Feeling Stuck? Think Bigger. Be Brain Friendlier.

Have you ever heard anyone talk about feeling stuck in their life and loving it?  Me either. 

Though the experience of being stuck is deeply personal, it’s pretty universally not experienced as a place of hope, positive emotion and fulfillment.   The word “stuck” itself suggests some resistance that is keeping us where we are, as compared to where we want to be.   

Often our energy and attention becomes fixated on frustration with our self and what’s not going well which prompts a diagnose and fix mentality, which can result in further stuckness, because if we knew how to fix it, well, we wouldn’t be stuck at all.

I’d propose that finding the footholds to movement is easier when we are kind to our mind.

Here are three brain friendly ways to loosen things up:

Give your PFC, the thinking part of your brain, a rest and use your imagination to create a picture of what’s happening.

In a recent conversation with a coaching client, he likened his stuckness  to the game of Curling.  “My brain is talking but my feet aren’t getting the message”, he said. He shared needing those curling brushes to polish up and smooth out the path so that message could easily slide directly from his head (goal) to his feet (action). It opened a wonderful conversation about obstacles to the goal and what those brushes might be.

Ask your mind to step aside and invite your imagination and sense of play into the conversation. 

  • What does being stuck look like and/or feel like?
  • In that picture, what do you wish you had, or feel you need?  A tool, information, a helper, different weather, an energy bar or ??   
  • Imagine you’re watching this as a play and you’re the stage director, what would you propose happens next to help the main character?

Stop thinking about the problem and start thinking about your life

When we are stressed by our circumstance, or lack of movement, our brain will default to narrower thinking,  making possibility , options, creativity and hope more difficult.  Instead we want to engage the with what is called the positive emotional attractor, which activates a different part of the brain, one that boosts motivation, by thinking about what we most aspire to be.

“The PEA triggers constructive cognitive and physiological responses that enhance an individual’s motivation, effort, optimism, flexibility, creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors.”  

Rather than “what should I do”, consider instead:

  • What do I want to feel, or experience, more of?
  • What does living a meaningful life include for me?
  • What’s going well right now and what supports those things so there can be more of them?
  • What strengths am I using when in motion, growing, developing, flourishing?
  • What could a future version of my life (with meaning/fulfillment) again look like?  Write it, draw it, imagine it in vivid detail.  
  • What makes attaining this future vision important?

Weed out any false or limiting beliefs that keep you stuck and rescript them with beliefs that better serve you.

The beliefs, emotions and mindsets we hold strongly influence our motivations, and behaviors. Whether conscious, or unconscious, when repeated, these thoughts, beliefs and their resulting actions (both good or bad) become strengthened in the brain to become a habit. One research study found that about 43% of our behaviors were actually habits, which means they were being run mostly on autopilot, based off a trigger. 

While many types of mindsets can be in the way of our being in motion,  Deep stuckness is often bundled with the fear of making a mistake, thus trying to control the outcome. 

From a brain perspective, we become afraid of making mistakes because at some point in the past, we made a decision and someone criticized us for it, or it didn’t go the way we hoped and threatened (or jeopardized) something important to us .  Our brain then extrapolated that one incident to all decisions in the exact same way it deeply encodes the pain of putting your hand on a hot stove such that you won’t do it again.   

While our brain is doing exactly what it is designed to do, it sometimes runs the same threat and encoding process for something that’s not a true threat as it does when there is a true threat.  This can get us trapped in a perfectionist mindset.   The truth here is we will not know until we make a move, and more so, it is any move in any direction that provides new real time data that helps us find and stay on our path to that target.  

  • What false beliefs are behind the unwillingness to make any move?  
  • What parts of me aren’t fully on board and hold an opinion in opposition to the target? 

Common perfectionist related false beliefs include:

  • There is only one way out.  More so, there is just one “good” or “right” way out.
  • I must know the answer in advance and can’t start doing something until I know.
  • I can’t stop or adjust my target because stopping or changing is failing.
  • I don’t know how and I’m “supposed” to know how to do this.

When the time is right, capture the responses to some or all of these questions on paper, or digitally, however outside of your head.  Include the full story truth and all the emotions that may come up up. Giving it words and feelings is what helps the brain (and stress systems) to reframe, connect the dots in new ways, digest the emotions, calm some stress responses, and ultimately create new space and often new perspectives.   

The questions that comes next, particularly if you’re stuck in the “how”, are:

  • How can I use my strengths to approach my situation?
  • What are a few of the things I’ve learned in the past that I’m forgetting I didn’t know how to do that I’m forgetting to give myself credit for?
  • What are the smallest things that I could do (related or unrelated to the big goal) that would bring me more of the emotion I want?

Moving out of stuckness can often happen with thinking bigger and these three brain friendly steps:

  1. Give your PFC, the thinking part of your brain, a rest and use your imagination to create a picture of what’s happening.
  2. Stop thinking about the problem and start thinking about your life. 
  3. Weed out any false or limiting beliefs that keep you stuck and rescript them with beliefs that better serve you.

We move out of being stuck by being in motion and reflecting on what we are learning. What small step can you take as a result of thinking bigger?


Over 10 years of reading neuroscience literature, a whole bunch of coaching hours with people individually and in groups plus some specifics from:

Howard, A. (2006), “Positive and negative emotional attractors and intentional change”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 25 No. 7, pp. 657-670. ~ University of California – Los Angeles. “Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2007. ~ Nichole Sachs, LCSW, The Cure for Chronic Pain in and out of  curablehealth.com. ~ Boyatzis RE, Rochford K and Taylor SN (2015) The role of the positive emotional attractor in vision and shared vision: toward effective leadership, relationships, and engagement. Front. Psychol. 6:670.  ~ Brucelipton.org. ~ Wood, Wendy & Quinn, Jeffrey & Kashy, Deborah. (2003). Habits in everyday life: thought, emotion, and action. J Pers Soc Psychol, 83, 1281-1297. Journal of personality and social psychology. 83. 1281-97. 10.1037/0022-3514.83.6.1281. ~ https://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-5-most-powerful-self-beliefs-that-ignite-human-behavior ~ Photo credit Mauricio Livio on Unsplash

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