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December 12, 2014

Getting Unstuck is an Inside Job: 5-Step Recipe.

stuck boat

As someone whose focus is helping people break through—on the yoga mat and in the rest of life—I’m often asked: What do you do when you get stuck?

It’s a great question, as I’ve found myself jammed a number of times over the years: married to the wrong person, working in jobs that didn’t fulfill me, riding the merry-go-round of bad habits that didn’t do me any good.

As I dove deeper into yoga philosophy, I saw more clearly some of the ways I’d cornered myself: letting ego drive the bus while my soul was forced to take a backseat, an unwillingness to show my vulnerable side, the down-talking voice in my head that kept dreams just out of reach, the deep-rooted fear that over time turned to paralysis.

Through that process of introspection, I slowly emerged from the corner. That’s not to say I don’t find myself working through the same negative emotions I always have. Working through emotions is our job as humans—and just like any human, I still get scared, still get frustrated, still get impatient when things don’t move as quickly as I’d like them to.

But I don’t feel… stuck.

I’ve test-driven lots of strategies as I’ve tiptoed closer to that place, and the most transformative ones stem from the study and practice of yoga. But the most profound shift I’ve experienced has come from simply changing the way I think.

I say “simply” but, let’s be honest: this is one of the most challenging tasks known to mankind. Get this right and the rest is cake, right?!

Having power over our mindset is critical because, as Gandhi said:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

So if feeling stuck is a state of mind, then getting unstuck is an inside job. Here’s my five-step recipe:

1. Feel without judgment: Try to see things from the seat of an impartial observer, not from the vantage point of the person in the middle of it all. Notice your emotions without being sucked in by them (e.g., “I feel my heart pounding and my face getting red” instead of “I’m so angry I can’t see straight.”).

2. Breathe and breathe again: There’s no question that simple awareness of our breathing transforms shallow, stressful breaths into a series of long, smooth inhales and exhales that calms the central nervous system almost immediately. One needs only to try to know for sure. In Light on Life, B.K.S. Iyengar noted that the power of a breath, particularly the exhalation, also “empties the brain and pacifies the ego,” prompting negative emotions like resentment, anger, regret, frustration, feelings of superiority and inadequacy to “fall away.”

3. Know this, too, shall pass: I find so much comfort in the idea of impermanence—because unless we really, really grab on to it with both hands, most of the bad stuff we encounter is fleeting: all the roadblocks, background noise, misunderstandings, confusion, frustrations, missed opportunities. All of it. I’ve learned the power of giving it a day (or maybe a week, or even a year), because circumstances are bound to change. And if they don’t, maybe the way you feel about things will change. Maybe, just maybe, you will change.

4. Consider the choices: We feel stuck when we don’t think we have options. The truth is, we always have choices—we can stay put or move on, speak or hold our tongue, get lost in emotions or not. Even when the alternatives at hand seem to range somewhere between “bad” and “worse,” we still get to pick between them. Remember, we all have choices; we just have to be brave enough to make them.

5. Act from power, not fear: The hardest part about decisions is finding the guts to carry them out, and I’ve come to realize that fear is, hands down, the single biggest thing that holds us back in life. Fear fights dirty. It senses weak spots and preys on uncertainty. It makes us quit before we even begin. But purpose and clarity trump fear. When we move deliberately and take ownership of our decisions, we operate from a place of power.

In the end, we’re only stuck if we think we are. And you are not stuck.

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Author: Becky Vollmer

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Kyle Post/Flickr

Becky Vollmer

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