Unsuck Your Life Part 2 – 5 Steps to Getting Unstuck
When We Last Saw Our Hero
For almost 10 years, I was stuck in an endless cycle of doubt and self-loathing. It all started in college when I began to rely on pot and social rebellion as a way to deal with the stress in my life.
This time in my life was filled with a lot of regret and frustration, but it also taught me a lot, about how people become stuck in life and how to get unstuck.
The False Factors
Soon after my 27th birthday, I realized that I needed change my life. The only problem was I didn’t know how to do it. So first, I tried to alter every external variable I could think of.
I changed jobs (roadie to venue manager), I changed my relationship status (to single), I changed my pet ownership (to none), and I even changed cities (Nashville to Portland). But despite all these changes, I still wasn’t happy.
Then one day I caught my boss stealing and within a few weeks I found myself out of a job.
Sometimes there are moments of stark clarity in our lives and this was one for me. This crisis awoke something pure in my heart and helped me see why I hadn’t been able to change despite my attempts.
It showed me that I couldn’t rely on my external circumstances to make me happy. And it led me over the next months and years, to walk a different kind of path. While this path to freedom wasn’t easy, it helped me see that anyone is capable of changing their lives if they only have courage, faith, and a community of people to support them.
Based on this experience I started to think about my journey to freedomf as the 5 Steps to Getting Unstuck. I hope that they are something that can help you too.
1. Acceptance –
Before you can do anything you must accept that you are stuck.
One of the biggest things that keeps people stuck, is their unwillingness to see and accept their current situation.
We do this because we think that if we don’t look maybe it will just all go away. But in reality it’s the not looking that keeps us where we are. Before you can plot your escape, you must first see your cage.
I learned this lesson right around the time I lost my job and started meditating. Meditation taught me a lot, but the most important lesson I learned was acceptance.
For the first time in my life, I started just accepting the stress I had. I began to see that I was stuck and that the only way out was by changing my life is a very fundamental way. Which is why I decided to move into a monastery.
Other than meditation, verbalizing my feelings was one of the most powerful acceptance practices I used.
It’s a very simple practice: When you are angry you simply say to yourself out loud, “I’m feeling anger.” When you are sad you say, “I’m feeling sadness.”
Every time I said these words, it helped me recognize and own my feelings. And the more I practiced the more these feelings loosened.
We like to think that if we deny and pull away from our situation it will change. But just like Chinese finger cuffs, the more we pull away the tighter we are trapped.
But when we reverse the pattern, accept what is happening, and relax we actually create space. And it’s in this space that we begin to regain our freedom.
2. Inquiry –
If you want the answer to your life, you must first live the question.
While acceptance gives us the space to see more clearly, inquiry gives us the clarity to see what’s keeping us stuck.
Inquiry involves asking a question like,
“How did I get here?”
“What pattern is my current way of life protecting?”
“What assumptions am I making about myself that are holding me back?”
“What if those assumptions weren’t true?”
“What if in fact the opposite was true?”
For years, I thought of myself as a pothead and a failure. So much so that I defined myself that way in thought, speech, and deed. But as I started to inquire into the truth of those beliefs, I saw that they weren’t actually true.
My belief that I was a bad person and a failure was certainly painful, but it wasn’t solid. The more I looked at it the more I saw that it was just a story I was telling myself to justify my struggle.
One practice I undertook during my inquiry phase was asking the question: What is my life vow? Or What is the purpose of my life?
I asked this question again and again in many forms. I asked it silently in meditation, I asked it in writing to myself, and I asked it in my interactions with others. But I always tried to ask it without trying to figure out an answer.
The purpose of inquiry isn’t to get an answer. The purpose is to help us access our own deep wisdom in a way that allows change to well up from our foundation. We do this because this kind of change isn’t dependent on anyone or anything else. Instead, it’s the kind of deep evolutionary change that is rare, but also lasting.
3. Action – Insight and four bucks will buy a cup of coffee.
It’s so easy to think that seeing the problem is the same as changing it. But discovery is only the first part of the equation. Once you’ve made a discovery you have to act in order to shift your relationship to your stuckness.
You have to dig into the places that are the most stuck and actively let go of the safety that stuckness offers you. It’s only by taking imperfect and sometimes awkward action that you can make those insights real.
