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:

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

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Dear Tara,

    This post is SO important. We can read, hope, wish forever, but it comes down to those tiny moments – are we going to listen to ourselves? If we don’t, we end up feeling stuck, and when we do, there is so much lightness and ease.

    I love how you emphasize discovering the little rules and the subtle have-to’s. We have the opportunity to betray ourselves or be true thousands of times a day.

    I could feel the joy you experienced as you were able to spend more time with your husband. Such an inspiring example.

  • Hi Tara, we haven’t met until now, but you keep company with 3 of my favorite lady bloggers, so I already feel connected.

    Yours is my 4th read in this series and I really appreciate how you focused on the seemingly (but not really) simpler aspect of getting unstuck. This really is where those stuck feelings are experienced most often on a daily level, and it needed to be addressed.

    The “dogs in the cage” experiment really drove home the importance of your message. It was an excellent illustrative choice.

    Thank you for a fine article and for your valuable contribution to this powerful group effort. I have really enjoyed it.

  • Trece says:

    Dear Heart,
    What a lovely blog! Your day must be wonderful!! You broke out of one cage, had a great time with DH and the universe conspired to help!!

    It breaks my heart, reading examples such as the dogs that you used. I couldn’t finish Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, because of the pain. It’s why I won’t go to pet shops or shelters – if I can’t take them all, I won’t torture myself by looking in their eyes. I’m allergic to cats, and have 4 (thanks to my kids, who do nothing about/for them). Nuff said.

    Your presence in my life is such a gift! Thanks for being you!
    Love, me

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thank you Trece. Yes, it was one of those amazing experiences of feeling like the universe was conspiring with my learning and growth.
    And I know – the example is upsetting in terms of the animals being put in pain. I’m glad you’ve added this issue to the discussion. Happy to share they’ve moved on to less problematic ways of measuring learned helplessness in humans – for example, putting people in situations with unpleasant noises. There is also a version of the experiment where babies either could or could not control the movement of mobiles by turning their heads in their cribs. Interesting that learned helplessness showed up even with the babies in round 2, where all of them could impact the movement of the mobiles.
    Thank you for being you too!

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks Jonathan! Yes, I recognize your name from some other sites and have been following you on twitter for a while. Welcome!
    Sounds like you and share at least 3 favorite bloggers…I’m sure more.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the group effort, and yes…I decided to focus on a very grounded, every day example of being stuckness, because of my own experience with that right now….and because I think we all have areas of big, macro stuckness….but also many spots of little stuckness that, as you say, are actually neither smaller or less important than what we might consider the big issues. I think with personal growth its so often the case that in the specific we see the big picture, that the every day is the doorway in to our “big issues.” Anyway, look forward to reading at your blog and continuing these rich conversations! Warmly, Tara

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks Gail.
    Yes, its so true, there is so much happening in every moment – so much coming up about who we are, what we want, where our internal wisdom would lead us. Are we willing to listen? Are we willing to break our own rules to listen? Are we willing to take risks?
    I would love to read more from you about “We have the opportunity to betray ourselves or be true thousands of times a day.” as you say here. Blog post maybe???? 🙂
    Love, Tara

  • Robin Easton says:

    Dear Tara, I just LOVED your morning with your husband. You sound just like me and my husband. We squeeze in so much and laugh so hard. Since I work at home, I often ride out with him and walk back. And of course I want to be with him longer, so I often ride farther out to college and sometimes end up walking back 4 miles or more. LOL!!! AND I get exercise. I love it!!

    There is a very important message here. Well, several!! But one is that we REEEALLY need to be on our toes. We are responsible for our happiness and can grab it in sooooo many precious seconds, minutes and hours of the day. It’s all around us and we just have reach out and take it. Be it. We really do create our world.

    Another lesson here is sometimes taking risks. Dare to live a little on the edge, test the limits, the conditioned and self imposed boundaries, always test them, over and over again. They WILL expand with our desire, with our courage, with our hunger and willingness to “step out” and meet Life, CREATE Life.

