December 28, 2017

Getting Unstuck

People usually don’t set new year’s resolutions because they have just completed big, momentous changes in their lives and they are on a roll.

I am sure that happens sometimes, but more often when people set new year’s resolutions it is because they feel stuck. Things have been the same for so long that they need a gimmick to get going again. The process of imagining a future that is different might do this. The hope is that resolving to change in specific areas will provide the fresh perspective that gets them unstuck.

This hope is one of the reasons people set so many new year’s resolutions. If one resolution can provide the jolt that you need, then maybe five resolutions, five separate, unrelated goals, will provide a bigger jolt that gives you a stronger chance of getting unstuck — or so you might imagine.

Yet if you try this, it doesn’t quite feel right. There is a problem with this approach. When you use a goal as a way to get unstuck, you might get unstuck or you might not, but you almost surely will not achieve the specific goal you had in mind.

The goal gives you the energy to get unstuck, but what happens after that, when you need to go through the actions necessary to achieve the goal? How do you reach a goal when there is nothing left in the tank?

Suppose, for example, you have taken on the popular new year’s resolution of weight loss. Maybe you drag yourself to a few exercise classes, and you plant yourself in the kitchen to prepare food that is healthier than something that has been deep-fried and flash-frozen. After a month of this you’ve probably gotten yourself unstuck — but the scale says your weight has declined by only 2 percent. You need to continue this pattern of action for another 10 or 20 months to reach your weight loss goal — or you need to improve and expand your pattern of action. Yet you’ve used up your momentum on this goal. You got yourself unstuck, but it’s not likely that you have the momentum to keep going or to go bigger.

Worse, having run out of momentum, you may fall into a new pattern, a new rut, that is only marginally better than where you were before. You get to the next new year need to get unstuck all over again.

There are various ways around this pitfall, but the simple answer is not to use a goal as a way of getting unstuck. When you need to get unstuck, get unstuck by getting unstuck, not by fixing a goal in your sights.

In fact, wouldn’t you rather achieve your new year’s resolution, rather than just have it serve as a gimmick?

The best time to get unstuck is right before you set a big goal or a new year’s resolution. In other words, instead of looking at your goal and asking, “How can I work toward any goal when I feel stuck in my current circumstances?” get unstuck first, and ask, “What great goal can I work toward now that I am no longer stuck in my current circumstances?”

There are endless ways to get unstuck. The good news is that it is not very complicated. You just have to get outside of your routine enough that it no longer feels like a box that contains you.

The technique I use and recommend is the changeability visualization. Don’t worry if that sounds complicated. “Changeability visualization” is just a fancy way of saying, “See, it all moves!”

I am assuming you know how to visualize, how to create pictures in your mind. If not, it too is easy enough to learn.

Then, just create the pictures of things changing. Skip over the work that a change might require and just imagine the change itself. Everyone knows that weather changes, so I often like to start with a visualization of weather.

Imagine a day that is: Hot and sunny. Hot, humid, and breezy. Stormy. Frosty. Gloomy. Snowing. Getting warmer. Getting colder. Cloudy with a gray sky. Cloudy with a pink sky.

It doesn’t matter what changes you imagine. If visualizing is hard, you can accomplish the same thing by looking at photographs of weather, a slide show in a random sequence.

After this exercise, you will no longer be able to say, “Why does it have to be freezing all the time?” or whatever the weather happens to be where you are. You will have convinced yourself that weather changes.

Go on to do the same thing in any area of interest. Here are just a few examples.

  • Place. Imagine yourself: Sitting at a café in Zanzibar. Riding a bicycle up a hill in Norway. Watching a movie in a cinema. Reading a statutory interpretation in the Library of Congress. Inches from the stage in a nightclub. Walking around a farm where one of your great grandparents worked. Taking a photograph of a monument. Watching a novelist write a novel.
  • Stuff. Imagine your material possessions: From five years ago. Removed from your house and sitting in a heap outside. Returned to the house but in a different place. Books replaced with other books. Furniture in different colors. Turned to gold. Put into boxes, or bags. Twenty of your possessions sold at an auction, with different people bidding on different items.
  • Weight. Imagine: Fitting every size of clothing you can think of. Imagine going to bed hungry. Imagine not being hungry all day. Moving stiffly, with aches. Moving easily, with nothing hurting at all. Difficulty standing. Running freely.
  • Money. Imagine: Having various amounts of money in your hand, or in the bank. Having one bank account, or one hundred accounts, or other numbers in between. Working and being paid $1 a day, $500 an hour, or an amount in between. Your most recent paycheck, or your next paycheck. Being so rich that you don’t have to ask what things cost. Being so rich that you have time to ask what things cost. Gold coins. Taking checks to the bank in varying amounts.
  • Expression. Imagine: Talking to people you have not yet met. Talking to your father. Writing in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. Talking to Edgar Allen Poe. Designing a piece of furniture by drawing on paper. Selecting a piece of furniture from a catalog. Playing the piano. The harmonica. Writing a letter on paper. Opening an envelope and reading a letter.

Again, these are only examples. Changeability visualization works because you create images of things you want and things you don’t want, the familiar and strange, the believable and unbelievable all in rapid succession. This blurs the lines between them and breaks down the hold that the familiar, believable, unwanted circumstances of your life have over you. At the same time, just seeing so many examples of change, even if they are only imagined, makes the process of change seem more familiar and believable. You start to see ways in which your current circumstances are no more plausible than other circumstances that you might prefer. Wouldn’t that be a good time to choose how you want to change, and perhaps choose a resolution for the new year?

The changeability visualization, like any other visualization, might take some time to have its full effect. You might repeat it ten minutes at a time, ten days in a row. If you really feel stuck, you might look for ways to boost your energy while you do the visualization.

There is no need to stop with visualization if it does not seem like enough. Collect photographs that represent the kind of change I have suggested as a visualization, then watch them as a random slide show. Start moving material objects around. It doesn’t matter so much what objects you are rearranging or how you are arranging them — the important thing is that the physical movement doesn’t require too much effort, so that you can keep going for ten minutes at a time. After you have seen so much change, you are ready to start to strategize changes in your actions, surroundings, and habits in order to reach a specific goal. You’re unstuck.

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