The comment I heard most often from clients this past week is, “I keep getting in my own way. How do I get unstuck?” Could it be as simple as trying something new? A quick search through the holdings at the Seattle Public Library revealed at least a dozen self-help books with “get out of your way” in the title. This must be a common phenomenon. Why do we do it and how do we stop?
Be Still to Get Unstuck
In a recent issue of PNWA’s Author Magazine, Jennifer Paros wrote about being still in order to see our current reality, so we can get unstuck and move forward. This is a paradoxical concept, especially if you’re as accomplished with “doing” as I am. In fact, clients have heard me say, “If you feel deep down that you’re a climber, yet you’ve never hiked, how can you know unless you get outside and try it?” Perhaps the stillness Paros alludes to comes in pausing, quieting the doubts, and trusting oneself enough so that the path forward can make itself known.
Similarly, if you feel you’re a good enough writer to get published, yet you have never submitted your work for anyone else to read, how do you know? And can you find the courage to keep writing with only that inner knowing to sustain you, or might a critique group help you find out for sure? What if you entered a writing contest or self-published a piece to see what kind of response you get? What stops you from trying something new?
Create Goals to Get Unstuck
Hiking to Melakwa Lake had been on my “goals” list all summer. The mist that my pup Ajax and I encountered this week reminded me of the fear-and-doubt fog I allowed to obscure my path toward starting a blog. For seven years, I’d convinced myself I had nothing more to share after publishing my first book.
Yet in July 2021, I had no deadlines, no agent, no editor breathing down my neck. I also felt like I lacked direction and purpose. Wanting to have something to show for the summer, I had nothing to lose. It dawned on me that I wanted to write whatever I wanted to write. In two weeks, I took a leap of faith and launched my blog. All it took was two short weeks.
But, like Social Media posts, people only see the happy end result. I never revealed those seven years of being stuck. Did I even KNOW I was stuck?
Quiet the Voice of the Gremlin
My gremlin still tries to make her voice heard: “Think of what you could be doing today if you’d started the blog seven years ago.” To that little green monster, I stand with my hands on my hips, and say, “Better late than never.” Every time I successfully accomplish something I set out to do, the voice of the gremlin grows softer, weaker, fading like ethereal fog.
Whether you’ve wanted to climb for a decade, wished you could publish a poem, yearned to be a better communicator, or dreamed about furthering your education, every goal begins with a single step. But which one?
Rename Your Blocks
As a trainer and former climb leader with the Seattle Mountaineers, I have ventured into the mountains for over two decades. Some people think I just go out and do stuff without much worry or thought. If they knew the behind-the-scenes of my daily exercise routine (including how long it takes to pick a hike) they would know that’s not true.
No matter how much I train, every time I visit the mountains I feel a small element of doubt and fear that I have renamed excitement. As I get better at taking calculated risks, my sphere of comfort expands.
What will it take to get outside your comfort zone? Can you embrace whatever blocks you? Can you think of it as protecting you from the unknown? What if you renamed your block and rewrote your script? What if you set an intention and then carried it out?
Just like your muscles need to be regularly overloaded to get stronger, your mind needs a challenge, test, push. Think of it as exercising the habit of following through. If you never hike, you won’t get to the top of a mountain under your own power. You will not publish your work unless you find the courage to send it out into the world.
So, on a rainy Sunday morning following a restful night’s sleep, Ajax and I drove to Exit 47, and instead of turning left as we’d been doing all summer, we turned right.
A Visit to Misty Melakwa Lake
Why did I wait until the end of summer to attempt this hike? It wasn’t the mileage or gain; Ajax and I had covered fifteen miles together and ascended 4,000 feet on recent hikes. It also wasn’t driving distance; we had been to Exit 47 half a dozen times this summer. I think it was more about the uncertainty of maneuvering through the Denny Creek campground, the hassle of adding extra distance at the start and end of the hike, and not knowing how many people would be out hiking on a rainy weekend after Labor Day.
