Something I learned from my therapist not long ago is that when I have a clear sense of alternatives, of options, that not only do I immediately feel less stuck, saner, but I can also then be moved into action. That is, I perceive that not only do alternatives and options exist in life in general, but also alternatives to the very first option that comes to my mind as well (that first idea, the one that seems best, the one I’m liable to get quickly attached to). There. I cracked a window. Now I can see, and feel, out of what was feeling like an airless, walled room.
Sensing Options. One aspect of having options is sensing that you do. Perceiving options, or having a life approach that allows you to believe options always exist—even if the first option isn’t “ideal,” it’s one you know will lead to a better one. When you’re driving in a car, you probably have the windows up, and you probably have the doors locked, too (especially if you’re car automatically locks). How often would you say that you worry out not being able to get out of the car? How often do you roll down the windows or keep the doors unlocked due to a fear that you won’t be able to escape?
Maybe that’s slightly ridiculous example, but this “sensing” I’m talking about is an inside-you feeling, a deep knowing and belief, it’s about how you perceive your self in the world–it means knowing and sensing that you will be all right. You can leave the party early if you don’t have fun, that you can report a co-worker who says derogatory things to you, that you can bring your lunch if you don’t like what the cafeteria offers (like because it’s going to give you diabetes), you believe that can get to work in a different way, on a different bus, earlier, etc., or that you can change your household routine to improve your enjoyment and efficiency at home, that you can move to be closer to your job, that you can leave a relationship, that you can re-use an airline ticket another time, that you can skip the wedding to go to your grandmother’s funeral, etc. You’re not stuck, whether it’s a big deal or a small one. (A coworker of mine started taking an earlier bus (by a few minutes) when she realized that the polite chit-chat between her and another rider at the bus stop was bound to hamper her sense of “me” time in the morning—she didn’t think, “I’m trapped,” and suffer through months of chit-chat. Nope, she grabbed a different bus.)
A few weeks ago I ran across this quote (and ran across it again today)—it’s appropriate here:
“It always seems impossible, until it is done.” –Nelson Mandela
Try, try, try. Keep pushing forward. When you’re stuck, still try, no matter how small and incrementally you do it, push through till options come into view—just drop down and do one sit-up (or knee-up chair-up in your cubicle—nobody’s looking), one 15 minute brisk walk or five laps around your house (go!), one phone call to a friend (leave a message), one networking appointment, one smile, one hug, one laugh, and on and on.
You know how people say, “Well, at least you have options.” And when they say that, it’s always a positive? Yep. And…not having options? Well, that’s an alleyway with a bricked-up opening at the end. Not having options isn’t good, and ‘no options,’ while just a perception and not a reality, is the domain of the doomed character in movies and books; for humans outside of plot-driven storylines, it’s known as bottom. (Ah, yes, you’ve heard of it.) Even then, your options, while crazy-limited and pretty crappy, do still exist.
Options can be Interconnected. You have options. Always and no matter what you have options. Maybe your first, immediately available option isn’t the most ideal (catching the bus a few minutes earlier), and it involves sacrifice. Yet, keep in mind that one decision, one option, can be attached like an oxygen molecule to the next option that exists, and thereby be improved by it.
(Now, unless you’re on a true downward spiral and your spirit isn’t accessible and you’re not listening to your heart, have given up on yourself—if you’ve chosen denial and blindness over what’s actually happening in your life right now—well, that’s a whole different spiritual state than the everyday, or even mid-life crisis stuck-ness I’m talking about.)
Knowing Your Options. So, there’s sensing options (you can leave the party, take two cars, if you don’t like it, etc.) and then there’s the intellectual knowing of options, which is more planning-oriented. It might scare you, but I urge you to talk out and write out alternatives—all the alternative options you can possibly think of—to your current “stuck” situation. I mean that, yes, you should include every single option, including those that you have no intention of taking, ridiculous solutions, funny solutions (especially). Why? You must include options that seem unlike you, wacky or desperate, because doing so will free you up and help you get detached from the ‘first’ or ‘seemingly best’ alternative. You don’t want to go from stuck to…stuck, right?
This process will open your thinking. It’ll also absorb your fear! Do it. More and more it will become like a game, so, so much less like life-and-death.
Uncover Your Options in 5 Steps
1.) Identify the problem and write down the thing you want to get un-stuck
2.) Options* Options, Options—come up with, and write down, all the possible options you can think of (absolutely consult friends, your therapist (probably not your parents), and Google articles). Again, all options, no matter how outlandish or unfeasible. *This is the most time-consuming, difficult, and volatile step
3.) Choose 2-3 options, then refine them—make notes, talk through them, think through them and get a sense of the pros and cons of each
4.) Act on your options—choose one, the seemingly best option (for now!) and try it out
5.) Track it—make a calendar note for 1 week from now, then 3 weeks from now, to set aside a time to reflect on the quality of the decision. Be sure to refine and tweak, making any necessary adjustments to the routine/change from time to time
So, like, do it.
There is undoubtedly something in your life, no matter how small—like how you make coffee, or when—that could use some tweaking. Tackling the “small” stuff will give you the courage and process to tackle the bigger, scarier stuff.
Free up all the stuck-ness you can.
Be kind to yourself.