There's a street close to where we live, one that we travel several times each week. It's a relatively narrow street with lots of cars, local buses, three schools hosting hundreds of school children, more than a dozen shops, pop-up garage sales, street merchants selling roasted corn, fresh flowers, homemade tortillas — and lots and lots of people.
Mostly, the street functions and flows pretty well. The traffic moves along at a decent pace and seemingly without problems.
Until it doesn't.
If ONE car or delivery truck double parks, it clogs up the flow of traffic and it becomes an intricate dance of dozens of people vying for a way to get by.
Kinda like life.
image: Holger Schue
There are times when life seems to be flowing "OK" and then suddenly, it comes to a stop. An illness happens, projects fall through, a dream job is lost, a friendship gets strained, doubts flair up or depression sets in.
We get stuck.
The proverbial delivery truck driver slams on her brakes in front of us, throws the gear shift in park and abandons the truck in the middle of the road.
And that's when we're faced with a decision.
How do we respond to these trying times? What tools can we gather or rediscover in our tool bag to help us stay in the driver's seat with a semblance of peace of mind and perhaps, even happiness?
Below are 5 ways to get unstuck when life throws us seemingly off track.
Breathe. Deep, slow, relaxed breathing sends immediate messages to 175 neurons in the brain, telling your brain that it's time to relax. This simple, effective, FREE tool is always available to us, 24/7. Taking the time to mindfully inhale and exhale allows us to calm down, settle in and be present with the moment. If you can do this for 3-5 minutes (instead of the 3-5 seconds that we're tempted to do before rushing off to do something else) you will experience greater clarity, calmness, patience and self-control.
Stay grateful. Start a stream-of-consciousness, rambling list of what you're grateful for in the moment. If, to continue with the example above, you're stuck in traffic, you might begin to say out loud: "I'm grateful for this car, I'm grateful for this time I have to be quiet and reflect on my life, I'm grateful for the community I live in, I'm grateful for the rain pouring down and cleansing the planet, I'm grateful for the noise that I'm hearing because it means that I can still hear..."
(A dear friend was recently telling us how challenging it's been for her to have her husband in and out of the hospital over the past year. Her gratitude practice might look a bit different: I'm grateful for the doctors, nurses, housekeepers and dietitians that have so much patience and knowledge to help my husband, I'm grateful for the parking lot that doesn't charge a fee, I'm grateful for the chair that I'm sitting on, I'm grateful for cell phones so that employees can communicate with each other, I'm grateful for staying well throughout all of this...)
Shift your perception. Take a moment and shift how you're perceiving what's happening. A recent blog post by Leo Babauta reminds us that when we shift to a place of thinking "it's not a problem, it's an experience" then the charge of the 'problem' dissipates. This relatively minor adjustment can have huge benefits — and shows us how changing our inner language changes our perception. And while not all 'experiences' of being stuck feel good, when we're able to embrace them with a full and open heart, we're golden.
Laugh. Use some good ol' fashioned, super helpful and FUN medicine: laughter. When you're able to discover or connect to something that's funny about your current experience, you'll be able to bring levity to the situation, which is priceless. At times, you might need to call up one of your funnier friends and ask for help. "I just lost my wallet, my husband, my sense of direction and my 3-year-old poodle. Can you help me see what's funny here?!" (By the way, if that friend doesn't have you doing some major belly laughs within the first minute or so, hang up. You called the wrong number! ) Laughing will release much needed endorphins, the body's "feel good" chemicals and it might even help you live longer.
Move. While this is a bit more challenging when you're stuck in traffic, most of the time you can create an opportunity to move — stretch, dance, bounce up and down on a rebounder, go for a walk, hike up in the woods. This is especially helpful if you've been feeling stuck - emotionally, physically, financially, creatively or spiritually. Moving your body on a daily basis improves brain health, de-stresses your mind and body, works as an anti-aging boost, improves self-esteem and helps your sex life (now there's a good reason to get off the computer and onto the dance floor!)
So, next time you're feeling stuck and unsure of what direction to take, instead of watching TV or another distraction and hoping that the 'problem' magically goes away, try breathing, laughing, being grateful, moving, or shifting your perception of what's happening. One or more of these practices will definitely help!
And, before you know it, the lovely driver in front of us has returned, the engine revs up and traffic once again begins moving up the hill. And all is, once again, right with the World.
As always, we love to read your comments below.
What helps YOU get unstuck?
Share some tools that work for you, and you might help others try something new.
With love and gratitude!
Joseph and Eli