We Say It in Despair, Desperation, Denial
Whether we’re striving to eat healthier, spend less or listen more, we refer to our stuckness with exquisite metaphors: We say “I’m frozen, paralyzed, marooned.” We say, “I can’t get started” or “I just can’t stop.”
When we make New Year’s resolutions, we are promising to become unstuck. But only 63 percent of us manage to keep those resolutions, according to a University of Washington study. The researchers reported that 40 percent of the participants kept their resolutions on the first try; for the others, it took multiple attempts.
The passive verbs we use to describe being stuck infer that it isn’t our fault. The hardest bit is admitting that our own choices got us here and keep us here. Sure, accidents occur—but humans are uncannily skilled at affixing balls-and-chains to our own ankles and swan-diving into quicksand.
Becoming unstuck means first accepting a harsh truth: that we’re lazy, scared and/or strangers to our true selves. Laziness often comes disguised as denial or avoidance.
Reforming means making a change, and change is strenuous. So, try this: Think of becoming unstuck as a new sport or exercise you want to learn. Think of your weak, sore spots as muscles—mental, spiritual or financial ones—and find safe, small ways to “exercise” them gradually. Like any form of fitness, this takes more than one muscle and more than one day. Move ahead gently and keep track of progress.
Change means the terrors of risk and exposure, trading the familiar for potential failure. So, try this: Think of becoming unstuck as moving to a non-English-speaking country. How would you prepare—or help a friend prepare—for that? By calmly researching the destination before making the leap: Learn its language. Study its maps. Reach out to kind folks who already live there. Have coping strategies in place to deal with issues that will inevitably come up.
Change means facing our own limitations; our own breadth. Can we change? Yes, but how much? The answer requires clear-sighted self-knowledge and crucial honesty. So, try this: Imagine the contest American Idol, with a twist; make it about the desired change. Then, imagine yourself as both contestant and judge. Give constructive criticism—and gracefully take it.
Clinical psychologist and study researcher Elizabeth Miller, Ph.D., concludes: “The keys to making a successful resolution are a person’s confidence that he or she can make the behavior change, and the commitment to making that change.”
Remember: We do get to try again and can make behavior changes throughout the year, not only at New Year’s.
Anneli Rufus is the author of Stuck: Why We Can’t (or Won’t) Move On (AnneliRufus.com).