist. There’s plenty of good people with great skills out there, good people to have on your side. And you’ll need to keep an eye on the other three: take special care to make sure you’re looking after your bodily basics, and if you can, maintaining clarity on what your next steps are with getting things done, and keeping yourself emotionally alive.

So there you have four kinds of stuck. When you next find yourself stuck, run through the list and see which solutions work for you. Remember that coaching can help with all four kinds of stuck – get in touch for the outside perspective on your situation, and encouragement to move through it into want you really want to do.

When and how do you get stuck? How do you get moving again?

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.

Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, neurodiversity training, mentoring & coaching for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.

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