by Robyn Pashby, PhD
Do you ever feel stuck? You want to do things differently. You know there is another way. Yet day after day, week after week, or month after month, things stay the same.
I get it, both personally and professionally. Feeling stuck is part of the normal human experience. We all feel stuck from time to time. In fact, help getting unstuck is one of the most common requests I hear from clients who seek therapy with me. Learning how to get unstuck is not as hard as it seems once you uncover what is keeping you stuck.
Let’s say you feel stuck in some behavior cycles you’d like to change. Maybe you find yourself emotionally eating every night around 9 p.m., or you really want to do a yoga class before logging on in the morning, but you find yourself playing games on your phone so late each night that you keep snoozing through your alarm. Time and time again, you try to break the cycle. You wake up each morning with a vow to do it differently. But then, bam! The same cycle shows up again that very same evening. What is going on?
The truth is these “stuck” behavior cycles actually reflect something much less observable, but arguably much more important. Behaviors are the observable outcomes of how you think and feel. In other words, your behavior is a window into your thoughts and feelings. Behavior isn’t something to be looked at, rather looked through. Another way to think about it is that behavior is the outcome while thoughts and feelings are the equation. If you keep solving the same equation, you’re going to keep getting the same answer.
So, let’s look through the behavior window to see what we find. What we often uncover are common, predictable and sneaky patterns of thinking which contribute to unpleasant (or sticky) emotions.
The equation goes like this:
Sneaky Thoughts + Sticky Emotions = Stuck Behavior Cycles
Below, I’ve listed some of the common equations for “stuckness.”
Perfectionism + Anxiety/ Hopelessness = Stuck
All-or-Nothing Thinking + Failure/ Depressed/ Angry = Stuck
Shoulds + Discouraged/ Worthlessness = Stuck
Negative Self-talk + Shame = Stuck
Notice that the common equation is:
Sneaky Thinking Patterns + Sticky Feelings = Stuck Behavior Cycles
When you focus only on the behaviors you want to change rather than what is causing them, you are much more likely to stay stuck.
The emotions just mentioned rise and ultimately pass. Why? Most often, it’s because you do something about them. Are you missing your loved one? You probably pick up the phone, write an email or plan a visit. Are you worried you forgot to mail your rent check? You can talk to your landlord to explain the situation and then set up automatic payments so that it doesn’t happen again.
These actions are a sign that you aren’t stuck! They can also help your emotions follow a natural course with a beginning, middle and conclusion. Instead, being stuck is a sign that there is a slow simmer of emotions in your gut, and you may be working pretty hard to avoid it. Instead of avoiding it or wishing it away, tune in to your feelings. Practice a few deep breaths and then allow the feeling to come. Remind yourself that all feelings are valid, natural, and they are messengers that can guide us out of feeling stuck. The more you practice feeling your feelings, the less likely you are to get caught in them.
The Obesity Action Coalition’s (OAC) Health Talks, articles and other resources are a great place to get more information about tools for getting unstuck. I also always encourage you to consider working with a counselor, therapist or other support network to help you along your path. ALL of us need each other and all the support we can get. Hopefully, your sneaky thoughts didn’t just tell you that you ‘should’ figure it out on your own!
About the Author:
Robyn Pashby, PhD, is a clinical health psychologist, a passionate OAC member, and someone who has both personal experience with and a family history of obesity. Dr. Pashby has spent the last 15 years incorporating mental healthcare into obesity treatment in a variety of multidisciplinary settings, and most recently in her own behavioral health group practice.
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