Today I’m writing about Getting Unstuck, as part of a collaboration with three remarkable bloggers who are also exploring this theme in their posts today.
I’m delighted to be a part of this collaboration, and am so thankful to Gail at A Flourishing Life for conceiving of it and making it happen.
Here are the links to their posts about Getting Unstuck. I encourage you to visit their sites and drink up their wisdom:
- Gail Brenner from A Flourishing Life (upper left of the photo)
- Robin Easton from Naked in Eden (upper right)
- Catrien Ross from Energy Doorways (lower right)
As an aside, I must say: just look at these women’s faces. Until we are seeing faces like these in Congress and at the helms of corporations and reading us the evening news, I don’t want anyone to lecture me about what is and isn’t possible for our world.
And here’s my reflection about getting unstuck.
It’s 10:44 a.m. and I’m sitting cross-legged, in a silent, glass-enclosed room. I’m looking out on the bay in a city I’ve never been to before. A baby squirrel is rolling around on a dirt path in front of me.
This is the last place I expected to be this morning.
Today started out as a regular work day. I had plans to write an article and coach clients from downtown San Francisco.
But something else happened.
Around 9am, my husband and I decided to squeeze in a quick run to the coffee place in the hour we had before our respective meetings got started. We joked around a lot. We laughed about a particularly hilarious abuse of grammar we had overheard that morning, about the fact that I misplaced my cell phone and found it buried deep under the covers in our bed. We laughed about something that we squabbled over a couple hours earlier.
Slowly it came over me: we were being graced with one of those perfect, casual laughing times together, one of those exquisite intervals of connection that you can’t force or plan, but that makes life feel so rich and comforting and sparkling when it arrives. I was turning from a rushed, somewhat resentful-at-my-day stress-knot to a heap of happy, caffeinated giggles.
As our little window of time came to a close, I thought, I really don’t want this to end. I want to keep going. In fact, I want to get in the car and schlep with him to his meeting so that we can continue this connection for another half an hour.
But I can’t, because…that’s silly. I have to work. I have so much that I have to get done today.
Then the miracle happened. Instead of taking the well-worn path of thinking, “Oh, I’d love for this to continue but now I have to go to work and so do you….Oh bummer, oh only if….” something else happened.
My mind took the other path. My mind said:
I really want this to continue.
Maybe that desire is important.
Life is short.
Can we work this?
It felt rebellious to consider the possibility of changing my plans spontaneously and in order to take a car ride with my husband. I heard the fearful, chattering voice in my head rattle off a series of worried questions:
“Is it okay to chuck your plans and follow your husband to a meeting?”
Can people do things like this on a Thursday?”
The internal answer to that was something along the lines of, “who cares?”
“Could this create any kind of disaster?”
I thought about it; it seemed not.
“Am I still an independent, high-powered professional woman if I give up a productive morning to drive over a bridge with my husband?”
The answer came back, “Yes. You can have both.”
Yes, I was going with him.
Here I am, writing this while he’s in his meeting, feeling incredibly nurtured and over the moon happy. I got the time with him. And, due to the surprising location of his meeting and a cancellation from my first client, this has led to me writing in a gorgeous, glass room overlooking blue. It’s as if life was trying to show me that yes, it is a really good idea to listen to myself.
Out of the Box
Why should you care? Because this is not a post about changing one’s work schedule or about spending time with the people we love. It’s about getting out of our little boxes. It’s about getting free from the little rules that keep us stuck.
We’re all living with hundreds, if not thousands of these little, barely conscious rules: what it’s okay to do on a weekday and what can only happen on a weekend. About what it’s okay to say….or do…or buy…or wear…or eat. About how to talk to whom. About when to do what.
The little rules, and the boxes they put us in, keep us stuck.
I got out of a few boxes today. I got out of one that says I have to follow the daily schedule as laid out for me. I got out of one that says when you have a longing to play hookie, you have to override it and push through, rather than see how you can honor that longing. I got out of a box that said ambitious professional women can’t change work plans impulsively to see a loved one’s smile for few extra minutes.
Open Top Boxes
In a 1970’s psychology experiment, dogs were caged and given unpleasant electric shocks. Some dogs could stop the shocks by pressing a lever. Some could not. In the second part of the experiment, the dogs were again given shocks, but this time, there was no lid on the cage. The dogs could escape the shocks quite easily. Here’s the kicker: dogs who could not control the shocks in round one didn’t even try to escape the pain in round two. They laid down and whimpered. They suffered instead of leaving.
Many versions of the experiment have been repeated with humans (without shocks of course, but with other unpleasant circumstances), and they show the same result — if we’ve learned from a previous situation that we are powerless to change our circumstances, we’ll later believe we are powerless victims in similar situations, even when we do have the power to change those situations. We actually develop a delusional point of view. We believe we are in a cage when we are not. We stay stuck in open top boxes.
In my case, I’d learned throughout my childhood, like most of us did, that I had to pull it together and go to school, no matter what my inner self longed for. That of course got repeated in jobs where I had to show up for work every day, no matter what. I have a lot more flexibility in my current situation, but I didn’t really see it, because of what I had been conditioned to in the past. Then, today, I saw this box had an open top.
Look for Your Have-To’s
Start looking for the “have-to’s” you carry around in your life. Good places to look are situations in which you find yourself complaining, resenting, feeling yourself a victim. Look for situations where you feel as if some sort of police-brigade (the indulgence-police, the slacker-police, the conformity-police) are going to come and get you if… Look for places where a barely detectable, happy voice in you asks with wonder, “Can I really do that?” Probably there’s a box there. Probably it has an open top.
Most likely, once upon a time, you were in a cage in these areas. There was no other way. There was no other way but this in your family. There was no other way but this if you wanted to fit in. Or, there was simply no other way you could see, or that you knew how to pursue.
Check it out. Is that still the case? Where do you have more choice and agency than you think? Where can you create new circumstances? Where can you can ask for something different? Where can you negotiate? Where can you now say no?
After my own experience today, I’m surprised by the big power of breaking the little rules. It’s our little rules, about how we need to show up in the mundane moments of everyday life, that determine so much the quality of our lives.
Start to notice: What are your little rules? Where do you hear “have-to’s rumbling around in your brain day to day?
And which of your own little rules are you willing to break today?
Don’t forget to go check out the other “Getting Unstuck” posts