When we are stuck, we can almost always see two options. The first is the “obvious” one that involves change. The second is doing what we’ve always done. For some reason change isn’t appealing. Usually it involves a compromise with some gains and some losses, and the losses are more than we really want to accept. Doing what we’ve always done doesn’t make us happy either, so we can just stay stuck in a swirl of non-action.
There is another option. If you’re stuck, try what’s behind door number three. Door number three is the option that requires you to fix the problem. This is usually the choice that results in a win/win. Let me show you an example.
Should I stay or should I go?
Door #1: Stay. Things aren’t great. That’s why you are asking the question. Yet, staying means that you don’t have to tell anyone you’re leaving. You don’t have to go to the trouble of leaving. Feeling those unpleasant emotions is avoided. You can also avoid the uncertainty involved with starting fresh. There is no change, but there is no further discomfort either.
Door #2: Go. You get out of your current situation, but the new one may have other problems. These can be known or unknown.
Door #3: Fix the problem, then decide.
“The problem” is almost always going to involve your attitude towards the issue. We can all change our attitude by adopting an attitude of acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation, agreement, or liking something. It’s just a resolve to stop fighting against it. It’s about taking on an air of non-judgment. Sometimes just giving up the fight is enough to resolve the issue.
The problem is rarely about someone else. It’s almost always about the way you are responding to someone else. Everyone has a right to live as they want to live. So do you. If you don’t like it, or if their choices aren’t in alignment with what you want or your values, you don’t have to accept their choices. You will function better if you accept that they are who they are, and they did what they did.
Reframe Your Rules
Sometimes the problem involves a conflict in values. Using the “should I stay or should I go” question, your choice can look like choosing between like breaking a sacred vow and staying miserable. If this is the case, look for your invisible rules. Your invisible rules allow you to make meaning of things. If leaving an unhappy situation means that you’re a liar or oath breaker, and you see yourself as an honest person, of course you don’t want to go against that! We all want to be consistent with our values.
If you reframe your rules, your meaning will change too. Be careful not to compromise your values though! This always leads to misery.
Let me give you an example of how this might work. Instead of saying that leaving your relationship makes you an oath breaker, you could say (if it’s true) that leaving allows you to be honest with your partner and yourself about how you really feel now. This perspective allows you to continue feeling like your an honest person.
On the other hand, you could change the meaning of staying. This one is easy. If you start with an attitude of acceptance and nonjudgment, the feeling of misery goes away. You could look at your situation as one of service and delight in the service. This is a great solution if you highly value contribution. You could look at staying as a means to stay connected which is awesome if you value love. Or you could say that staying is a way to stay safe, and appreciate what you have instead of looking at what you don’t have.
Do Something Different
Sometimes it’s not about attitude or rules. It’s about skills or applying skills. When this is the case, it’s time to do something different. The old way isn’t working. It’s time to try something new. If you’ve tried counseling to resolve the issue, maybe try a different therapist, different approach, or drop counseling altogether. If you’ve tried capitulating to keep the peace, maybe it’s time to try being assertive. Perhaps you tried controlling or manipulating things. Maybe it’s time to give that up. Or maybe you just don’t know what to do.
It could be time to upgrade your skills. There are many people out there teaching many things. We can all get better at everything. There is no limit to what we can do. Learning new ideas and skills is always going to give you more options.
If you’re just not applying what you know, perhaps a new approach is what you need. Find a buddy to help you. Accountability is a great tool. If checklists work to motivate you, try that. If you need to fine yourself in some way for missing deadlines, do that. At some point you have to decide whether the change you desire is really worth it or not. If it is, make it happen. If it isn’t, surrender to the idea that staying where you are is better than changing. It may not create change, but it will resolve the uncertainty.
The key to getting out of being stuck is to see other options. Start with door number three. If you need to create a door number four, five, and six, go for it. When you do your work, you almost always find an Effective solution.