A few months ago, I downloaded several years’ worth of music from CDs to digital format (Legally! I paid for all of it!). Since then, I’ve started listening to songs I hadn’t played in years.
It’s funny how music can transport you to a different point in your life. When the first few notes of that college-defining album reach your ears, it’s like stepping back in time. At least it is if you’re as deeply affected by music as I am. Perks of being an HSP, I suppose.
This week, as I was driving around blasting a 15-year-old hardcore album I haven’t played in at least 10 years, I was struck by how much can change and not change in such a span of time. I still love that album, even though many of the lyrics no longer feel as relevant in my life. I get goosebumps in the same places of the same songs, and I do the same silly head motion at one particular line that I have done since the first time I heard it. Listening to that song, on that album, really started me thinking about change.
Everyone’s favorite frenemy
A frequent flyer topic in therapy is how hard it is to actually create change in your life, no matter how much you desire it. Part of that is that human nature is to be ambivalent, where we simultaneously want and avoid anything that shakes up the status quo. Part of it is that change can be scary and full of unknowns.
And sometimes there’s actual benefit to not making a change – at least, enough benefit to outweigh the cost of doing something different. It can be frustrating to feel torn between parts of you that desperately crave a change and parts that are so scared of it they’ll keep you paralyzed for years.
So let’s see if we can’t bring some openness and curiosity to those places where we feel stuck, where we desire change and shun it at the same time. The rest of this article will be less about explaining why you’re stuck than about guiding you to exploring your own parts through a series of questions.
This is the interactive portion of the article
Ask yourself each question, and see if you can sit quietly for a moment to hear the answers. Notice where you struggle, where feelings of shame or failure rise up in response to a question. Pay attention to the questions you want to avoid: they’re telling you something important about what goes on in your inner world.
And try to stay open to even the answers that feel uncomfortable. You may not like the responses you get from parts that fear change or doubt your ability to create it, but this information is important, too. Listen not to argue those parts down or win them over, but to understand them. Understanding is valuable in and of itself, and without it change is at best temporary.
And without further ado…
10 questions to help you get unstuck
- What has changed in your life over the last ten years? How about in the last five years? In the last year?
Think about how you saw yourself, the world, and yourself in the world ten years ago. Do you see things through the same lenses now? If not, how have those views changed?
- What changes are you most proud of having made in your life so far? Are there any that you regret?
Think about the changes that you feel most strongly about, whether in favor of or in regret of. Would you do anything differently if you could know then what you know now?
- What has helped you make those changes?
Change is hard! What supports, whether internal or external, helped you make a shift? Do those supports still exist in your life today?
So far so good….
- What changes do you want to see in your life?
Think about the areas of your life that feel incomplete, unsatisfying, problematic, or not-quite-right. What do you keep coming back to when you think about how you want things to be different?
- What do you think will be different in your life if you do make these changes?
When we strongly desire a change in some area, we usually have an idea of how we think that change will improve our lives. What’s on your vision board for this change?
- What do you fear will happen if you never make these changes?
If you try and fail, or you can’t bring yourself to try, or your efforts just don’t quite make it – what feels the worst about that possibility? What would be the most upsetting part of not making this particular shift? Pay special attention to what comes up around this question!
Now the hard part
- Look over those last months and years again. What has remained the same? Are there things in your life that you don’t want to change?
Sometimes we want to hold onto things we feel proud of. Moral codes, personal values, promises and patterns – what are the things you want to remain solidly in place in your life? Are there things you used to want to change, that you now value about yourself?
- What kinds of things have you tried to change, but been unable to?
No one succeeds at everything they try 100% of the time. What changes and shifts have you struggled with? Again, pay attention to the feelings that come up around trying and falling short.
- What keeps you stuck in those areas where you desire change but can’t make it happen?
Special note: This question is NOT about cataloging all the ways you are weak, prone to failure, or how you just plain suck because you couldn’t get un-stuck! This question is about bringing compassionate curiosity to the parts of you that struggle with or resist doing things differently in a certain area. THERE IS A REASON FOR THAT. See if you can be curious about why the parts of you that can’t or won’t shift feel the way they do.
- What do you believe it says about you if you can’t make the changes you hope to make? And where do those beliefs come from?
Sometimes we believe that our ability or inability to accomplish something indicates something about our character (e.g. failure = I am a weak-ass loser). This is not necessarily truth, but we may still believe it. What beliefs do you hold about yourself if you can’t move forward where you want to? What does it mean about you if you’re stuck?
That was more than 10 questions!
Ok, ok… so brevity is not really my strongest suit. But in fairness, the above questions are unlikely to have quick, simple, cut-and-dried answers. And if you skirted around that by answering solely based on how your favorite foods have changed or stayed the same? If you did that, be curious about the parts of you that want to avoid looking deeper.
You may notice that none of these questions really give you a clear-cut plan for getting unstuck. What they do instead is to focus your insight and self-awareness on what’s actually happening inside for the parts of you that feel stuck. When you understand the fears of those parts, you can support them in exploring and facing the fears.
Be gentle with your stuck parts. Stuck-ness can be a good indicator that there is pain in need of healing, and you can give yourself that gift.
Be curious, be compassionate, and be open. You are worth your own time.