A guide to understanding and overcoming what’s holding you back

If you’ve ever felt stuck (and I’m certain you have) I bet you’ve experienced one of these feelings:

  • Maybe it’s a sense that you have too many ideas and too many options and you don’t know how to choose, so instead of taking action, you don’t do anything. 
  • Maybe the actions you think you need to take next don’t feel right and you aren’t sure why. 
  • Maybe it feels like you are on the verge of something big, but also really scary and uncertain, so you are staying still, treading water, hoping for a burst of inspiration.
  • Maybe you have no ideas, no plans, no clue what to do next and you have no idea how to fix it.

All of those things (and a lot more) can leave you feeling stuck. Stationary. Fixed in place.

I’ve felt all of those things at one time or another. And what I’ve found—at least for me—is that no matter what thoughts are swirling about my stuckness, I can also feel it in my body. Sometimes, I realize it’s mostly in my body.

When I find myself lacking the physical energy or ability to take my next action, I know something deeper is going on. There have been times I’ve needed to send an email or write a proposal but could not walk myself over to the computer to do it. My body was saying “no way, not happening.” So I end up staring at my computer from across the room, knowing I need to do the thing, but not making it happen. 

If you are the kind of person who can power through those feelings and check things off your to-do list, even in those moments, good for you! There are definitely times I wish I had that ability. 

For others of us, that physical stuckness—sometimes literally not moving—isn’t something we can power through. 

The first thing I do in those moments to help me work through that stuckness is to physically do something that is not at all related to what I’m avoiding. I go for a walk. I do laundry or dishes. I take a drive. Anything that will get me physically moving AND will let me unplug. I put my phone away (no podcasts, no music—unless I need a dance break) and focus on what’s happening in the present moment. 

That movement can be a great start, and sometimes it’s enough to help me push through to getting the task done. But in these moments, it’s also important to try and understand why our body is telling us not to do what we are supposed to be doing.

Physical responses like this are a part of our subconscious, primitive brain trying to keep us alive. There are times when these impulses are exactly what we need for safety, when our body physically stops us from doing something that has a high chance of danger—we don’t get in the car with friends who are off to find trouble, we don’t walk down the dark scary alley, we don’t drive 90 miles an hour down winding roads. 

When it comes to sending an email or writing a proposal, our physical safety isn’t a risk. But if our body thinks something else might be at risk, we can get a similar response.

So when you experience this kind of stuckness, here are some questions you can ask, especially if the thing you are avoiding has to do with a new project, client, idea, etc—something that you aren’t yet committed to:

  • What is it about this thing that some part of me might feel is creating risk? Is it for a potential client who you think will be difficult to work with? Does the idea or project feel too big for you to handle? Does it feel too small and not worth the effort? Are you worried it will fail and people will know it failed and/or you will have wasted time on something that failed?

  • How are you being served by not pursuing the thing? There is something about your current situation, even if you don’t like it, that you are holding on to. Would the thing take up a lot of time that you don’t feel like you have or that you are spending on other, more enjoyable things? Would it make you more visible when you don’t want to be or keep you from getting the visibility that you want? Would it require a different kind of sales or marketing you feel squeamish about?

  • Do you enjoy doing the work that is involved with the thing? If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve had to do some work that you didn’t end up liking, even if you thought you would. Does the effort involved in the thing seem fun and interesting, or like it will be a slog to get through? 

Be honest with yourself about the answers to these questions. Likely, there is something about the thing that will either force you out of your comfort zone or put you in a position to do something you don’t really want to be doing. If it’s the former, it is probably something worth pursuing. If it’s the latter, it probably isn’t. 

Doing something new or taking a chance on an unknown project, client or idea can quickly and easily trigger our brain and body into fight or flight mode—usually flight. It wants to take us away from the potentially risky thing and keep us safe and comfortable. 

This becomes a problem when the “risky” thing is something that can take you and/or your business somewhere you actually want to go. 

Think back to your answers to the questions I asked above. What is it about this new thing that seems risky or will interrupt your comfort? (And remember—even if you aren’t happy in that comfort, it’s comfortable.)

Let’s pick something easy—say you are worried the thing will fail. That is a legitimate concern if you are doing something new. 

(Side note: If this is something you have done before, but it’s more high profile or bigger than you are used to, it’s probably imposter syndrome and the thing isn’t likely to actually fail, but only you can know that. Either way, these tips should help.) 

So, what would failure look like? Let’s say your thing is a new group class, program, workshop, etc. Failure could be no one showing up, right? But if no one shows up, no one knows it didn’t work. You are out the time and any money you put into it, and that certainly sucks, but it’s not a massive public failure. 

What happens if only one or two people sign up? You have a couple of options. Do the thing anyway and give those one or two people extra attention and advice and turn them into raving fans. Or, call up friends you trust who are interested in what you do and let them attend the thing for free. You might not make money, but it’s still not a public failure. Now you know a lot more and you adjust the offer or the marketing to get more people to sign up next time.

Get specific with what it is about the thing that feels risky and then list all of the ways you can de-risk it. This works with imposter syndrome, too. Worried the project is too big and you can’t handle it? Get some folks you trust on speed dial who can jump in and help if needed. Get a little extra education in the area you feel weak, either by reading a book, watching YouTube videos, or taking a short online course to boost your confidence. 

The general premise works for most things that are causing that stuckness:

  • What is it specifically that feels risky, hard, scary, sticky, uncool, or weird?
  • What are all the ways you can maneuver around that feeling?

It’s two simple questions that don’t always have simple answers, but you have to start somewhere.