Ajax and I recently visited a nearby neighborhood pea patch. I thought about all the effort it takes to cultivate a successful garden. Akin to what it takes to change something about ourselves. As I reflected on Brene Brown’s comments about how “We’re all doing the best we can,” my mindset started to shift. What happens when we cultivate the Five Ps: Patience, Practice, Paying Attention, Play, and Purpose?

We can use the gardening analogy on ourselves: by nurturing ourselves using the five P's, we can cultivate hope, health, and happiness.
We can use the gardening analogy on ourselves: by nurturing ourselves using the five P’s, we can cultivate hope, health, and happiness.

Cultivate Patience

Anything worth doing takes time and patience. We cannot prepare for an active adventure, raise a child, write a book, or create a new business overnight. Likewise, I cannot expect to make a smooth transition from eighteen years of parenting to an empty nest in a few months. Even though that’s what I feel should happen. (Oh, that cursed word!)

Reframing Shift

In a Precision Nutrition course I’m taking called SSR: Sleep, Stress Management, and Recovery, I’m learning about reframing failures and mistakes as important learning opportunities. What if we looked at daunting obstacles as challenges rather than roadblocks? Can we forgive ourselves for triggering episodes that cause guilt or shame? What would it feel like to think of them as the best we could do given the tools we had at the time? Instead of avoiding something because we’re afraid, can we embrace it as a way to grow, learn, and challenge ourselves?

The view from Seahurst lakefront park on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. I am using Active Ajax Adventures to help cultivate a new sense of balance.
The view from Seahurst lakefront park on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. I am using Active Ajax Adventures to help cultivate a new sense of balance.

The SSR course explains that when the demands of any obstacle outweigh the resources available to us, we get mired in “fight, flight, or freeze” and become stuck. But if we find a way to use all of the internal and external resources we have (including adequate sleep and the five P’s) we can better cope with the demands and move forward.

Takeaway: Glaciers are mighty forces, but the work they do is not inherently obvious until later. Likewise, patience will take us miles beyond frustration. We can actively work to cultivate patience on a daily basis, much like we would brush our teeth, exercise, or eat vegetables. Let’s quit “shoulding” ourselves so we can move forward with patience and grace.

Practice in Seahurst Park

Last week, I got some practice with patience. Ajax and I visited the Seahurst Ed Munro Park, also known as “the jewel of Burien.” It is a saltwater beach on Puget Sound with 3.5 miles of lovely hiking trails through beautiful forests.

As we explored the waterfront on a breezy, chilly, overcast day, I found myself thinking of my daughter. This triggered anxiety, which caused me to become impatient with Ajax, who loves to sniff everything. The whole point of these rambles is to connect with him, not yank him along beside me.

Ajax enjoys a trail in Seahurst Park.
Ajax enjoys a wooded trail in Seahurst Park.

For some unknown reason, the sound of the surf jarred me. But as soon as we found a dirt path that led deep into the woods, my mood improved. I recognized the familiar sound of birdsong. My breathing and heart rate slowed. Ajax loves the woods and the beach equally, as long as he’s with me. However, I’ve learned that I prefer the peaceful beauty and solitude of moss-covered trees.

Takeaway: Practice listening to your body and mind. They ask for what they need. And if you are not in a position to give it to yourself, make a point of setting aside time at lunch, in the evening, or on the weekend to practice.

Pay Attention in Northacres Park

In addition to frequent practice, it helps to pay attention, a practice known as mindfulness. On a recent sunny walk to the Jackson Park Golf Course, I spotted a dog that Ajax doesn’t like. Instead of risking confrontation, we headed toward Northacres Park. But it meant crossing busy Interstate 5, something we don’t do on foot.

Once we reached the off-leash area, I could still hear the din of cars racing by on the freeway a hundred yards away. I could see varied thrushes, robins, and woodpeckers hopping about. But I couldn’t hear them until we left the park and got half a mile away from the freeway. Once I heard chickadees and towhees singing, I felt my jaw unclench. I could once again observe my surroundings and enjoy the peaceful sounds around me.

Ajax plays with a Golden Retriever at the Northacres off-leash dog park. Bigger dogs sometimes intimidate him; not today!
Ajax plays with a Golden Retriever at the Northacres off-leash dog park. Bigger dogs sometimes intimidate him; not today!

