Do you ever have the experience where your mind gets stuck on something? Specifically, do you ever have the experience where your mind gets stuck, you are aware of it, and it is really difficult for you to get unstuck? If your answer is “no,” then I have some questions for you!
Everyone’s genetic make-up, brain, and life story are unique, so what you get stuck on is also going to have its own uniqueness. You are probably aware that some people are also born with brains that are more likely to lock in on certain thoughts or ideas than others, which can be a great benefit as well as a difficult challenge. Yet no matter your uniqueness, everyone has the common experience of being stuck.
You got a negative email from a co-worker and you cannot stop thinking about it.
You made an error on a project, and you just cannot let it go.
You heard about someone’s different convictions than you, and you cannot stop arguing with them in your head.
There is a 1% chance that something bad might happen, and that’s all you can think and worry about (forget thinking about the 99% chance it will be okay!).
How then, do we get unstuck? First, as we explore ideas for getting unstuck, it is important to have a growth and experimental mindset. We need to try out believing we can get unstuck. Then, it is important we are open to experimenting with what might work and what might not work. If the first idea does not work, don’t give up. Treat them like experiments that you can learn from along the way.
Ideas for Getting Your Mind Unstuck:
1. Move. In order to get your mind unstuck, especially when it feels difficult, you often cannot think your way out of it. So don’t try! We often start making ourselves feel worse because we’re frustrated our mind is too weak to get unstuck, which is an incredibly unhelpful mindset. Going for a walk, stretching, etc. can be helpful from a physiological level, and it can help your mindset as it can be a reminder that you can still do things in the midst of your mind being stuck.
2. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique. 5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be the paint color, the pattern on your clothes, anything in your surroundings. 4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your face, a blanket, or the ground under your feet. 3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. 2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you smell the outside after a recent rain or the carpet after it has been vacuumed. 1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—, coffee, a mint, or a recent meal?
3. Add Another Dimension. Instead of trying to stay one-dimensional, in your own brain, add another dimension - write about it, talk to someone about it, draw it, etc. If you are able to literally look or listen to thoughts you’re stuck on, you can often jar your mind just enough to start to expand and change your perspective.
4. Get Perspective. Getting perspective deserves its own spot on the list, as this is usually what all the techniques are aiming for. Ultimately, if the other techniques do not help you have another perspective, then there is a good chance that you will come back to being stuck. Last year, I saw an online activity that tried to turn getting perspective into a one-minute activity. In the activity, you would write your stuck thought into a circle. The circle and the words written down would at first take up the majority of the screen. Then, through the next minute, the circle would get smaller and smaller as the perspective changed from a close focus on your thoughts to viewing them from a satellite in outer space. It literally gave a different perspective on thoughts - a physical reminder to our brain that, when it wants to think that the stuck thoughts are everything, there is actually much more.
5. Get Inspired. As fancy as I would like to be with my ideas, sometimes some good old inspiration is what does the trick for me. I can give you many examples of a great movie, a beautiful sunset, or a motivational talk from a friend that helped my brain get unstuck. Sometimes the inspiration just happens to me, but sometimes it has also worked to seek out the inspiration. For example, I know there are a few albums I can put on and listen to that will almost always help my mind with whatever it is stuck on at the time.
6. Focus wisely. Lastly, it is important to focus wisely. Identify what you value, what’s important to you, and focus your mind on those values. However, you may find that your brain comes back to trying to convince you to stay stuck on some other thoughts. It is important to focus wisely in this scenario. Focus does not mean that other thoughts will not come into your radar from time to time. Instead of shoving those thoughts away or getting mad at yourself for feeling stuck, acknowledge that the thoughts are there again and return your focus to what is in front of you. My favorite analogy for this is to imagine you’re watching ESPN or the news and there is a “ticker” at the bottom of the screen sharing other news. The ticker comes and goes with stories. This is how our mind is. So when you find your stuck thoughts coming up on the ticker and maybe even staying there, shifting your focus means looking back up to the main part of the screen and allowing the thoughts to come and go when they are ready.
Remember, as you go try out these ideas, treat them like an experiment. What helps you get unstuck now may be different from what gets you unstuck tomorrow. No matter what you do, do not try to do it on your own. After all, you are not alone in getting stuck - it happens to all of us.