Image Courtesy of TelegraphUK
It doesn’t matter how self-aware you are, we all get ‘stuck’ sometimes.
Usually we’re resourceful enough to find out what we need to know to move forward especially if it’s just information: we read a book, listen to a seminar, search the web or ask a friend in the know.
However, there are some forms of ‘stuck’ that don’t go away so easily. Oh sure, they take identifiable forms such as:
- Avoidance of people, situations and tasks
- Bad habits
- Criticizing others
…but what is really going on ‘under the hood’ in our minds and bodies is not so easy to identify from the outside.
We know that something is wrong because of cognitive dissonance – the grating feeling of difference between how we want to be, and how we are. We try ‘just changing our mind’ but it doesn’t work. We grit out teeth and determine that we WILL change. But we don’t.
So we struggle again and again in futile ways to change it: we may even have cartoon-rage-like moments where we struggle, strain, grunt and groan as dust and arms pinwheel in every direction. Then the dust clears and we’re still there – and we haven’t changed.
It can be because:
- We’ve reached the limit of our experience – we don’t know how to move forward
- We don’t want to move forward
- We consciously want to move forward but unconsciously don’t want to
- We don’t know we don’t want to (and someone else points out we need too!)
… and it’s exhausting.
Eventually, we may deny to ourselves that there even IS a problem. It’s like if your mind were a shoe, the problem would be a stone in it that you ignore.
I call these processes that tie us up and hold us back from growing and developing: psychological knots.
Think about a time when you needed to go out, and you suddenly found a gnarly knot in your shoe-lace or belt-tie (for ladies!).
You just wanted to leave, but the knot was really going to hamper you in doing your thing, so you dig your finger-nails in and try to unpick it. But it’s pulled tight, and all you do is succeed in getting frustrated – and maybe a snagged nail!
Maybe you actually go out, doing your best to hide the knot, but YOU know it’s there so you try to hide it, and it spoils your evening because you can’t be relaxed. (OK, perhaps you were never that shallow but you can imagine!)
What we need to move forward are more options, leverage points: ways to unpick the knot and to get moving forward.
With a shoe-lace you can cut it off and get another that works.
With a psychological knot you might just have to put up with it until you know how to untie it.
Below I’ve listed what I have found to be seven key skills necessary for untying psychological knots.
Some of the knots require you to further develop certain skills to do them effectively but I do believe you can start to make progress on all of them by yourself. Every skill does demand that you put in some time and effort to practice it.
The human mind is not designed to work against itself. And that is exactly what happens when our emotions/feelings flag up that we have a problem, and we reject or deny it from our consciousness. It is paradoxical but true that acknowledging that we have a problem with our thinking and behavior can bring instant relief. It is an act of courage but also an act of wisdom. When YOU acknowledge a problem you put yourself back in the driver’s seat. Accepting or acknowledging that a problem exists is not the same as saying it’ll be there forever.
2. Re-frame the meaning of ’emotions‘
Sorry to say but there is plenty of New-Age waffle about our emotions being an infallible guidance system to what we want and even to being successful in life. Stop it now. Our emotions (which people often refer to as ‘feelings’) are simply information from our mind and body about its interaction with the world outside it, and its interactions with itself. If you get enough of what you value – you feel neutral or happy; if you get less, you feel sad. Getting what you do or don’t expect does not mean anything objective about you or your life. Despite what society says you do not have to “do what you feel”. That is what animals do. (Personally, I am not descended from an amoeba.) Fearing our emotions is like fearing breathing – another natural process which we can’t stop so we might as well learn to accept – even when it is uncomfortable.
3. Raise your awareness of what’s on your mind
I wrote about this before but the basic point is that it’s easier to work with what you are aware of. Some people meditate to quieten their minds, some people journal. I use these but also Image Streaming which not only helps you become aware of the images and sounds and words in your mind but also increases your creativity, language skills and measurable IQ. For those who ‘don’t see pictures’ in their minds, this is ideal. It’s like the first Egyptologists shining a light into a dark room full of treasure!
4. List what’s on your mind
The simplest way to know what’s on your mind is to sit down with pen and paper and keep asking: What do I think about x? (with x being the subject) Then, take those answers and ask “What do I think about what I’ve just written?” and keep repeating the process until you don’t have anything left. It can be life-changing. I’ve created a downloadable product to help with this on a more advanced level called Conceptual Restructuring. You can also journal or free-write in which you sit down, ask yourself a question, and then write non-stop for 10 – 15 minutes. After a few minutes of writing the stuff in your consciousness gets cleared out, and you start getting answers from your powerful unconscious mind.
5. Give yourself permission to hear yourself speak
This is similar to raising your awareness but different in that just because you can hear something about yourself, doesn’t mean you are willing to. If you find yourself feeling internal resistance try quietening your mind and saying in your most authoritative voice: “I give myself permission to feel x.. after all, it’s just a feeling, right? It’s just information right? Keep saying it until you feel a shift, often in the chest area.
6. It’s not real….!
Look up the principle “the map is not the territory” on the internet and take some time to reflect on it because I think it’s one of the most important principles in personal development. It is from the cognitive sciences and it basically means that you and I operate from mental ‘maps’ that we use to orient ourselves in the world. Or mental blue-prints if you prefer. And each and every one of us operates from a different view of the world given our upbringing. The AMAZING thing is that because our maps are self-justifying we tend to be “right in our own eyes” despite evidence to the contrary! It helps to ask ourselves “How does it help me to realise that my thoughts are not the real, objective truth but just a model?”
7. Decide you want something new and design it
You might want the help of an expert for this but if you do your research you can gets some powerful shifts of mind. If you’ve decided that what you currently think is not working for you then sometimes it’s simply a case of deciding to think something new. Yes, it can be that simple. Quotes are a great source of material for establishing principles to build on. Or if you prefer specifics, study a book on the subject. Find someone who can teach you practical skills, and fill in the principles later.
Douglas Cartwright is a meta-coach whose speciality is helping professionals who procrastinate get unstuck and start taking more action. Visit www.livingwords.net and get two free e-books and a presentation on coaching along with a bonus ebook on overcoming procrastination.
If you’re interested in learning more, sign up to the ‘psychological knots’ mailing list at www.livingwords.net You’ll get further information on the above in the form of a short How to stop feeling Stuck and Start Feeling Free E-Course
and thought-provoking and practical articles on how to untie some of the most common psychological knots.
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