What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do: 10 Secrets To Getting Unstuck

by Dan Cumberland

Everyone gets stuck. We all reach moments when we're not sure how to move forward. Whether it's a creative project, a relationship or something else, getting stuck happens to the best of us.

I found myself feeling stuck a year or so ago in a job that didn't fit. It was in a field I wanted to be in, but it wasn't the right role for me. As I tried to find ways to move on, nothing seemed to work.

The good news is, I didn’t stay stuck and you won't stay stuck, either.

Here are 10 ways to get unstuck:

1. Do something else

Stepping away from the problem can feel so counterintuitive, but something happens when you let yourself focus on other things. Instead of obsessing and pushing past the point of being helpful and healthy, let go and go do something else. Do something silly, do something fun, do something you know you enjoy and just lose yourself in it.

Yes, the problem will still be there when you get back. Yes, it will likely be the same as when you left it, but what matters is that you will be in a different place. While you were off having fun, your mind has been working. Maybe you'll have new eyes on things, maybe the options will feel different and maybe a shift will take place.

2. Sleep

When you sleep, your subconscious brain is still at work. Without your conscious mind in the way, your subconscious gets free reign. This is why you may have bizarre and intense dreams that are related to the things you are thinking about. While you're sleeping, you're still working things out.

In a similar way that leaving the problem at hand and returning to it later brings fresh perspective and ideas, sleep can also bring surprising amounts of new inspiration to the task at hand.

3. Free write (every day)

Free writing gives you space to express what's really on your mind. It’s space to think.

Often there is something within us that keeps us stuck. It can feel like we don't have enough information or enough options, when it is actually a lack of clarity about our desire or the tension of conflicting desires. Free writing can give you a place to put words to these feelings.

It may take a long time for you see results, but free writing will change you.

4. Be open and honest about how you feel

Allowing others to hear and see you in your struggle can be incredibly difficult but also incredibly helpful. You often find that you’re not as alone as you may have thought; other people have been stuck in similar ways before. As you share your stuck-ness, you will invite others to do the same. You may find they helpful suggestions, or it may just be helpful to have some company.

5. Create

If you don't know what else to do, make something. Make time for the creative endeavors you enjoy. When you create, you allow yourself to express things that might not have an outlet otherwise. Making things and tapping into your desire to create also helps you feel a sense of agency — that you can do things, bring about change and make an impact. It helps you feel less stuck.

6. Use your body

Get your body moving and your breath going. If you can’t get outside or to the gym, spend some time meditating. You are a whole being and using your body helps you feel good. When you exercise, your body creates chemicals that are needed to feel good and happy, called endorphins. Exercise and meditation also create a good mental space for your subconscious to process things.

7. Unplug

As great as it is to have the world at our fingertips, it can keep us from relationship, encourage comparison and distract us from deeper questions. Spend some time away from your devices; try going one day a week without them and see what happens.

8. Talk to people in the field

Who do you know who might know something about what you're facing? Talk to that person about it. Tell him or her why you’re stuck and how you're feeling. Ask what he or she would do. If your resources are exhausted, just ask someone to just listen. Finding empathy helps you to feel less stuck.

9. Talk to people not in the field

People outside the field don't know the rules of the game, and when you don't know the rules, you're not afraid to break them. When a person doesn't know the rules (written and unwritten), they call everything into question. (Malcom Gladwell will tell you all about this in his last book, "David and Goliath.")

Sometimes we need someone to question everything with us and help us identify the assumptions we’re holding that may be keeping us stuck.

10. Ask everyone who else you should be talking to

Finally, as you talk to people, ask them who else you might talk to. Who do they know who has been in a similar place? Do they know anyone who might help solve your problem? Do they know anyone who may just want to chat about it? You never know who might be in someone else’s network. You may just find the help you need.

No matter your problem — whether it's a creative project, a relationship or something else — you won’t stay stuck forever. Know that if you keep moving, keep trying and keep risking, you will find a way to make something move and get momentum again.

Just don’t give up.

Photo via Tumblr