Lame, right? Really, what’s an extra half-mile? And what is really blocking us? Maybe I still wanted to hike with a buddy; it had been a month since I’d gone out solo. Those “solo hiking muscles” had gotten weak. Time to give them a workout.
Melakwa Lake is a popular hiking destination, perhaps due to the emerald green color and clear alpine water. But close proximity to the heavily used Denny Creek Campground probably increases foot traffic for those local hikes under ten miles. Apparently, it also has a decent scramble that will get you up high enough to look at Gem Lake, Glacier Peak, and the North Cascades on a clear day.
My favorite parts were:
- Fall colors – one of the reasons I went to that particular location
- Seeing two new-to-me emerald lakes, Upper and Lower (this has been the season for new lakes)
- Pika!! One came so close to the trail I got a shot of him with my camera phone
- Handfuls of ripe blueberries and huckleberries, even bigger and more plentiful than the ones we picked the previous weekend on Mt. Catherine
- Clean, pure exercise with my favorite canine companion
- An hour of solitude when we veered off the beaten path to explore the trail leading from Melakwa Lake to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake
The parts I could have done without (aren’t there always some of these?)
- Rain, with mud in places; I’ve gotten used to a summer of dryness, but nothing a good dog bath couldn’t cure
- Fog obscuring what I know must be stellar views, reminding me again of my recent trip to Blanca Lake
- Slick, rocky trail in places that reminds me of part of the approach to Mt. Washington
- Crowds. As we ascended the switchbacks we could hear the conversations of people in the valley behind us for a half-mile. If we are seeking a solitary experience, then we need to hike popular trails on weekdays or avoid them.
Today’s Step to Get Unstuck
What could you do TODAY that you keep putting off? What small five-minute task could you take that would get you one step closer to your goal and help you start building that follow-through muscle? For me, turning right instead of left committed me to try a hike that had been on my list all summer. Perhaps signing up with a coach or talking with someone you trust can help you figure out your next step.
Pause, feel whatever you’re feeling, and then take that next step, saying goodbye to that place of comfort, that previous place of familiarity. My wish for you is that you not wait seven years to do something that might take two weeks. Do you have favorite ways for getting unstuck or getting out of your own way? I would love to hear about them in the comments box.
I love the blog’s trip reports (adding some of these to my to-hike list) but also the topics of reflection about how we approach outdoors activities… or life in general.
My name is Gerard and I am a Stuckoholic… Should “getting stuck” be a new addition to the Olympic sports, I feel that I would have a real shot at the gold medal; certainly I would be on the podium. How can I be so confident? Over more than 60 years I have developed and impressive arsenal of fears (listing them all would likely bring the blog’s server to a standstill) and I have elevated procrastination to an art form.
Recently, I came to realize that I am not immortal and my bucket list has grown longer than the years remaining to get things crossed off that list. Who would have thought such a thing could happen? Ok, pretty much anyone with a modicum of common sense…
Enter some WD40-ish practices to get my corroded and seized-up dreams squeakily moving again.
For me, that meant peaking over the comforting berms demarking my cozy rut, climbing over and venturing in what I felt would be surely be unfriendly terrain.
I sought help (yeah… I was that guy never asking for directions). I enrolled in guided outings lead by renowned thru-hikers. I connected (albeit accidentally, but isn’t that often how great things happen?) with a top personal trainer based in Seattle 🙂 …
I learned to plan (route, weather, gear, resupplies, etc.) and did it… sometimes obsessively.
I told people I love and look up to about my goals; darn… now I better try and do what I just said I would.
Armed with a bit more confidence from the help I sought, the planning I did, and the “public announcements” I made… I “got out there” in a way that would ensure I would face some of my fears (OMG… I am alone deep in the woods, miles and miles from anyone else! … I must walk 25+ miles tomorrow to make it to my exit point!). Most times it worked!… and I learned great (and mostly positive) lessons about myself in the field.
