When you find yourself unable to make progress towards a goal, it helps to know some tricks for “getting unstuck.”

One extremely useful trick is to find a detour around a roadblock.

Let’s say you want to lose weight. But every effort to change your diet results in failure. Perhaps you find yourself feeling increasingly irritable and your feelings of hunger quickly build up to the point that they can’t be ignored. Then you are tempted by some appealing snack and soon weeks of effort comes unravelled.

Or maybe you want to change career, but no one seems to want to hire you for your ideal job.

Whatever has you stuck and unable to make progress, may need to be side stepped. The analogy we like is the importance of “tacking” when you are sailing into the wind.

If you want to head into the wind you need to sail from side to side, never heading too directly into the wind (or you will find that your sails begin to “luff” or flap helplessly). When you head too close to the wind you are said to have entered the “no go zone” where forward progress is impossible and, in fact, you will inevitably begin to head in the wrong direction as wind pressure drives your boat backwards. 

Being stuck in this way can be pretty dangerous if you are in choppy water. Without any direction you are much more vulnerable to the waves.

You may need to “tack” if you are trying to achieve something, and making no headway. Or if you are having trouble getting things done at all (often because you are not sure that you can do what you think you have to).

Let’s think about the person trying to lose weight.

Diet change is obviously an important part of weight loss, but it may not be the best first step. Getting unstuck may first involve building up strength and confidence. For example, many people find that some kind of pleasurable physical activity can be a useful way of getting started, not because exercise is the best way of losing weight, but because feeling stronger and healthier can make it possible to succeed when you change direction (tack back) and begin to work on diet.

Often a sense of momentum is essential in order to overcome an obstacle.

We think this is the basis for the phrase, “if you want something done give it to a busy person.”

Being “stuck” is a state of mind that makes almost everything harder, busy people don’t have time to be in the “stuck” state of mind, and so they can efficiently take care of a new responsibility without obsessing about all the possible pitfalls.

The key to this strategy is making sure that you are in fact not turning in the wrong direction altogether – don’t sail downwind, in other words – going in the wrong direction (say starting your diet by eating lots of unhealthy foods in order to “get it out of your system”) never works.

I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”- Oliver Wendel Holmes

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