Takeaway: If you feel stuck, pay attention to where in your body you experience it. Is it in your throat? Your muscles? Or your mental faculties? Do you feel dull or sluggish when you’re usually quick and sharp? I think, create, and operate more efficiently with calm, quiet, or natural sounds. As Debbie Tung points out in her graphic novels about being an introvert, working in a large office would make it difficult to be productive.

Cultivate Play in Magnuson Park

This weekend I spent a few hours birding with a friend, without Ajax. As much as I adore our rambles, certain activities go better without him. Four of them include leading field trips, volunteering, scrambling, and birding.

Our goal was to enjoy each other’s company, but we had one target bird in mind: the Bohemian Waxwing, irregularly seen on the west coast. We detected 42 different bird species during the morning outing, including a single Bohemian in a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Waxwings in a hawthorn at Magnuson Park. Bohemian (upper left) has more red on face and under tail, whereas cedars (lower right two) are more yellowish.
Waxwings in a hawthorn at Magnuson Park. Bohemian (upper left) has more red on the face and under the tail, whereas cedars (lower right two) are more yellowish.

Whenever I feel stuck, getting outside almost always helps. Whether it is the fresh air, a change of scenery, movement, or distraction, I’m not sure. Maybe all of the above. Watching birds forage for food, preen, or flap in puddles has a calming effect on me. Looking up at a huge cedar or Douglas fir does the same thing. If you find yourself spending more time on social media or YouTube than you’d like, grab your shoes and go outside. You might find yourself making headway afterward.

Takeaway: When parenting a college student, I’m learning the importance of keeping track of my own needs. We’d assumed that since our daughter’s roommate was going away for the weekend, she’d stay on campus. I made plans with a friend and I refused to break that commitment. The consequence of our daughter not providing enough notice means she might not get exactly what she wants. Hopefully, if it happens often enough it will teach her to change her habits.

Pull It All Together with Purpose

If we still feel stuck after trying our best to be patient, practice new skills, pay attention, and play, the final “P” is to remind ourselves of our purpose, or our why. We can set our intentions for the current obstacle, even if that is to struggle with grace and presence of mind. Or to ask for help.

This week I have been facing technology issues head-on, practicing breathwork, and allowing myself multiple chances to make mistakes and learn from them. I figure the more I goof on smaller things that don’t matter as much, the more skilled I’ll become for when it does matter. I could set an intention to be lighthearted and playful the next time I mess up, or set the goal of figuring out what it might teach me.

Bundled up for our exploration in Seahurst Park. I prefer the solace, comfort, and wisdom of moss-covered trees to the tumbling surf, especially if I can hear birdsong.
Bundled up for a ramble through Seahurst Park. I prefer the peacefulness of walking among moss-covered trees, especially if I can enjoy birdsong.

Takeaway: I’ve never dealt with an empty nest before. I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. If we can remember that we are not our mistakes, we simply make mistakes, then we can use them as our teachers. I know from the past year that I have physical resilience in spades. Now it’s time to cultivate mental resilience.

As always if something in this post resonates with you and helps you get unstuck in some way, I’d love to read about it in the comments. Joyward!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

8 replies on “How to Get Unstuck: Cultivate the Five Ps”

  1. Thank you Court,
    I really appreciate your kind words. If by “In disguise” you mean that I so wish I could write, week after week, beautifully crafted and profoundly meaningful blogs as you do… then yes! However, when I think about my comments to your posts, another hiking/mountaineering image comes to mind: me, ascending a steep section of trail and starting to get a bit exhausted, but seeing the end in sight; as I finally reach that coveted high point I realize that it was in fact a “false summit” and “the top” is still a long and harduous way away. I am still happy I could make it that far up; Rainier, Kilimandjaro, etc. are not so easy to conquer.

    1. All things, step by step. I never thought I could blog — you might recall it took SEVEN YEARS for me to finally start one — but oh, the rewards are so great. I would read a blog you wrote about your PCT adventures. Just saying… Meanwhile I’ll soak up everything you contribute here! And hey, you’ve given me an idea: IF ANYONE OUT THERE WOULD BE INTERESTED IN DOING AN HONORARY BLOG POST, I’m open to a conversation! That’s how I got MY start and courage, thanks to one Ms. Elena Hartwell Taylor!

