“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” – Shantideva
“Daddy! DADDY!!! Help me! I’m stuck!”
I have 6 kids. Each one of them has hollered this for me at one time or another. Once it was a son up a tree, once a daughter jammed under her dresser. Every time, the help I offered was to be with them as they settled down, then walked them through how they got there and what options they had to help themselves. Also, each time I was prepared to do something for them they could not do themselves, but not as the first option.
You are no different than any human who has ever lived in all of history. You have found yourself stuck in some situation that felt confusing, overwhelming, impossible, hopeless. In a word, helpless.
The feeling of helplessness is very real. It can freeze us, for moments, or years. And this is very important: No matter how helpless you feel, only you can make the choices and decisions necessary to get unstuck. You are not the victim of your life. You are not a victim at all. You always have choices. There may not be as many choices as you want, and you may not want all the choices you have, but you always have the power, and responsibility, to make your own choices.
If you are stuck, feeling helpless and victimized, this is for you!
The following is a simple pneumonic for working through the problem you face and making a plan for how to choose a different path.
WHO AM I
W – Willing
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolsto
The starting point for all problems is the willingness to change something about yourself. Change is a normal part of all organic systems and all human life. If you find yourself saying, “I hate change!”, this might be the place to begin for you. Until you are willing to change something meaningful, you cannot get unstuck.
H – Honesty
“To be honest with others about who you are in this world, you must first be honest with yourself.” Anonymous
We are the first person we deceive and we deceive ourselves best. When you are stuck, take time to quietly and calmly ask yourself what belief or way of thinking you are choosing that is keeping you bound to your current situation. Discover a different way of thinking about yourself or your problems. If you find yourself saying, “I always…I never…I only…I’m just like that”, then you have probably arrived at a dead end thought process. Imagine yourself thinking and acting differently and see if that opens up some other paths for you.
O – Options
“You have as many options as you give yourself.” Kasie West, The Distance Between Us
This is where creativity and imagination come in to play. In a calm and relaxed state, brainstorm a list of ideas you would consider choosing. Come up with at least 2, but 5 or more is better. Be creative, original and sometimes playful. Ask others their opinions, or about ways they solved similar dilemmas.
Read an article or book on the topic or idea you are stuck in. Practice thought experiments about how a choice on your list might play out or role play with a therapist or trusted friend and see what happens. You can’t get stuck with an option, so if it doesn’t work or doesn’t feel like you, try something else.
A – Accepting
“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” George Orwell
I think acceptance is one of the most important virtues we have never heard of or don’t really understand. Accepting does not mean agreeing with everything, or wanting or desiring everything. It is a radical, realistic frame of mind that finds things as they are and being okay with it. It is the basis of real love and a foundation of justice. And acceptance always starts with yourself. Take a non-judgemental inventory of who you are in yourself and in your world, warts and all. Accept everything that is true about yourself as you know it. This is a lifelong process. The more you practice it, the more you will discover. And the better you will relate to yourself and others.
M – Meaning
“Being Human – a person in search of meaning” Plato (paraphrased)
There are many ways to find meaning in your life. You are the boss of your life. Only you can choose what you believe about yourself and what it means to be you. Stop listening to others who try to define who you are, positively or negatively. Make your own decisions about what your actions and behaviors mean to you, and grant others the same freedom. See yourself through your own eyes. While it can be helpful to know what others think about you, their opinions are not what defines you. You define you. Be careful about the influence of society, work, family and religion on you. Find a way of relating to yourself that works in your life and practice it. You get to choose the meaning of your life.
I – Interests
“Self-interest is not myopic selfishness. It is whatever it is that interests the person, whatever they value, whatever goals they pursue.” Milton Friedman
It is up to you to know and practice the things you are interested in. Take some time to list as many of your interests as you can. Think about the following general and specific areas: food, clothing, recreation, exercise, vocation, movies, music, games, friends, clubs/groups/organizations, hobbies, religious affiliation, travel, vehicles, etc. What are your preferences and what are your needs? How much security is important to you? What is fun to you? How do you want to speak and act? Where do you want to live? What about your current life would be better if you took more interest in it? This is not to say that you never do anything you aren’t interested in. Be willing to try new things at times, and be willing to compromise at times for the good of the group you find yourself in. But by knowing what you are interested in and what your needs are, you will be better able to advocate for yourself and choose activities that are satisfying to you.
