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Stuck as a Truck in Muck: 7 Tips to Get Unstuck

By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Columnist

Knowing your truth can help you decide your next path.

Growing up in the country, a favorite pastime was riding with my big brothers in our ’69 Chevy farm truck along dirt roads and forest trails, as well as through pastures, creeks, and swamps. 

A couple of times a year, that old pickup would get stuck in a muddy spot. We’d all jump out to size up the situation and determine a strategy. 

Should we push from the front bumper or from the tailgate? Get some boards to slide under the wheels? Or, if it was stuck all the way up to the fenders, the question was: Who would hike home and drive the tractor back to pull it out?

Are Your Wheels Spinning?

Sometimes, life is like a stuck truck! When navigating our life journey, we can get to a place where, no matter how hard we press on the gas, our wheels keep spinning. We aren’t going anywhere.

We can feel stuck with small issues like having writer’s block when a report is due or when weight loss efforts have reached a plateau. The stuck feeling can arise with more significant life matters, such as finding a romantic partner, securing a new job, or identifying a sense of purpose as we age.

Time to Get UNSTUCK

Like the stuck truck, when we realize we aren’t moving forward it’s time to stop spinning our wheels and assess the situation, in order to decide the best way to get on down the road.

Recently, I’ve sought advice on how to get unstuck from both experts and sage women friends. I’m using the acronym UNSTUCK to group this advice into seven strategies: Uncertainty addressed, New approaches, System adoption, Truth finding, Unraveling challenges, Changing location, and Keeping put.

Uncertainty Addressed Through Assessment

At times we are clear on our situation and the path forward. For example, you might have suspended your business launch when an illness required time-consuming treatments and sapped your savings. While you feel stuck now, you know you’ll get back to business when you are well.

Other times, we are unclear both as to how we got stuck, as well as how to move on. For instance, you might be in a relationship where you feel committed, but very unhappy and disconnected from your partner, even though you once felt much love and joy. 

To get clarity, the first step is to do an assessment. Here are three questions to ponder:

  • Why do I feel this way? Determine what it is about your current situation that is making you dissatisfied, frustrated or angry.

  • Where do I want to be? Imagine what your life would be like if you felt joy every day instead of frustration. Decide and describe the new circumstance or space where you can thrive.

  • What do I need to get where I want to be? The answer should include a review of resources and support you need, as well as your innate strengths you can use to get unstuck.

We can ask trusted friends and experts for their input, especially on the third question. 

New Approaches 

When we ask ourselves how to get unstuck, our first idea is our intuitive answer or habitual behavior, says Dr. Adam Alter, author of Anatomy of a Breakthrough. But, if we have tried those strategies and they aren’t working, we need to be open to trying new approaches for a way forward. 

In Oprah Daily, Alter says that we should be Devil’s Advocates for ourselves. First, tell yourself your initial answer is wrong, and think of another solution. Then, pretend that solution also is wrong, and conceive another strategy, and on and on, until you have a list of possibilities. Your successful technique for getting unstuck is probably some combination of these answers.

Sometimes, our circumstances force us to change our methods. Nancy, 76, has struggled with loneliness. Post-retirement, she became isolated when long-time friends moved away, and she became the sole caregiver for a spouse with Alzheimer’s. 

She no longer had work companions, couldn’t go to church, and wasn’t able to leave her home for extended periods. To retain a sense of connection, she realized she needed to make it a priority to have social interactions – even if she had to do it differently. She started having regular meet-ups with friends using the phone and video-conference. She also joined a senior center and took an art class to make new friends.

Systems to Adopt

While setting realistic goals for your journey is important, so are the methods you employ to stay on track, thus creating a roadmap to your goal. Find a calendar and task-tracking system that complements your personality and takes advantage of your strengths. 

A quick internet search will lead you to many productivity apps to stay organized. If you don’t like electronic tracking, use a paper journal that you take everywhere to keep up with everything. At the end of each day review the journal and transfer items to your calendar, to-do list or files.

Struggling with organization or time management? Hire a professional to create a system for you. Or, use these suggestions from a project management company for staying on track by adopting new habits. 

New habits aren’t working? James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says to take baby steps. "If you're having trouble sticking to a new habit, try a smaller version until it becomes automatic,” Clear says. “Do less than you're capable of, but do it more consistently than you have before.”

Having trouble getting started? Create an accountability partnership with a friend to either work on separate projects at the same time or work on them asynchronously, but report accomplishments to one another once a week.

Truth Finding

Another strategy is to identify your truth. Don’t look to your family’s expectations or your culture’s imposed roles and rules. Sometimes our dreams, as well as our strategies to get there, are ones we adopted based on childhood teachings or who we think we ought to be.

What is it that you want to do at this point in your life? If you are unsure, start with a personal mission statement to guide your life goals.  The late Stephen Covey, organization and habits guru,– said in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “A personal mission statement becomes the DNA for every other decision we make.”

