You know the feeling––low, hopeless, uninspired, frustrated, all jammed up. You feel stuck. It's hard to imagine feeling better. There was a time when you felt free, expressive, excited, ignited, but now all that feels completely out of reach. We all get stuck. It's a place I come back to again and again, and I've come to understand that it's a part of my creative process. Stuckness is a resting place I come to which sometimes feels like a wall or a well. It's an uncomfortable place to be in, and I think that while it is unlikeable, it is also an opportunity to rediscover our best tools, regain our footing, and also discover something new.
When we feel stuck we need resources. Ironically, this is often when we forget what our resources are or how to utilize them. Consider this list a brainstorm for how to remember what to do to get unstuck. This list does not provide a quick fix forever. It's intended to give you options for how to jostle loose from that uncomfortable place. It's here to help you make an effort, to take the initiative of bringing motion and creativity back into your day. Pick something or a few things on the list and let yourself unfurl so that your perspective shifts and you free up some energy to invest in what you care about.
Here are 10 things to help you get unstuck:
1. List your resources.
You have probably been through this before, and you know yourself, so you've already learned some tricks for what to do when you feel this way. Now you just need to remember what works. What or who comforts you? What gets your blood moving? What unleashes your emotions? What heightens your senses? Brainstorm on these four questions and scribble down some answers. Are there people in your life who give good advice, pep talks, or know how to listen? Write their names down. If you don't have these people at hand, you might want to hire a professional: a therapist or life coach.
2. Create Movement and Expression.
Get your body and emotional self moving. Some people look to exercise as a key player. Let's think of stuckness as energetic: as stagnant stillness. Moving your body is one way to shake things up. Not into jogging? Try dancing. Put on the kind of music you used to dance to when you were younger. Make it loud so you can't resist getting into it. Get your emotions to release. Whatever expression means to you, be it downloading all your feelings into a journal or diary, talking with a friend or a therapist, talking aloud, or thrashing it out in the privacy of your own home. The last one is recommended by Anusuya Starbear, a Process Work therapist, who suggests basically staging a one-person show in your living room where you say and spray everything you're feeling inside. The more desperate, pathetic, and misguided the better. Not holding anything back, this technique most often ends inevitably in a crying fit. It might sound odd, but if you can allow yourself that type of uninhibited expression, you will clear out some stuckness in your emotional body. Maybe you need a massage or an acupuncture session. In Chinese Medicine, we treat stuckness all the time through the meridians and energetics. We understand that stuck energy moves when you handle it, guide, and soothe it. We identify that stuckness can be due to trapped feelings of anger or frustration, the antidotes to which are expression and activism. Activism means finding your voice and using it.
3. Remember what serves you.
Write a list of the things you brainstormed in Step 1 and tape it to the wall or keep it in your phone or both. Make it accessible. On the list put at least ten things you can do when you are feeling especially stuck and low on ideas. For example: exercise, acupuncture, meditate, guided visualization, ____ podcast (choose one that makes you laugh and also feel less lonely), listen to Storycorps podcast (to open up in empathy to others), list all the reasons you are grateful today, pull weeds in the garden, go to a yoga class, cook _____ (something you love or have always wanted to try), clean the bathroom, clean out some closets, write in your diary, call your best friend or someone who gives good pep talks, call me for a 10 minute guided visualization (link).
4. Ask yourself what you really want to do or make.
If you found out you had only one last chance to do or make something, what would it be? Look for that urge. That burning desire. Identify your cause. Write it down and describe it using at least a paragraph.
5. Investigate the stuckness.
Get inside the stuckness. Listen to it. Is it whining, crying out, stubborn? If you give the stuckness a voice and let it speak its truth, what does it say? Give some thought as to why things are not moving. Maybe you are stuck because you are caught in indecision. A state of indecision is when part of you wants something and part of you wants something different. Do you have two desires bumping into each other? Do you have a quandary of values at a crossroads? See if you can sleuth out some information, and you can always ask a wise friend or counselor for help.
