A week or so ago, I went running one morning after we had experienced stormy weather the evening before, and I encountered a couple of downed trees across the trail that I usually take. While I could high step over the trunk of the first tree in order to get past, the second tree, which was larger, presented more of an obstacle: I had to duck under the trunk and sidle through an opening in the branches to continue along my way. On my return trip – I had run up the trail a couple of miles, and then doubled-back – there was a work crew on the scene of the larger fallen tree, starting the process of sawing it into smaller pieces for removal from the trail. One worker was standing in the opening that I had passed through previously; he was sawing off branches. As I approached, another worker spotted me, and caught her colleague’s attention; the worker with the saw looked up, noticed me, turned off the saw, and stepped to the side to let me pass. As I ducked under the trunk, once again, and slid past this worker with the saw, he made a declaration that I imagine — in hindsight — he might have been instructed to utter to anyone: “You’re proceeding at your own risk!” Feeling a bit nervous, I’m guessing, in response to his warning (or disclaimer), I reacted by trying to be funny. I replied, “I came this way. I’ve got to go back this way!” The other worker and I both laughed.
As I continued my run, I found myself reflecting on what I had said to the worker with the saw, and was struck by how inaccurate my statement had been. Had I not been able to return the way that I had come up the trail, I was certain that I could have found an alternate, if less straightforward, route to take. I would have had to backtrack my steps a bit, but there were, in fact, other places to get on and off the trail through neighborhoods that connected to streets I could follow back home. The way would have been more winding, and I would have experienced it — at least initially — as frustratingly more inconvenient, but I would have ended up at my house all the same. I might even have found something to appreciate and enjoy in the process! I did not have to go back the way I came.
In my work as a therapist and a coach, I frequently hear people talk about feeling stymied when the path that they expected to take doesn’t pan out; because they have in their heads that they have to take a certain route to get where they want to go, they feel stumped and discouraged when plans don’t go as they “should,” when they encounter obstacles that they just can’t seem to get past. They end up feeling stuck. I have had the experience myself – when writing, as just one kind of example. How many times have I worked myself into a state of frustrated paralysis because I’m struggling with the introduction or initial paragraph of whatever I’m writing, whether it is an article, a blog post, or a short story, until I stop to think, “Who says that I need to write the introduction (or the initial paragraph) first?” Once I remember what my goal really is – to write a blog post, let’s say — and not to write a blog post in a particular order (the order in which I write the post is ultimately inconsequential), I am able to get myself unstuck, and moving again in the direction that I want to go. In these kinds of situations, the block that I experience is a product of my own thinking about how I “should” do whatever it is that I want to do, how I’m telling myself that things are “supposed” to happen. I fall into the trap of thinking that there is a certain way, even just one way, to meet the goal that I have for myself.
What are the ways in which you find yourself stuck by this kind of “shoulding” on yourself? What helps you get yourself unstuck, and moving forward again?
Image credit: pinkarmy25 / 123RF Stock Photo
Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic. He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.
When he’s not running, writing, or thinking about his experiences of running and writing, Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.