Now… I am not cured. Never will be. Fears and procrastination, the Dream Reapers, still whisper alluringly in my ears… sometimes I listen, but mostly I take it One Outing at a Time…
Gerard, I love the word you created, “stuckaholic.” I find it so interesting the comments coming out from this blog. Trust me, you are not alone. As a creative, myself, I wonder if procrastination is a necessary evil and I’m fascinated by how people move forward. What made me so willing to start a company, join a dating service, move to Seattle sight unseen, go to college on the east coast when I had only heard of friends’ older siblings doing so… The experiences we collect over the years should make us MORE confident, not LESS. And yet (I keep coming back to my most recent coup) starting a blog — something that literally only took two weeks — required a mull time of seven years.
I love that you have a “bucket list” that keeps growing. I wonder if we use an exercise called “on my death bed” if we could look back at all the things we are most proud of, and those things that bring us the most joy, if those can help us illuminate the path forward? Just a thought.
You also bring up a key point: MAKING PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENTS. When I committed to my husband and daughter that, by jove, I WOULD give up sugar OR ELSE, I made that commitment in writing and, what’s more, made it even more painful if I did not follow through: I promised a large (painful) sum of money to a cause I could never get behind or believe in. The pain if I failed? Triply awful. Talk about getting MASSIVE leverage on ourselves! Sometimes we have to do so in order to move forward, and other times it feels relatively easy. Change is hard, I kid you not, especially the longer we’ve been stuck in habits that we THINK have supported us. I think those ultra-challenges are the ones we learn from the most. Had I not overcome my sugar addiction over two years ago, I doubt I would have ever considered giving a blog a shot. What’s next? I don’t know, but that enthusiasm for thinking about it and trying new things overflows in my writing, my volunteering, my coaching style, education — everything. I truly believe if you’re stuck in one area, using the skills you have in other areas can help you get out. If you’re stuck EVERYWHERE, try ONE tiny step, ONE little thing, and build that change muscle.
One outing at a time. One step at a time. One page at a time. One meal at a time. Whatever our “stuck” there IS a way out. Thanks so much for sharing.
This is exactly what I needed right now! I have come off an amazing experience that has consumed my time with training and planning since I relocated to a state where I knew no one and had no real connection with others due to the pandemic.. I have created three goals that I want to work on while I take a few months to get “away” from the constant push in the woods for yet another high goal next summer! So I am going today and signing up for private swimming lessons.. I am excited yet completely fearful, being a well rounded athlete I am nervous about trying something new.. And add the trust factor that I must give to the person teaching me! But I am going to do this, I have endured a lot in my life and have had the opportunity to see some amazing things around the world, adding swimming to my bag of tricks will only allow me to enjoy this beautiful world more! Thanks court for the encouraging words! I am enjoying these posts a lot..
I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful. Good for you for trying something new and getting outside your comfort zone. You got this! And I appreciate you commenting — if you know of others who would find it helpful having weekly motivation please feel free to send them to my blog. Onward, upward, forward and let us know how the swimming lessons go. I have another client who is starting on a similar path. Here we can all buoy (pun intended) and support each other.
Just do it. Small steps. Try and try again. Just hike half the trail and go back to finish it. The past Summer I did two solo backpacking trips from start to finish. This was so much preparation and training. It was really worth it. I am planning to do more trips, alone or with a partner.
What stops me from trying something new? Fear of failure. Laziness. Unmotivated. No clear purpose. How do I start it? I am too old. The list could go on and on. 😀
Thanks, Silvie Marie. And when you come up against something trying to stop you, what gets you to take a small step forward? With such a long list of reasons not to, what keeps you moving in the right direction? Committing on paper, scheduling with another person? Having accountability? When I was trying to quit eating sugar, I made a commitment to go for one year; if I didn’t, I’d have to pledge a sizable sum to the opposing political party. Whatever leverage you have to get on yourself to move in the right direction, think outside the box and, like Nike says, Just Do It.
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