Once you have gone through the WHO AM I process, you may find yourself less stuck! Wonderful! Many times, knowing yourself better and getting a dispassionate look at your situation helps guide you into different ways of relating to your problem. However, if you still find yourself stuck in some way, you can work through the process of making a different choice.
C – Curious
“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” Walt Disney
When you are stuck, and feeling the need to change, the first step is to be curious. Curiosity is characterized by asking questions and coming up with new and creative options. This is similar to the practice of generating options in the WHO AM I process. But this time, expand your brainstorm to include everything you can even imagine. Use your list of interests to generate as many ideas as you can think of. When you are stuck, you have been using the same old ways of thinking and acting as always; you need some new material! Not everything will work, but what you are doing right now is not working for you, or you wouldn’t be stuck. Find the courage and resources you need to try something new and different.
H – Healing
“One of the greatest struggles of the healing process is to forgive both yourself and others and to stop expending valuable energy on past hurts.”Caroline Myss
Being stuck involves pain. Healing does not mean the pain is gone forever, it means you can live a full and contented life despite the pain you have. Go back and review the acceptance part of WHO AM I. As you work on making different choices, there may be deeper things in you or your situation you need to accept or identify for change. Some of the things from your past happened to you. You are not to blame for them, but you are responsible for how you deal with them. Spend your mental and emotional energy on moving forward. Forgiveness is a critical part of healing and moving forward. Forgive yourself; forgive others. This does not mean forget. This means giving up the right to carry that hurt around with you like a 50 lb backpack everywhere you go. That’s exhausting! Allow others to forgive you. You can’t change what happened to you yesterday or when you were 5. Forgive, heal, set down that heavy backpack and move on your future as you choose it.
O – Openness
“Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Bob Marley
Practicing openness is a life-long process. Many of us get used to what seems to be working and quit being interested in any other ways. Others experience failure after failure, but don’t know any other way and perpetuate their cycles of failure. When you are stuck, satisfaction with life is gone. Be willing to open yourself up to other ways of doing things. Try new attitudes and ways of thinking like you try on new clothes. You don’t have to buy everything you try on, but you’ll never know how you look unless you try it. Being open to yourself also helps you begin to be open to others. And sometimes changing how we view others solves a lot of our stuck problem.
I – Insight
“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Insight means exactly what it sounds like it means: to look inside oneself. Without insight, you cannot make different choices. With perfect insight, you would never get stuck. Insight incorporates elements from several steps in this process. That’s why it comes close to the end. Honesty, accepting, interests, and openness are all important aspects of insight. Practicing insight involves asking yourself hard questions. Again, it is critical that you avoid self-judgment, self-criticism, and shame. When these thoughts and feelings come up, pause long enough to accept and forgive yourself and others. Then continue to ask yourself the serious questions you need to in order to discover the sources of stuckness within you. Then you will know some areas you need to make different choices about.
C – Care
“Self-care is a requirement” Kelela
When you are stuck, it almost always involves you taking less care of yourself than you need, and not asking others for the care from then you want. Self-care is not selfishness. Self-care is being sure you are provided for before you are able to care for others. In fact, the best love and care of others always comes from those who are cared for themselves. You may have been raised being taught to not be selfish and always share or always give to others. This is exhausting and can ultimately drain us of all our resources. You are not the bottomless well of resources in the world. Give yourself permission to stop taking care of everyone all the time and try taking care of yourself for a change. Especially practice spiritual, mental and physical renewal. Go back through the work you did on interests and curiosity. From where do you derive energy in your life? What feeds you and brings you rest and peace? Does anything drain you and leave you feeling empty? This is not an area to necessarily avoid, but an important clue to how you are stuck and choices you may need to make.
E – Evaluate
“Take a step back, evaluate what is important, and enjoy life.” Teri Garr
To evaluate is to determine the value or meaning of something. You get to do this for everything in your life. Using the accepting, open, honest, and non-judgemental skills you have practiced during this process, it’s time to take a step back and find out what you think. You know yourself better now than when you started, but not as well as you will in the future if you keep practicing insight and your own innate curiosity. No one can decide what is valuable and meaningful to you. Only you can. Give yourself permission to make these decisions for yourself.
Now you are ready to make some different choices. For a straightforward situation, this process might take an evening or a weekend. For more complicated and difficult problems, you may need a few months and the help of a professional counselor, church clergy, or trusted friends.
Practice WHO AM I and CHOICE at different times and with different problems and you will find that you will no longer be stuck as the victim of your life. The feeling of helplessness will transform into a feeling of empowerment, and you will feel more sure of yourself. Your level of peace and satisfaction will rise.