Two Practices For Getting Unstuck In Our Daily Life
And bring back that smile that helps propel you towards a place where movement means happiness.
I sat with a close friend today and heard her describe how stuck feels. She feels it in her chest, below her heart, her body feels heavy and listless. She feels like she is “revving her engine” but the car is going “absolutely nowhere.”
Being stuck can be felt deep in the body. It is different for everyone but I have felt it in my stomach, my chest, my neck and my back and shoulders. It is also of course in our minds — thoughts of self-doubt, failure, embarrassment, fear to name a few.
And take it from me, I know most of these feelings. While it did not help her just to hear that I’ve been thru this, a little story about two of practices I use when I am stuck gave her some relief.
Let me tell you my short story. When my wife and I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago, I thought I could have my law practice in San Fran, where we had left and also start a new practice in LA. I thought I could just transfer the success I had in SF to LA somehow. When the financial markets crashed in the Spring of 2008, reality set in. I had anxiety about what to do next, how to keep both offices with at least some work and tossed and turned with thoughts of failure, fear, and despair. My body felt heavy and even my lower back went out. I felt physically awful. At the time I did not link my physical feelings with my mind set.
At first, I thought I could ‘will’ things to happen in my professional life. To use a metaphor, there I was sitting in a boat in the water with absolutely no wind in my sails. I grabbed the proverbial sail and the tiller and tried to ‘will’ movement to happen. I set up meetings, made calls to old clients. Nothing changed.
And here was the first gem — that did not come instantly and it did not come overnight — I changed my physical activity.
Step One: Feeling stuck is a symptom of the mind and the body. While it seems obvious to state, you are the same human when you “feel” stuck as you are when you did not feel stuck. You suffer however from two separate states: a changed mental state and a changed physical state.
Leaving your mental state aside for a moment, you must become extremely aware of your physical change. What has changed now that you feel stuck?
Can you pin-point it specifically using your fingers and your body? Do you feel it like me for example, right on top of my right shoulder blade or do you feel it above your belly button like my friend does? When you think to yourself that you feel it (e.g. the stuckness) physically in a certain place, and you close your eyes, when you open your eyes and your finger or hand on that place on your body, is it exactly where you think it is?
It is important to locate the specific physical place because, like pulling a muscle or even cutting yourself, you must know where you are going to do some healing work (e.g. in the case of a pulled muscle and a band-aide in the case of a small cut) before you start the work. Don’t you agree?
Once you have located the specific places, you might attempt some self-massage or have someone else massage you BUT I am going to suggest something different at first.
ACTION ITEM: If before you felt stuck you did no physical activity, I’d like you to start with 10-minute walks. If before you felt stuck you were a jogger, I’d like you to take a yoga class. If before you did yoga, go for a thirty-minute walk. Go for a swim. Take a dance class or even a sketch class. By changing your physical activity you are going to give your physical body a new set of problems to deal with and it will need that new focus to bring about all of the benefits of self-healing that comes from a new physical activity. I am not suggesting you overly exert yourself. You do not need to do that. Just move differently.
Before you start the new physical activity, ask yourself: Where do I feel the worst?
While you are doing the action item, I’d like you to ask yourself: Where is my dread? Can I locate it in my body while I’m doing this new activity?
When you are done (or if you simply do the self-questioning now), ask: Did the way I feel my stuckness change at all? It is ok if the answer is no. Ultimately, you will find, the answer will become yes.
Second Gem: Patience makes perfect.
When I first felt stuck during my earlier story when I moved to LA, I was in an extreme rush to get thru it. I was a man with a plan, running around doing physically everything outwardly measurable to effect change. As many of us find out the hard way however, change does not come with force. The other reality is, as creatures of nature, change is already happening but we are simply too busy outwardly to notice.
As I described above, the new physical activity (and if you’re adventurous and add the self-massage or massage work) will bring about physical change. Your muscles or the physical surface (or deeper) where you feel despair, fear, and stuckness will begin to change. As many doctors will tell you, when the location of injury changes even slightly, that means healing is happening.
The same occurs emotionally but you can help it along by watching yourself closely.
Keep a journal and write down your wake time and meal times and sleep time.
Keep in your journal, or at least take a mental note of, the time of the day that your stuckness comes on the strongest.
Action Item: Take note of any moment in your day where there is no feeling of stuckness. For me, I called them moments of joy. No matter how slight, and it could be as simple as acknowledging yourself the moment you wake, take note of the quiet moment in your mind before the stuckness comes and call it “a moment of joy.”
Make a game of it and call it the search for joy game. How many times in a day can you could moments of joy? Split the day into two or three parts and compete against yourself. Can you find more joy in the morning than in the afternoon? What about the evening before you go to bed?
For me, before I went to bed could become heavier. Other days I found myself on my yoga mat extremely heavy and filled with stuckness and despair. I had no notice of when this would happen and sometimes my eyes would fill with tears. BUT, as I began these two practices, I started to notice little slivers of light. Little breaks in my stuckness.
Breaks in the stuckness. At first I did not give these glimpses of light much notice. I started to write more, I started to listen differently when I met with people and I counted the visit with someone as a point in my moment of joy rather than wonder what if anything could come from the visit. Little by little, life became unstuck again.
And as I shared these two practices with my friend, she promised me that I could work with her to hold her accountable and just be there as she counted moments and also took inventory of her physical self. But I reminded her that the work does not simply end when we come unstuck. Not at all. The work continues and continues as we refine our self-awareness with the greatest reward being a life filled with days that are filled with moments of joy.
Good luck out there.
Gregory Rutchik is a writer and a lawyer who lives in Los Angeles and maintains a blog www.thepanicproject.com that tackles anxiety and panic.