5 Simple Ways to Stop Feeling Stuck – Step 1: Identify and Attack Your Triggers

This is Part 1 of a series on Getting Unstuck. Read the intro here.

The first thing I did when I realized I was feeling stuck was to try and identify the tangible triggers contributing to my stuck-ness. Below are three things I did to figure out what my triggers were and change my response to them.

1. Identify Your Triggers

Before I could attack my triggers, I had to know what they were.

To clarify: By triggers, I don’t mean things like “my entire personality sucks” or “I live in a rat-infested hole in Brooklyn”—those are life factors. I was trying to identify the emotional factors playing into the feeling of being stuck. Like I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I’m not actually stuck in any area of my life right now. Job is good. Apartment is great. Relationships are solid. But despite these facts, I feel stagnant. I’m not appreciating the everyday magic of my life as much as I want to. I’m going through the motions of a routine instead of experiencing the joy of being alive. It’s annoying, to say the least.

So anyways. Triggers. Basically, I wanted to see if my stuckness had any correlations with what I was doing. Had I changed something in my life? Here’s what I came up with:

 

  1. Increase in screen time (mostly television and Instagram)
  2. Not running as much as I used to
  3. Too much sleep (more on this later in the week)
  4. Nothing to look forward to travel/social-wise because Winter is dark and full of terrors
  5. Not spending my lunch break outside

2. Make a Wellness Checklist

The second step was to identify the flipside of these negative triggers: what things do I intend to do on a daily basis that make me feel good about myself and my existence? I made a Wellness Checklist. I actually got this checklist idea from Dax Shepard’s podcast (if you haven’t listened to the episode he did with his goddess of a wife, Kristen Bell, you are unnecessarily depriving yourself of joy).

Here’s my checklist:

  1. Engage in deep conversation with someone about my problem
  2. Go for a run
  3. Write it out
  4. Spend at least 30 minutes outside
  5. Leave the house
  6. Eat some vegetables

I resolved that the next time I was feeling stuck I would run through my Wellness Checklist. If I hadn’t done something on the list I would do it and see if I felt better. Rinse and repeat.

I also decided to tackle the first item on my trigger list: screen time. For me, the problem with screen time isn’t comparison, it’s mindlessness. Most of the things I watch on TV don’t really hold my attention—so I do something else like scroll through Instagram or add yet another magical zit cure to my Amazon Wish List, resulting in double screen time. I wasn’t making a conscious choice to invest my time in these activities. It was mindless.

3. Add a step

I decided there was no better way to stop a mindless activity than with mind games. The key? Adding an extra step.

Because these are mindless activities, all I need to do to stop engaging in them is make myself actually think about them. Groundbreaking, I know.

I have a bad habit of scrolling through Instagram when I’m bored. So I deleted it off my phone. Sometimes I watch Netflix before going to sleep. So I signed out of my account.

If you watch too much TV, you could try unplugging the TV so that you’ll have to really think before turning it on. If you drink to excess, try putting your alcohol in a locked cupboard. If you constantly check your phone for notifications, try putting it in airplane mode for 30 minutes at a time.

Today’s Un-Stuck Steps:

  1. Identify your triggers

  2. Make a wellness checklist

  3. Add a step that makes mindless activities mindful

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about the list that transformed how I spend my downtime. Hope to see you there!

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Why Fasting is the Secret to Creative Growth

Today is Ash Wednesday,* the day that marks the beginning of Lent for many people of faith around the world. Lent, for those of you who are not bombarded with reminders on social media about it every year, is a religious term referring to the 40 days leading up to Easter. It’s tradition for people to fast for these 40 days in preparation for Easter Sunday.

I had no idea what Lent was until I went to college and got band-wagoned into giving up something trendy each Spring. One year it was desserts. Another, Facebook. My friends gave up coffee or alcohol or carbs. In more recent years, I became suspicious of the benefits of Lent. It seemed like the things people gave up were less about some pursuit of spiritual discipline and more about personal benefits. Lent just seemed like another excuse to diet.

But in the past year I’ve awoken to the power of deprivation to spur personal and artistic growth. I’ve given up one thing each month since last August. Sugar. Coffee. Alcohol. Cussing. The practice started on accident. I did a spending fast because (shocker) I felt like I was spending too much money, and when it was over, I realized there were a lot of other things I consumed in excess and so I just kept going.

Fasting is most commonly known as a spiritual exercise and most religions incorporate it in some way. Muslims practice Ramadan. Hindus set aside certain days every week to fast. Christians fast during Lent. Jewish people fast to celebrate Yom Kippur.

