Have you ever been writing a paper and not known what to write about next? Maybe you’ve been working on a project and have come to a mental or emotional impasse? You might even feel stuck in life, like you’re in a rut?
You’re not alone. Every person who works on any creative endeavor feels stuck at some point. Sometimes the block comes from a lack of clarity about the next step. Sometimes you know the next step but feel incapable of moving forward. Sometimes you start to move forward but freeze because your perfectionism overwhelms you.
In my experience, this moment of frustration usually prompts us to turn to negative self-talk:
“I’m lazy. I’m a procrastinator. I’m not smart enough. I don’t have anything original to say. Someone else does this better than me. I’m hungry – time for lunch!”
The next time you feel stuck on a project, here are a few ideas to help break the paralysis:
1. 1 Minute Decision. If you lack clarity about the next step, commit to making a decision about the next step within 1 minute. You’ve already been weighing the possibilities to the point of inaction, so it may be time to make a (potentially imperfect) decision that will give you more information or create a new situation to guide you.
2. Take a break. Reading a few pages of a book is a great way to spark new ideas and connections. Exercising and showering can clear your mind and put you in a more creative state. If you find yourself in an endless mental loop, that’s usually a sign that you need to step away to gain some perspective.
3. Ask for help. Sometimes the mere act of talking about your project or problem will open possibilities or reveal potential solutions that you hadn’t considered when you were stuck inside your head.
4. Write it down. Similar to #3, putting your thoughts on paper can “unstick” your mental loop and free your mind to focus on a solution. Also, writing may allow you to release an idea that is preventing a better idea from appearing.
5. Ask yourself the key question. In any situation where you feel frustrated or blocked, asking yourself, “What is my desired outcome?” can help clarify the purpose of what you’re doing, which may illuminate your next step.
6. Make it a draft. If we feel we’re making “the final version,” our brain is great at freaking us out. We procrastinate, stare at a blank screen for hours, clean every surface we can find, etc. But if we’re creating a draft, it’s fine if we make mistakes or don’t have every element figured out perfectly. The revision process frees us up to create without criticism of the first draft.
As you may have realized, these strategies apply equally to your life as to your projects. A major life decision or a new endeavor can feel overwhelming or frightening, but if you give yourself permission to make it a draft, focus on your ultimate outcome, ask for help, journal your ideas, or make a 1 minute decision, it might not feel quite so daunting.
How do you deal with feeling stuck on a project or in life? I’d love to hear your strategies in the comments below!