How do we get unstuck in difficult personal situations?
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine.
She was going through a difficult personal situation, and was trying to work out how to move on.
Being a rational and introverted type, she logically understood what to say to herself and that she needed to do, but kept on having her emotions reset every time she went to sleep and woke up.1In my friend’s words, “How do we adjust our emotions in difficult situations and escape a vicious cycle of emotions?”
She asked for some advice and I gave her a simplified version of the system outlined below.
Here’s how we can get unstuck.
Difficult Personal Situations Make Us Stuck
When faced with difficult personal situations, we can get stuck in emotional loops and cycles.
This is where we understand what we rationally should be doing, but just can’t seem to get ourselves to do it.
And to make it worse, every time we go to sleep, our emotions are “reset” and we go back to feeling bad when we wake up.
Examples of such difficult personal situations could be the end of a relationship, ongoing destructive snacking, or an unexpected change in our careers.
Emotions are a huge topic and I could ramble on a lot about them, but let’s try to keep this short and systematic.
Getting Unstuck From Difficult Personal Situations
The basic system for getting unstuck from difficult personal situations is to utilise:
- A predefined process.
Step 1: Utilising time
There is a saying that “time heals all wounds.”
This is partially true.
If you simply let time pass, your own brain and emotions will do their own processing.
For some people this is enough.
For others, this does not work.
For people who are logical or process thinkers, allowing time to pass is not enough to satisfy our rational minds. We feel like we have to do something to allow ourselves to rationalise that something has changed.2I know. We’re “difficult”.
This means that we have to be more proactive and utilise both Step 1 (time) and Step 2 (a predefined process) in our approach.3Whether a predefined process is just placebo or actually helps – who knows and who cares. If it works, it works.
Step 2: Utilising a predefined process
There are many parts to a predefined process that can be used for getting unstuck:
- Source of process.
- What is the rational thing to do?
- What is the signifying end emotional state?
- What are the milestones along the way?
- How do you know when you’ve completed the process?
Let’s unpack these a bit.
Step 2.1: Source of process
You don’t need to invent this predefined process from scratch.
You can hop on Amazon and for almost any difficult personal situation, someone else has been there before, overcome it… and written a book about it.
Don’t try to reinvent the process. Simply find someone else’s process and adapt it to your needs.
Step 2.2: Rational Thing To Do
Ask yourself what the rational thing to do is.
This is the “active thinking” part of the process and may involve writing things out or reflecting on things that happened.
Step 2.3: End Emotional State
Ask yourself what the end emotional state should be.
It may be tempting to say that there are many emotional states, but you need to simplify.
For every difficult personal situation there will be one end emotional state in particular that acts as a marker for when you are no longer stuck.
Step 2.4: Milestones
This is where you can put your rational mind to work and turn your rational things list from Step 2.2 into actions.
Set up some content-based steps and milestones that show you are progressing towards being unstuck.
Step 2.5: Process Completion Marker
In addition to your milestones, you also want to identify something that signifies that your predefined process is complete.
Usually this is where you no longer feel the ups and downs of various emotions and instead just feel your end emotional state.
An Aside: The Power of “Move on”
Something that can be useful while you are working through your predefined process and letting time pass, is to remember the power of two magic words: move on.
I learnt this from one of the general managers at my last company. Whenever we were at an impasse in a meeting or a decision could not yet be made, she would simply say “move on”… and everyone would move on.
For some reason it works amazingly well, and tends to short-circuit any emotional loops that are running.
Some Content Examples
Your predefined process will be content-specific.
I usually don’t like to give content examples because I don’t consider myself an expert in specific areas, but I will here for illustrative purposes.
I still strongly suggest doing your own research and building your own processes.
Content example: Breakups
Source for process: Books on Amazon. Rational Things To Do: * Reflect on what happened. * Try to think about events as rationally as possible. * Write out lessons from each event. * Move on. * Go out, meet new people, be happy. End Emotional State: Indifference towards former partner. Milestones: * Grief. * Being OK with being single. * Being OK with being social again. * Go on dates. * Hook up with someone new. * New relationship (if you want). Process Completion Marker: End emotional state of indifference.
Content example: Career changes
Source for process: Books on Amazon. Rational Things To Do: * Logically work out why job/career ended. * Ask if there was something you could have done better, or if it was outside your control? * If there was something - that's a lesson for next time. * If not, then accept that it was fate and move on. * Get on with career. * Work out the financial and other conditions where you know you are better off than you were before. End Emotional State: Internal validation that new career/job is working out. Milestones: * Rest and reflect. * Work out career moves: apply for new positions, do interviews, select new position, start new position. Process Completion Marker: * Financial and other conditions where you are better off met.
What To Do Next
Whatever difficult personal situation you are stuck in, remember that all it takes is:
- A predefined process.
Take action. Move on. Get unstuck.
- In my friend’s words, “How do we adjust our emotions in difficult situations and escape a vicious cycle of emotions?”
- I know. We’re “difficult”.
- Whether a predefined process is just placebo or actually helps – who knows and who cares. If it works, it works.
Photo by Timothy Paul Smith.