“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein
From time to time when I meet with a new client, they will often inform me that they feel stuck, however the word often used is trapped. When I rephrase it back to them, I usually will substitute “trapped” with “stuck.” This is because the idea of feeling trapped evokes more panic in people than the idea of feeling stuck.
In essence, it’s the same message. They are experiencing a sense of permanence in a miserable situation. The first thing to recognize about being stuck, is that you are not stuck. In fact you have never been stuck, instead you have held steadfast to a set of inflexible beliefs which make it impossible to adapt in a healthy manner to certain circumstances.
The process of becoming unstuck is a simple process to understand but challenging to put into practice. You have to first identify beliefs you hold unto that make it difficult for you to practice change. Here are three common beliefs I have noticed that clients hold unto;
“I should never experience discomfort.”
“I should never fail.”
“I must always be happy.”
The irony about these common beliefs, is that once clients identify them, it turns out that they are not meeting their expectations as is. They are usually already experiencing discomfort, already experiencing some type of failure in their lives and they are almost definitely not happy.
So the first stage is to identify unhealthy core beliefs you steadfastly adhere to and find out how trying to live up to those beliefs have led you to feelings of being stuck . Most clients become more than willing to practice change once the ironies have been pointed out.
The second step is to identify healthier beliefs to replace the unhealthy beliefs you identified about yourself. An easy way to go about doing this would be to create healthy beliefs that are contradictory to the unhealthy beliefs you earlier identified about yourself.
For example, a good replacement for “I should never experience discomfort” would be, “I have the strength to cope with discomfort.” For “I should never fail”, it could be “failures are experiences I should learn from.” The theme of any healthy beliefs shouldn’t be to extinguish any negative feelings, but to increase your resiliency towards negative feelings and negative experiences.
Now before I address the third step, there is something I would like to highlight. The truth is that most of the time we find ourselves in an unfavorably situation we know what steps need to be taken, unfortunately when we think with unhealthy beliefs, we foolishly come to believe in guarantees, and become terrified of not succeeding in change, which leads to doing nothing and subsequently leading to our feelings of being stuck. The only guarantee in life is death.
With that in mind, the third step involves identifying the changes you have been avoiding to make and using your new found healthy beliefs as motivation. For example, what if you wanted to go back to school and learn software coding? However you know that upon registration at the community college you will be required to take a placement exam? Further, you have a deep seeded fear of tests and exams stemming from the ridicules you received from your family and peers over your poor grades as a child. So what is a person to do?
Here’s what you do, you take your identified healthier replacement belief for failure, “failures are experiences I should learn from.” You write this down twenty five times before you go to bed the night before you take the placement exam, (sleep promotes learning), and then you write it down again twenty five times an hour before you take the exam.
This is a repetitive cognitive process that conditions you to think in a manner that increases the likelihood of you performing at your best when engaging in a task that evokes a lot of anxiety in you. But wait.. there’s more. I am currently writing a book that sheds information on the psychology of fear and gives more detailed evidenced based strategies for how anyone can overcome their fears and live their lives.
Thanks for reading this and if you know anyone who could benefit from reading this post, please share this with them.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling private practice.