Getting STUCK, whether in a relationship, decision-making process, career path, whatever is very much part of being human. In our productivity-obsessed society, it is an especially big concern and we’ve read lots of blogs advising this or that technique. We found a powerful tool at the now-defunct Unstuck, a website and app to help navigate various states of stuckness. It builds upon three essential steps that help you navigate stuckness:
Admit you’re stuck
Figure out how you’re stuck
Take action to get unstuck
The simple process:
Specify a wish
Specify and imagine the best outcome
Specify and imagine the obstacles within ourselves
Form a plan
We’ve found WOOP to be helpful in clarifying the situation, especially if we write out our answers. But where we sometimes get STUCK is in forming a plan and/or taking actions that dismantle the obstacles we’ve identified.
Behavioral economist/wiseman Dan Ariely‘s approach can help: Pretend you’re giving advice to a friend. (How many people have you heard say they give their friends good advice, but can’t seem to apply it to themselves?)
When we face decisions, we are trapped within our own perspective—our own special motivations and emotions, our egocentric view of the world at that moment. To make decisions that are more rational, we want to eliminate those barriers and look at the situation more objectively. One way to do this is to think not of making a decision for yourself but of recommending a decision for somebody else whom you like. This lets you view the situation in a colder, more detached way, and make better decisions.
For example, in one experiment we told people, “Imagine you went to your doctor and the doctor recommended a very expensive treatment. You’ve been seeing this doctor for 10 years. Would you go for a second opinion?” Most people said “no.” We asked another group to imagine a friend in the same situation. Would they recommend that a friend seek out a second opinion? Most people said “yes.”
This suggests that when we think about other people, we take our emotions out of the picture and are able to recommend something more useful—such as going for a second opinion.
But when it’s us, and we have a longtime commitment to a particular doctor, it’s hard to ignore this relationship and our feeling of obligation. Taking the advice approach may not be the best way to inject some rationality into your decision-making (and it’s certainly not the only way), but it is useful to imagine how you would advise another person, particularly someone you care about.
We’ve been trying Ariely’s practice on ourselves and found that, while certainly not foolproof, it does tend to clarify steps we can take.
Perhaps more importantly, it ensures that we are as kind and direct to ourselves as we are to our friends, for a tendency of stuckness can be harsh self-criticism.
We learn to be a friend to ourself.
The two luminous photographs are by the great Amy Friend’s series Dare alla Luce.