When I started giving up things for set periods of time, I wasn’t doing it for spiritual growth. I was doing it for selfish reasons. I wanted to save money so I stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to get addicted to caffeine so I gave up coffee. But what I’ve come to realize is that deprivation automatically forces growth.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dan Coleman writes that, “There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse.”

This is an especially essential skill in a first world country where delayed gratification is not a given. In America, you can go your whole life without going without. This is a blessing. But instant gratification can quickly become a burden. When we stuff ourselves with an endless stream of food, entertainment, and material goods, we starve ourselves of the opportunity to want something.

Fasting forces you to be present in your life. Every time you say no to something, you are reminded that you are a rational being, capable of making choices. It’s so easy to glide through our days with our heads down and never look up. My default is to ignore the big picture of my life in favor of getting through another day. Fasting reminds me of the very simple, but entirely remarkable fact that I’m alive.

Sugar, television, expensive clothes, alcohol—all of these things are unessential. Fasting sloughs them off.

If you are feeling stuck or in need of a creative jolt, I invite you to use Lent as an excuse to give something up. If you don’t know where to start, think of the things you do on a daily basis. What do you eat? How do you spend leisure time? Then go with the thing that sounds the most terrifying to be without.

Give up your crutch for the next 40 days. You may be surprised to learn that you are perfectly capable of standing on your own.

*it’s also Valentine’s Day, an irony that gives me endless joy

Don’t Live On Autopilot

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Hey guess what? Today is a day!

It’s not a reset, it’s not a time to sleepwalk through, it’s not a dream. It’s a day.

Here are a few questions you might encounter today:

  • How’s it going?
  • How was your weekend?
  • How are you?

I don’t know about you but I typically answer these questions without really thinking about it.

“Well, you know, it’s Monday…so…”

“Good. Too short.”

“Living the dream.”

These answers are so boring and cliché they make me want to throw this keyboard across the room. Am I so unoriginal? Am I so out of touch with my life that I can’t even assess how it’s going? Am I really living the dream? If not, why would I joke about that?

Moral of the story: I don’t want to live my life from a script. I don’t want to live on autopilot.

I am the only one responsible for my life. There is no back up person who will take over if I choose to live like a robot.

If you didn’t wake up this morning, don’t panic, there’s still time. Wake up. Today is an actual day in your life. It’s not a freebie, you don’t get a do over. It counts.

Challenge for the week:  Think about the clichés and automatic responses governing your days. Pay attention when people ask you questions and answer them honestly.

Goal for the week: My goal for the week is not to lie about my emotions. This sounds simple, but it’s actually really difficult for me. I’d prefer if no one knew I had feelings, but that’s a story for another time. I think this could be a helpful exercise for most people. When someone asks how you’re doing, don’t lie about your emotions. If your boss checks in, don’t lie about your workload. If someone says no offense, tell them if you’re offended.

Don’t lie about your feelings. Don’t live on autopilot.

Let’s be honest, not apologize for our being, and take the driver’s seat of our life this week. Make today count. It will only happen once.

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You Are Responsible For Your Life

On this lovely morning, if you find yourself tempted to yawn, medicate with coffee or complain the day away, please remember:

You are responsible for your life.

Let it sink in.

You are responsible for your life.

No one else is responsible for your feelings, your finances, your happiness, or your success. It’s just you.

Last week I was really wounded by the way some friends treated me. I was stewing in anger and anxiety, and going over and over the situation in my head when I was reminded of this truth: Other people do not need to change. I need to change.

That’s not to say that I excuse other people when they do something wrong. It means that I am in control of my emotions. I don’t get to decide how people treat me. I do get to decide how I respond to it.

It’s terrifying to claim responsibility for your life. To own the fact that you are wholly responsible for how you respond to slights and success, failure and freedom. But do you know what’s even more terrifying? Letting other people run your existence.

I can’t control other people. I can’t make them kinder, can’t make them give me raises, publish my book or show up on time.

You know what I can control? Myself. I can work on regulating my emotional response. I can stop putting the blame for my unhappiness on others, and take ownership of my life. I can stop expecting other people to do the work of fixing my life and start getting my own hands dirty in the grimy, unglamorous work of self improvement.

Let’s stop blaming our problems on our jobs, our relationships and our circumstances. Let’s stop expecting other people to make our dreams reality.

Hate your job? It’s not your job’s responsibility to change, it’s yours. In an unhappy relationship? Same thing. Constantly exhausted and overwhelmed? See above. Placing the burden of responsibility on outside forces makes us stagnant, it makes us comfortable. It lets us pretend to be helpless, to pretend we are the victims, to pretend we can’t do anything.

This is a lie. You are responsible for your life.

So this week, when you are faced with a moment of apathy, a desire to hit the snooze button, to goof off at work, or gossip about a friend, remember: you are responsible for your life.

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