  2. For starters, I’ll quote your reply to Silvie-Marie: “Sometimes the simplest lessons are the ones we overlook but which, when done consistently, can make the biggest difference”. Being highly skilled at crafting excuses not to start the “getting unstuck” process right now / TODAY, my go-to is “it’s too complicated, I need more of this or that, I need so and so to help me with it”. I seem to deliberately ignore the fact that I really have all I need to start making progress now; none of the Ps requires much more than my time and my continued dedication. In fact, reflecting on what you shared in the past year of blog posts, one common thread seems to emerge: it is generally NOT complicated, unless we make it so; most of what we need is to be present and dedicated to what we can do ourselves… for the duration. One of the most marvelous feelings long distance hiking brings to me is when I see that distant and formidable ridge ahead of me; I know that the trail will climb up to it and then over to the other side; I feel how small and “fragile” I am in this vast and rugged landscape… and yet I KNOW that I will make it. I just have to keep walking at a proper pace, over the hours it will take, and paying attention to environmental risks,: I WILL get to the top. Conjuring up that image, when I feel a bit overwhelmed at home by the task(s) at end, does help me remember the 5 Ps. I needed Patience to get to that ridge many hours from now, I was confident that I Practiced enough to get there, I was Paying great attention to my body and my environment to maximize my chances of success, I did PLAY (whether it was a song in my head, a stop to admire the views, sharing news and experiences with other hikers on the trail, betting with myself on how many steps I’ll have to take to get to that boulder or tree ahead, etc.), and I certainly ensured that the way I moved through the landscape aligned with my Purpose: to live the outdoors as fully and enjoyably as I can. I am so lucky that my preferred “hobby” aligns so well with how I can better “whac-a-mole” all these to-do’s that seem to constantly pop up in my life out of nowhere. From your latest post, I also very much like the image of “cultivating” the 5 Ps. I wasn’t born with all 5 Ps (except possibly PLAY 😊) and therefore needed to find good seeds to start my “Unstucking Garden”: parents, friends, mentors, spouse, teachers/trainers, books, the web, etc. where good nurseries to visit. But then “my work” really started: planning the layout and then planting, watering, pruning, repotting, grafting/cloning my young plants; that work will continue as long as I want my garden to be healthy and a source of solace, joy, and comfort in my life. Some plants may not strive, I may discover new ones I want to add to the garden… because what I love and care the most about may change over time; my garden may evolve as life does. My idea / purpose for the garden may evolve but “the gardening” will essentially remain unchanged, I only need a few tools for Planning, Planting, rePotting, Pouring water, Pruning…

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself! I love how you took the post and applied it to your PCT goal. Perfection! And yes, if we look at “being stuck” it really is all in our minds. So if we can change our mindset, or analyze what’s REALLY in our way (ourselves; is it fear? uncertainty? what do we need to overcome it?) we can find our way past it. It might mean going around, under, over, building ladders to climb it, but as a friend of mine says and I’ve alluded to in previous posts, we need to “embrace our inner buffalo” and just CHARGE FORWARD because all of the waffling, hedging, procrastinating and “waiting until the ideal moment” is PAINFUL. The right moment is TODAY. NOW. So let’s charge forward, plant the seeds, and get ‘er done. We’re all in this together, and the support I get from my readers is truly amazing. Y’all are helping me get unstuck as much as I like to thing (hope!) I’m helping YOU.

      Brilliant post, Gerard. Sure you’re not a blogger in disguise?

  3. Court, your blogs are always so spot-on, how do you do it? Sometimes, like today, they come at just the right time. Thank you!

  4. It is never easy to get unstuck on challenges that are closed to our heart and mind. It takes practice, patience and mindfulness. Doing what brings us joy is so important. Our dogs are often our best friends, but we need to be patience with them. Rebus loves his sniffing adventure like Ajax. I see that you need sometimes to avoid some dogs….😛 same here with Rebus..those dogs, they are smart and love to take advantage of their owners…

    Thanks for sharing your experience and feelings. I love all the tips and ideas you are writing about. Simple but often we tend to forget. And love
    the great images you are creating and they go do well with your writing.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Silvie-Marie! I wish Rebus and Ajax could meet sometime. I have a sense they’d be friends. Appreciate your post and compliments. I write to remind myself as well as others. Sometimes the simplest lessons are the ones we overlook but which, when done consistently, can make the biggest difference. All the best!

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