How to get unstuck when you’re stuck

You know that thing when you’re searching all over for something, but it’s actually right in front of you?

It reminds me of the Invisible Guerilla Experiment.

Participants were asked to count the number of passes between people passing around a basketball in a video they were shown. About half the watchers missed a person wearing a guerilla suit walking in and out of the video scene, thumping his chest. (Here’s the link if you want to test yourself.)

It turns out that when we’re focused on something, we’re very likely to miss unexpected events or ideas that come our way.
Which brings me to getting stuck:

It happens rarely, but as I sat down to write my weekly email to our Happier community, I was completely stuck on what I wanted to write about. Literally, zero good ideas.

I have a deal with myself that I will only share what resonates personally and opens my heart as well as my head. As much as I kept thinking about it, I couldn’t land on a topic that felt right.

Frustration started to set in, along with completely useless but nevertheless loud thoughts of the “Maybe I’m just out of good ideas and don’t have anything worthwhile to say” variety.

I decided to go for my daily walk to clear my mind.

While on my walk, I got a text from a friend. She is starting a new business and is stuck on what she should call it. We had talked about it before, but she wrote that she still can’t seem to commit to anything.

“Don’t try to make it perfect, you can always change it. Just start, just pick one option that is OK right now, and go from there,” I replied to her.

When I got home I still had not come up with a topic so I decided to work on something else. I checked my email. The first one was from a Happier member named Victoria, who had written to me a few months earlier.

She shared then that she felt really stuck — in her life, career, inside and outside. Her email now was to update me on the amazing progress she has made since — a new job she loves, great colleagues, unique writing opportunities — and to thank me to replying to her at the time.

She wrote about how just getting moving, just starting to write, to do, even without knowing how it will turn out, was so helpful in getting her where she is right now.

It was so awesome to get her email.

I wrote her an excited reply and as soon as I sent it, I started to laugh. Yep, sitting here, in front of my computer, laughing. Because as I was stuck on a topic for this week’s article, it was right there, in front me:

How to get unstuck when you’re stuck.

Here are my 3 favorite quick tips, which I hope can be helpful to you when you are stuck. Funny enough, I did a bunch of these this morning, without realizing I was doing them.

1. Get moving. Stretch. Go for a walk around your office or outside, if you can manage. You’ll get more oxygen circulating, which will help your brain focus and think more clearly. Some research indicates that in general, we should sit for about 20 minutes, stand for 8, and move about for 2.

2. Get distracted doing something relaxing. Our brains need to go through different phases to come up with insights. The first phase is what is sometimes referred to as the “focus phase”, when all the brain’s energy is focused on trying to solve a problem. But then the brain needs to go through the “relaxation phase”, during which it can make more broad and remote associations to help us arrive at the solution. Turns out there is a reason we often come up with ideas in the shower. (Here’s an article that dives deeper into this topic.)

3. Get doing. One of my favorite quotes is from Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”  The answer we’re looking for is often in the doing. It feels weird to start writing without an idea or painting without a concept. It might feel wrong to start a business without having the perfect name or to look for a new job without knowing what it might be. And yet, that’s exactly what we should do when we’re stuck: Start doing. It doesn’t have to be right or perfect, but it will move the energy around, and lead you to new ideas, people, and connections you wouldn’t discover if you waited for inspiration to come and find you.


Do less. Give more.

One of my dearest friends had a birthday on December 11th. She lives in New York and we have a tradition to send each other gifts for our birthdays. Usually a part of the gift is hand-made — we’re both the creative kind, you could say.

The past few months have had me in a whirlwind in every possible way — emotionally, logistically, physically, you name it — so the first time I remembered my friend’s birthday was on December 11th.

I felt like crap. What kind of a friend was I if I hadn’t remembered earlier and hadn’t even thought about her gift?

I sent her a Facebook message to wish her a happy birthday and to apologize for being so late with my card and gift. Here’s what she replied with:

“Thank you! Anytime things become too much we can just send love – no pressure!”

I started to think of all the times I’ve stressed about being late with gifts or running around trying to get a good gift for someone. Sure, my intentions are good when I do this but somewhere in the middle of all the busy and hectic, the intention fades and it all boils down to a to-do.

The gift might be a good one, but I have a lot less love to give with it. Instead I’m filled with stress and some strange sense of accomplishment for getting “it” done.

So here’s a thought: Can we do less and give more?

Maybe instead of putting together a fancy beautiful holiday card to mail, you can send your family and friends a warm email instead?

If the thought of trying to organize a holiday party — at home or at your company, especially if it’s a start-up where no one ever has enough time — raises your blood pressure, why not just get some take out to share together?

If life is feeling too overwhelming, how about skipping that big family vacation you were thinking about and taking some time to chill out at home together instead, maybe planning some local easy trips?

Do less (things, to-dos, stuffs). Give more (love, kindness, yourself, your beautiful inner energy).

Believe me, I am reading the advice I am writing and part of me feels like my mind has been taken over by aliens. I used to be the person who would have all the holiday gifts wrapped weeks in advance, whose parties — at work or at home — would be super awesomely creative, with tons of preparations and fun elements, who would think that only losers would choose to stay home if they could explore a new place they’ve never been.

But the thing is, all that stuff is just dressing. It’s pretty sprinkles, that yes, are fun and good and bring you and the people you share them with some joy, but only if they come on top of something a lot more important:

The joy you feel and share. The kindness and love you feel and share. The ease and light you feel and share.

A few years ago I put together this over-the-top 5 course dinner together at my house — I forget the occasion, but my parents and grandparents came over. The women in my family are amazing cooks and I’m pretty good, but there’s always that bar I’m trying to reach, you know? So I really outdid myself, including printing out menus and decorating them together with kiddo.

By the time everyone came over I wasn’t simply exhausted, I was on empty. Of course it was awesome to hear how everyone enjoyed the meal and to get the “oh, wow!” validation, but I had no joy of my own left to share. I’d put it all into the cooking and preparing and organizing!

At some point, I was in the kitchen getting dessert ready, when my mom walked in. She asked me why I looked so upset, so stressed out — was anything wrong?

“I wish you could relax with us a little,” she said.

It wasn’t a criticism — this I realized a few days after, because of course my initial reaction is the knee-jerk “How could I possibly relax when I was doing all this stuff?!!!” It was a wish that I could have traded one of the ultra-complicated dishes for a little time to give myself to rest before everyone came over.

During these holiday weeks can you have an an intention to do a little less and give more of what we actually want from one another:

Love. Kindness. Smiles. Hugs. Ease. Happiness. Gratitude. Cheer.

And bonus: You don’t even need to wrap any of it.