What are your values and priorities? Remind yourself of the “whys?” in your life. Then, in the context of your mission, goals and values, ask yourself if you still want to pursue this dream. 

Sometimes we hold onto aspirations when they are no longer a good fit for our authentic and current selves. On the other hand, reminding yourself of your priorities can reaffirm why you want to get moving on another phase of life. Knowing your truth can help you decide your next path.

Unraveling Trauma and Other Challenges

An unanticipated setback can be a huge reason we feel stuck. Our emotional response to a challenge can feel so overwhelming that we don’t know where to begin. 

If something catastrophic has happened – cancer diagnosis, loss of a loved one, major injury, or being a victim of assault, abuse, or other crime – you have experienced trauma, even if you never labeled it that way. If trauma is holding you back from your daily routine, much less your dreams, please seek help from a doctor or therapist. 

For times when overwhelming feelings are less about trauma and more about concerns over our ability to handle a situation, a strategy I use is to write down every worry or issue you are dealing with – even if they seem unrelated to your stuckness. Then, put the list aside. Sometimes, just committing it to paper is enough to quell paralyzing anxiety. 

If not, phase two is to mark through everything on the list that you are not able to control and move all the items that you are able to address to your to-do list. This process calms me by reminding me to ignore the items I can do nothing about and helping me identify a plan forward.

Also, challenges often can best be tackled by tapping your support network. My friend Nancy, whom I mentioned earlier, regularly interacts with a network of caregivers. Talking with a friend or group of people with similar issues can help you find a way past your challenges.

If you encounter roadblocks involving a lack of skills or knowledge, have a brainstorming session with others on how to get up to speed. Training? Research? Books or YouTube videos? Determine your needs and take steps to get unstuck.

Changing Location

A change of scenery was the most frequent solution to get unstuck offered in my informal poll of older women. For example, Kim, 58, says when she feels stuck with her writing, she leaves her home and works in a coffee shop to get the juices flowing. 

Lisa, 51, made a much bigger move to get unstuck. After she lost her home and all her belongings in a fire, she couldn’t decide whether to rebuild or move away. Her strategy was to temporarily take a job out of state allowing the perspective of distance to make long-term decisions. 

“When you move away, you know whether you want to move back or not,” Lisa says. Ultimately, her decision was neither to rebuild nor live far away. She moved to a town near her previous home, close to family, where she rekindled a romantic relationship and no longer feels stuck.

If you can’t make a major location change, start with something small in your life – the time you leave for work, drinking more water, going to bed earlier. Small change can kindle bigger changes by increasing your confidence and providing motivation for more difficult changes, according to Kristin Papa, social worker and founder of Living Openhearted Therapy.

If you do nothing else, take a hike. That’s the advice of 86-year-old Mary Ann. She says she has never had an issue with feeling stuck, because when she starts to feel sad, anxious, discouraged or lonely, she goes for a walk. Despite a lifetime of serious illnesses, she still walks 1-2 miles, two to three times a day. Mary Ann says her doctors say walking has kept her fit and alive all these years.

Keeping Put and Being Kind to Yourself

Be Prepared to Stop

While the previous suggestions were about taking action, occasionally, not moving may be the best option. Everything has a season, and perhaps this is not the time to achieve your goal. 

Occasionally, I feel stuck because I need to deal with something. The universe beckons us to give attention to matters that need addressing. Speed bumps will appear to slow us down, so we can safely deal with matters before speeding down the road again.

Susan Boyle’s desire to be a singer was thwarted by childhood challenges, using her life’s savings on recording demos with no resulting record deals, and putting her own life on hold to take care of her mother. She finally found success as a singer in her late 40s, when her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent went viral and her first studio album debuted at number 1 on Billboard charts. Her patience and persistence paid off.

Perhaps, we need to grow in a certain area or circumstances need to change elsewhere to bring that perfect opportunity into our lives. Paul Coelho says in The Alchemist, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

Lastly, we need to remind ourselves that not every day has to include great progress. 

Sometimes not moving is the best thing you can do to be kind to yourself. 

When I dislocated my shoulder in a fall, I initially didn’t use a sling as it was uncomfortable. But, one week after the first injury, I dislocated it again, because I didn’t have anything to keep it from dislocating again. 

After that second trip to the emergency room, I began wearing a sling to limit movement. Immobilization was the key to healing my shoulder. And, it needed to properly heal before I could work on strength and range of motion. Keeping put and allowing yourself to mend can be the best option when you feel stuck.

Moving on Down the Road 

In summary, to get unstuck, we must assess our situation and adopt strategies and actions that work for us, seeking help when needed. If you still feel stuck, keep the faith and be kind to yourself, while vigilantly waiting for opportunities to move on down the road.


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