6. Remember it's normal to get stuck.
The creative process is as circuitous and varied as the seasons of the year. There are times of ripe productivity and harvest, and times that are fallow. Ask yourself what season you are in internally. Does it match the external world? See if there is a reason you are not creating or thriving. If you have recently completed a large project, or otherwise need to rest, or have experienced a large emotional challenge lately (such as grief or extreme stress) you might be asking too much of yourself to be highly productive. It's possible that you need to prioritize rest or recuperating first. Maybe your creative self is underground, resting, like tiny seeds laying in wait to sprout.
7. Shift your perspective
Ask yourself what the key themes are to your stuckness. For example, procrastination, self-doubt, indecision, overwhelm. Look at each theme and see if you can shift your thinking around it. For example, instead of seeing procrastination as a bad habit you have to break, ask yourself what your procrastination really is... some type of stoppage, maybe a way of slowing down, or a nonlinear thought process interrupting your main objective. Look into that. If there's something that is happening too fast for you, your behavior might be asking you to slowing down and making you wait. Is there, perhaps, some key ingredient or step that hasn't happened yet? Is learning to be faster or slower a theme in your life in other ways? If you are procrastinating with distractions, ask yourself if you might be trying to go about your goals too directly, if maybe you need some more varied input, and what that might be in a way that's more helpful than procrastinating. Or, maybe procrastinating is a way you get your blood and adrenaline pumping at the last minute. If that's the case, ask yourself if you like working under pressure, and want to continue that, or if there might be another way you could up your interest in a timelier fashion.
8. Make some time.
Often times, we know there are activities that will help us get unstuck but we don't have time. Or we think we don't have time. Focus on an activity you think you don't have time for. Ask yourself how much the minimum allowance of time would be to make something of it. For example, you might think you don't have time to exercise. But could you squeeze in a 30 minute jog? That ends up being about 3 miles which is quite an accomplishment. Or, maybe you want to start drawing again but don't feel like you have the time. What if you drew for five minutes each evening for a week? See if that loosens you up. Ask yourself what the maximum amount of time would be for you to be happily immersed in your desired activity. If there were a continuum from the minimum to the maximum, see yourself stepping into that gradient.
9. Integrate your Imagination into your Body.
Let's get creative. Follow along with me. Envision your stuckness as a thing inside your body, like a hologram. Maybe it looks like a stone or a hole or an object. Just use your imagination, you can't do it wrong, and you can do it over as many times as you want. Just try. With your eyes closed, see the image in your body in a specific location. For example, a metal shield in your belly. Imagine a stop-motion fast-forward kind of time lapse on the image, as it changes. In my example, maybe the shield rusts, erodes and crumbles into the ground and becomes soil. Or, let's say you saw a stone in your chest. Maybe a hand comes in and grabs it, or the latitude changes and it rolls down a hill.
10. Surround yourself with Reminders.
It's easy to forget your tools, resources, tricks, and reminders, so you have to make them easily memorable. Create sticky notes (literally or figuratively) and keep them visible and handy. If you like plans, sketch out a new calendar with some of these improvements built in, including making time, and getting exercise, maybe meditating, or some of the ways mentioned above to stir the senses and open the emotions. Or maybe you are someone who likes taping images to the walls of your workspace or putting talismans in your path. Remember, your life is your design. You, like all of us, are a work in process. Ask yourself what you can do to keep moving today, and how you can set up a habitat conducive to the projects you feel the urge to complete in the near future.
And if, after reading this, you feel you need a guide to help you through these steps, or, you want to learn how to make customized visualizations to engage your body and imagination, then get in touch with me. I work with individuals, groups, and agencies. I can help you learn these tools one-on-one on the phone or internet, and I could talk about it all day on your podcast or public speaking event. Let's work together to make the world more full of ideas, art, and things that matter!
Liz Asch Greenhill has a BA in English from Vassar, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Eastern Oregon University, and a Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She works as an artist, writer, acupuncturist, and in combination as a creativity consultant and artists' assistant, helping people explore their creative projects and process through embodiment.
Creativity www.lizasch.com/artist-assistance • Acupuncture www.lizgreenhill.com
Follow me on FB and Instagram: Liz Greenhill Acupuncture and Liz Asch