    Another lesson is one I am learning as my work load with my book becomes more intense, exciting but intense, and that lesson is that the Universe WANTS to accommodate us. It will expand to meet our need for rest, for time out, for laughter, for adventure, for love, for money, peace, whatever it is we “think” we don’t have. I find that if I just say, okay I need some time here and I am going to take it that the Universe gives it to me. The world seems to accommodate me. I am always delightfully shocked. Someone gets sick and my phone meeting is canceled or a deadline is extended. It’s truly wild.

    Thank you dear one for sharing such a precious morning from your life. Reading it made me feel so warm, happy and alive.


  • Catrien Ross says:

    Tara, thank you for sharing your loving moment with your husband – it made me feel so warm and glad, too.

    And I enjoyed the way your moment of recognition opened into a day of new perception and acceptance.

    Thank you for the powerful reminder in your words, “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.”

    And it’s the little things that are so important, like your time with your husband. The little things, put together and flowing, create the greatness that is our life.

    From the mountains of Japan, a glorious morning to you – Catrien.

  • Tara, I really enjoyed this post. I love the idea of breaking a little self-imposed rule once in a while to see that the sky doesn’t come crashing down. Everybody needs a “mental-health” day off once in a while. When we give in to ourselves once in a while we become softer around the edges making it easier synchronicity to occur in our lives. Thank you for this wonderfully affirming post.

  • Deborah Wall says:

    Hi Tara,

    I have followed the wonderful wisdom of stuck trail to your blog and just wanted to leave you a thank you note.

    Over the years I have created a lot of rules and limitations for myself that keep me stuck. I’m slowly shedding those along with my belief that events happen to me.

    Sharing all four of your thoughts on stuck is completely empowering.

    So thank you for sharing and allowing me to see the possibilities for my life through another window.


  • Hi Tara, I loved this post. It reminded me so much of the relationship my wife and I have together and how the times we spend laughing together are some of the most treasured.

    Breaking the ‘little rules’ is so important in life and gives a sense of freedom and being in control.

    I know all the other three bloggers in this team and they are all wonderful writers and can’t wait to read their work as well.

    Thank you.

  • Topi says:

    Hi Tara,
    What a wonderful post!. My husband and I did a similar thing the other day. We were both on our way to meetings, and we were literally going to be driving right past each other, so we arranged to meet in the middle and steal 15 minutes from our day to have coffee and a chat. It just seemed like a sign that we were going to be in the same place at the same time, and I had to act on that. It was a lovely moment that I’ll treasure. Thanks for sharing yours!

  • Hi Tara – I just clicked over from Catrien’s site, and I’m so glad I did. What an inspiring story. One of my own favorite days recently involved unexpectedly talking my husband into playing hooky. We drove to SF, took a long walk at Chrissy Field on a glorious day, and went to a museum. A perfect day. And as much as I know rules are important, I also think they’re meant to be broken at times. Getting out of those boxes, as you say. Sometimes though, I do think we keep ourselves grounded in the rules because of an inner voice: “But what will happen if I’m not there?” I’ve had to learn that things will be fine if I’m not there, people will cope without me, and I need to sometimes just get over myself a bit. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    p.s. I read your “about” page and laughed when you said you kept to yourself during your first year of blogging in order to defrost your writing skills. I had exactly the same experience. I finally put a toe in bloggy waters after nine months, and as it turns out, I’m glad I waited. I needed that time to get into the swim of writing.

  • siderealview says:

    Your ‘out of the box’ analogy with the 1970s dog experiment has lingered with me for so many days now, I had to write and thank you – not just for your visual (window over the blue bay) excitement, but also for your verve (big power from breaking little rules)! I needed this. I found you via Catrien in Japan and I’m glad you’re there = laughed at your ivy league caricature of yourself = box with an open top. Today is the first of May, summer has arrived even in my remote northern latitude and the box top is open. Bless you. I feel like wandering – just for the helluvit.
    Marian Youngblood

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thank you! What a beautiful comment. I’m so touched that this image has stayed with you and been meaningful for you.
    Yes, yes yes go enjoy the summer day and I’m sure that longing to wander carries much wisdom within it.
    Love, Tara

  • […] We dim down the light in our lives. We sacrifice pleasure. We keep ourselves from having more joy. We live stuck in open-top boxes.   Turns out, I’m learning, our desires are surprising, changing, and idiosyncratic, […]

We are on a mission to help you realize your playing big dream.
Dive into our resources here: