Your present circumstances
don't determine where you can go;
they merely determine where you start.

Use Questions (Not Answers) To Get Out Of A Rut

A few years ago, I was talking with someone who felt overwhelmed–she was pressuring herself over and over to “figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life”. She was frustrated and worn down. So, where to begin in a situation like this?  Here are 6 Steps to get the ball rolling again…


Step 1: Clumping it All Together? Break it Down
This person was framing her experience as though “figuring out the rest of my life” is one thing. But in fact, “what am I going to do for the rest of my life?” is not really a single question that has a corresponding single, neat answer to it.The answer to that question is the sum of many smaller questions to answer, such as: what are my interests? What do I know so far about myself? What are some options available to me? and so forth. So breaking it down is the first step.

Step 2: Make the Very Next Step Easy
Now that you’ve got some bite size pieces to work with you can use questions to get some momentum forward on things. For example: “what is one small thing I could do today that could help me begin to address issue x?” or “who might be able to help me on some part of this issue?” can get the ball rolling in a positive way for yourself.

Step 3: Look For Exceptions to the Problem
It’s very important to pay attention to when things are going well, or even not quite as bad. So, for example, a panic attack is a very unpleasant event, but I am particularly curious about finding out how it ended, not just how it got triggered. By ignoring those exceptions to the problem and just focusing on the worst parts, you may be missing out on information or strategies that could help. Questions like “when was it not so bad?” “what was the best (or least rotten) part of my day?” are examples.

Step 4: Try Something Different
Taking stock of how you respond and cope with pain, stress, or mood is important. Most of us have a mix of things that are healthy and work well, and those that don’t. Sometimes we persevere in attempting the same solution over and over again, even though it may not work well for us. This can sometimes be just out of habit or familiarity, or even a lack of awareness if the response has become so automatic.

So, flag the behaviour you want to change and try something different the next time you find yourself feeling stuck. Even a little bit different can get you very different results. For example, a client who was often anxious would pace back and forth in her apartment for hours. She agreed to try a small change by “pacing” outside in the park nearby. This small change made a huge difference!

Step 5: Appreciation! Remind Yourself of What You Are Doing
It can be easy to become focused on all that remains ahead of you, all that you have not yet done, things that still don’t quite work, problems that still exist. Appreciating yourself is something to be done along the way—not just after you get out of the rut!