Feeling stuck is a huge drain on your emotional energy. It feels like life has come to a dead stop in a place that you don’t particularly like. You can’t point to what the exact problem is. It might not even seem like there is an actual problem, but you still feel suffocated and depressed anyway.
A long denied, unmet need often lies at the bottom of feeling stuck. A need you at first had reasons why you couldn’t fulfill, but denied so frequently that overtime you stopped making up reasons entirely and forgot that you even had the need. Now, the need is so repressed that it is completely invisible to you.
In order to get unstuck you need to re-discover your unmet need(s) and fulfill them.
For an unsavory but illustrative analogy, getting stuck is like what happens when you hold off going to the bathroom for a number 2. Maybe you are on the phone and can’t go right now, so you hold it in. Then you get off the phone and remember you had to make it to the bank before 5:00 so you keep holding it.
Eventually the feeling passes and you forget that you had to go. By the time 6:30 rolls around you have a stomach ache and can’t figure out why. The only way to relieve your “stuck-ness” is to remember that you needed to take a shit and get it out of your system.
Step 1: Make a List
Get out a piece of paper and a pencil (or your favorite word processor and a keyboard) and make a list that includes three things:
- Things you’d like to do for fun, but aren’t doing now (ex: take a vacation to Egypt, play golf every Saturday, join a thespians club)
- Big changes you’d like to make in your life (ex: move to the tropics, have kids, become self employed)
- Problems you are currently having (ex: argument with friends and family, feeling self-conscious about your body, credit card debt)
Don’t hold back. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind, even if it seems silly or petty. Take as long as you need, and keep going until you have it all written down.
Make sure to physically write this list out, don’t just think about it in your head. You’ll get a tremendous amount of therapeutic value from writing out all of your wants, problems, and aspirations alone (and it’s cheaper than spending $300/hr to tell your problems to a shrink).
Step 2: Mark the Top 3 Items
Go through your list one by one and see how urgent each item feels. You should get a very noticeable emotional response just from reading an important item. If there are small ones that can be fixed quickly and easily, do them now as you’re going through the list.
After you’ve weighed and compared the different items on your list, put a star by the top 3 items.
Now that you have your top 3 go through and individually cross out each remaining item on your list, consciously letting them go (for now) one by one.
Step 3: Concentrate All Effort on #1
Once you have your top 3, decide which unmet need feels the most critical to you right now.
Your top item doesn’t have to seem objectively “important.” Maybe you want to make a career change, but you’d also like to play golf every Saturday. Intellectually it seems like you should focus on making the career change, but you get the biggest charge thinking about playing golf on Saturday.
Don’t over think it, just go with your gut. You shouldn’t be able to read it without feeling an immediate emotional response be it joy, fear, or even disgust.
Concentrate all your efforts on making progress on your top item. Give yourself permission to focus on this one thing alone for the next 30 days and let all other problems slide to the side.
If you need help coming up with ways to make progress on your top unmet need repeat Steps 1 to 3 focusing on these questions:
- What is the best way to solve this problem?
- What is the ideal solution solution to this problem?
- What is the easiest thing I can start doing right now to meet this need?
Don’t be afraid to start simple. If you want to lift weights and add muscle, maybe you can start just by browsing local gyms online and figuring out which day(s) of the week work best for you schedule-wise.
Your unmet need may be a large undertaking that takes time. Don’t worry about crossing the finish line. For now, just getting started will change your world.
Case Study: Taking a Much Needed Vacation
Vacations are one of those things that are very easy to let slide to the point that you even forget that they’re a possibility.
I love visiting other countries, seeing the sites, and trying new foods. Something about seeing all the street signs in a different language just makes me feel like I’m in a new and interesting place.
In late 2008 I was laid off from the job I had been working at which put a temporary hold on my travels. I kept telling myself I’d take another trip once I got another job. Eventually I got another job doing sales and I started telling myself that I’d go once my book of accounts picked up to the point where I was earning a good bonus. Soon I was making good bonuses, but I had so many projects I was working on that whenever I thought about going on vacation again it wasn’t really a convenient time. I also came up with many other excuses like something else had come up I wanted to spend the money on or occasionally I even told myself it was too much hassle to arrange a trip and I’d do it later when I had more energy.
Over time the temporary stop on travel turned into 3 years that I hadn’t been abroad or even taken a proper vacation trip in the US. There was no evil force stopping me, I had just let it slide and time had passed by.
At the time I finally decided to break the hiatus, I had suppressed my desire so much that I wasn’t even really thinking “man I need to take a trip abroad.” I just felt ambiguously stuck like my life wasn’t going the direction I wanted it to. Ironically, I actually thought, “I can’t go on vacation right now I need to get my life unstuck first.”
I’d like to say that there was a defining moment where I made the decision to take the long awaited trip and everything just fell into place after that, but that isn’t what happened. I booked the time off from work and wasn’t even sure if I’d go some place or just spend the time at home until about 10 days before my vacation time started.
I kept flipping back and forth between whether I wanted to go or it was just too much pain to plan the trip and go. I also disagreed with my wife about where we should go, if we even did go.
Ultimately, as I wrote about last week, I did take a vacation to Vieques, Puerto Rico. It was like a damn had been released inside me and I was entrenched in pure happiness. It reminded me of the stories of POWs eating their first real food after months of captivity and going into spasms of taste ecstasy.
Conclusion and Perspective
When we deny ourselves and allow our needs to go unmet, we wind up burying them and getting “stuck.” Releasing them is a bit like exploding a buried land mine.
An objective party to my case study story might say “Jeeze, what’s all the hubbub. Quit being so melodramatic book the damn tickets and go.” Indeed, this kind of objective advice can actually be helpful.
The more you deny yourself, the more the path obscures itself, and the greater the emotional release when the need is met.