I remember when I first began to take action to create change in my life. For years, I had done small acts of self-harm like smoking cigarettes or not taking care of my appearance. These small acts were a way of expressing my doubt and self-loathing.
So in response I started to do the opposite by exercising and eating better. Exercise not only gave me energy to face my challenges, but the act of moving my body also helped me discharge negative energy. In addition eating more mindfully helped me see my body was worthy of nourishment and care.
One of the practices I used to take action was making amends. I decided it wasn’t enough to just leave my old coping mechanisms behind. I needed to respond to the pain I had caused myself and others.
So I took some time to make a list of all the things I had done out of fear, anger, greed, and ignorance. And then I began working to set them right. Of course, many things on the list were beyond my ability to fix or amend, but I still made the effort.
It was important for me to not only see the effects of my stuck state, but also do something to manifest this positive change in my life.
4. Relapse – No journey is complete without setbacks.
In some ways, we never know how strong we have become until we are tested.
Often hidden in the joy of a new change is fear. A fear that we will slip up and fall back into our old ways. But the reality is that slipping often gives us greater faith in ourselves.
This is why it’s important to accept mistakes and forgive ourselves quickly. If we don’t these small slips will just become another trap that keeps us stuck.
When I first left the monastery I was excited to get out, but I was also scared that something bad would happen and I would fall back into my old patterns.
I was worried that my change depended entirely on my circumstances. And now that I was on my own, I would just get stuck again. But then after a few months of several bad things happened all at once.
First, I lost my job suddenly and then the girl I had just started dating called things off. While both events were hard to handle I didn’t fall back into my old patterns.
Sure, I watched more TV and felt sorry for myself, but I didn’t start getting high all the time and I didn’t stop taking care of myself.
I had been so scared of anything going wrong. But when it happened it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, these two events worked to my benefit in the end.
Losing my job led me to being a trainer and writing this blog. Then later that year I met someone else who was even more amazing than the first girl was.
This experience taught me that mistakes were nothing to be afraid of and that very often falling down is just what we need to move forward.
The next time you make a mistake follow 3 steps acknowledge, accept, and forgive.
First, acknowledge that you made a mistake. Don’t berate or badger yourself about it, just acknowledge it as calmly as possible.
Next, accept that you made the mistake. You can’t should’ve done anything. It’s in the past, so just accept that it happened. Denying only makes the karma heavier.
Finally, forgive yourself for making the mistake and vow to try to do better next time. Forgiveness is essential for change without it we would be stuck in a cycle of guilt and avoidance forever.
5. Enduring – Don’t Get Cocky!
No matter how free you feel or how much you believe you’ve changed it’s always better not to tempt fate.
Taking care of your unstuck life is very much like taking care of a child. Though they grow stronger everyday, it’s important to be diligent and attentive. The best way to stay unstuck is to continue to accept, inquire, take action, and handle set backs with patience.
There are still times in my life when my patterns try to reemerge. There are times when the mind of doubt and self loathing reappear and times when getting high and buying a pack of cigarettes seems like a good idea.
The difference is that now the momentum of my life has shifted. It would take a lot of energy and intention to go back to the way things were before. But part of me knows it’s always possible.
Even though I am orbiting a new way of being, the other way is always out there. And if I’m not careful, it could suck me in again.
Knowing this doesn’t make me afraid, it only teaches me to respect the blessing of this new life and encourages me to keep choosing a new way of being every day.
The best unstuck maintinence practice I’ve found to the practice of daily internal and external gratitude. I practice internal gratitude by writing down three things everyday that I am grateful for. And I practice external gratitude by sending one nice email everyday.
These simple acts help me remember not to take my change for granted. There are many people trapped in an orbit with themselves. The practice of gratitude has helped me cherish my blessings and remember to thank those who have helped me along the way.
Now that you’ve heard about my journey its your turn to share or begin a journey of your own. No one can save you from your life, but we can support eachother on the path. The next step is to stop reading and start putting these five stages into action.
Just remember to ask for help and be patient with yourself. Though this post only took me a few hours to write, it took me years to learn. And these lessons are something I know I will learn again and again.
They key to getting unstuck is to get started and not stop. So put down your tablet, close your laptop, and get started making your new life right now.
OH WAIT! Before you do that, I’d love if you’d tell me how you’re stuck and what you are going to do, to start finding your way to freedom.