How to Get “Unstuck”

StuckI’m thinking today about the experience of feeling “stuck.” (I hear this a lot from folks who write me about getting started with the Primal Blueprint.) In this situation, you know (generally) what to do. Maybe you even feel like you have the drive, the motivation to do it, but the car just isn’t shifting into gear. When you’ve tried all the basic tricks – structuring your goal with a succession of “low threshold” changes to create small wins (e.g. getting outside for a walk every day), linking new behaviors to existing practices and schedules (e.g. setting your supplements next to your morning coffee mug each night), making your contingency script (e.g. If I’m tempted by this, I’ll do x), then maybe the issue is deeper than any of these tactics can reach. Being stuck implies more than needing additional recipes, strategies or other day-to-day tools in the box. Being stuck suggests the need for some degree of seismic shift in thinking or living. For some people, they feel stuck in bad habits. Others put it in terms of being stuck in a personal rut. Whatever the language, they’re held by a heavy sense of inertia that doesn’t quite make logical sense. They feel deflated, exhausted, overwhelmed, alone when they’ve easily done far more complicated things in their lives than this. It’s like they can’t get out of the starting gate – or they can’t get back up after a “fall” a ways into the journey. No amount of intricate strategizing or self-criticism does any good. What do you do in this situation? What’s possible when you feel like you’ve covered all the bases but are getting nowhere? I know many readers will offer their wisdom, but let me throw out some ideas for those who struggle to gain any sense of momentum.

Change Up Your Environment

Some folks say we can only handle so much change at once and advise keeping everything else in your life exactly the same if you’re trying to adopt a different diet or add exercise to your routine. That might make sense for some people, but I would be inclined to take a different approach, and I’ve found it to be true for many people I’ve worked with on lifestyle changes. Anyone who’s quit smoking or drinking or any other addictive habit can tell you associations are triggers. If you associate coffee with cigarettes, every time you have coffee you will think of cigarettes and probably crave one more strongly. If every Friday you’ve gone to lunch with friends and have celebrated the end of the week with huge, carb-filled restaurant meals, going out to lunch with that same crew on Friday is likely going to challenge your best intentions more so than a solo breakfast at home.

So, do whatever you can to just shake up life for a while. Get up earlier or later. Add or subtract something from your morning (or nightly) routine. Shower at the gym instead of home. Flex your work schedule to allow for a longer a.m. or noon workout/walk or to leave early and save the extra 20-30 minutes you would’ve blown sitting in traffic. Shop for your food at a different store to avoid the same aisle-induced temptations. Use a new set of dishes for your new healthy meals. Opt out of certain social gatherings that are most likely to trigger old patterns. The point is to get yourself out of autopilot mode while you’re trying to make a meaningful change. Stirring up your daily/weekly routine can subject you to fewer triggers, and just keep you on your toes. You’ll go through the day more conscious of your choices instead of simply reacting to the old cues or stumbling along – too often back into the behaviors you’re trying to leave behind.

Question Your Schedule and Choices

Lose the excuses or, harder still, legitimate reasons you don’t have time to work out or make proper meals. At some point, you can’t blame everyone for what you’re unwilling to change. Living a Primal life is simple, but I don’t promise it’s entirely convenient in the fast-forward, modern sense of immediate gratification – have it all, do it all. At a certain level, I think the very concept goes against basic well-being. There’s an ancestral absurdity to it. Can you imagine Grok and his kin watching many of us scurry around working 60 hours a week, commuting an hour each way, shuttling kids 20 miles to hockey practices and fitting in multiple volunteer roles, yard work, bills and all manner of other logistical and social errands? Seriously. At some point we all have to have the talk with ourselves. Does the life I’m living have room for the life I want? It’s not the easiest question to face. The answer might leave us unglued, but maybe that’s a good thing in the grand scheme – in the “when it’s all said and done” after you’ve made the harrowing changes your answer obliges. There’s no formula here, which can make it that much more complex. I choose the balance that makes sense to me – as I apply my interpretation of the Primal philosophy to my life. The basic question itself, however, applies to all of us at some point in our lives.

Start Over

I got talking to a woman at a conference once about health and transformation. She explained she’d been going through a long and difficult divorce process. The experience had changed her entire life and health in totally unexpected ways. Years ago she’d been in pretty good shape with a solid enough diet and regular running and spin classes. Then the bottom fell out. Over the next few months of stress, she began having major sleep disturbances and hormonal issues, including a Hashimoto’s diagnosis and adrenal fatigue. She was a mess, she said. Then, as she explained, she gave up any hope of recreating the life and habits she’d had.

Instead, she decided to start over and commit to a year of as much self-care as she could put together. She overhauled her budget and started investing in what made her feel good. She stopped doing overtime. She got massages (even if all she could afford that month was a 10-minute “sample” at a health fair). She ate what made her feel calm but energetic, which meant better quality food and less, if any, grains, coffee and sugar. She cooked in such a way that her meals felt indulgent. She spent more time on low level cardio and a few months in took up slower, gentler strength training approaches – mostly strength focused yoga routines and and barre classes. She bowed out of social situations and relationships that didn’t fit her new vision of life. She made few if any social commitments but let herself decide on the spur of the moment what she was up for. She took long baths, went for more hikes and gave herself more time for leisure reading. She went to bed early.

Within a year her hormones had normalized. Although never overweight, she’d lost abdominal fat and gained muscle mass. She hadn’t slept better in years. Above all, she was happier with her life and, as she put it, felt more vibrant. Although she hadn’t chosen the circumstances, she let them change her entire outlook for the better. She used it to redefine what she deserved and wanted from life and health. For some folks, it goes this way. It takes something dramatic to wake us up, but once we’re awake, we’re never the same. The idea is to let circumstances act on us, to be open to something bigger. Maybe the changes you want are or need to be part of a more substantial shift in life. Embrace that, and you might suddenly find yourself happily unstuck. Get in the flow of your own life – whatever you want to call it.

Ask for More

I’m all for individual responsibility, but that doesn’t mean eschewing support. People who feel they have to do everything in life alone solely by their own willpower make life harder than it needs to be – and probably a lot less satisfying. Support is always there for us – from some source – no matter what. We might find ourselves barking up the wrong tree occasionally, but it simply means we need to look elsewhere. Too often people want to remake their lives and think that their old support systems “should” be enough, “should” rise to their occasion, “should”  know what they need. (Hint: “should” is generally a self-defeating word.) Once in a while, they are, particularly if we approach them differently. Most often, however, they aren’t. If we want to expand ourselves in new directions, the onus is ultimately on us (not them) to get what we need. That includes support. There are no points in life for martyrdom.

I knew a guy who a few years ago decided it was time to kick obesity to the curb. He started out low-carbing before he found The Primal Blueprint. He wasn’t much of a creative cook but wanted to inspire himself to expand his repertoire. So, he started hosting Friday night potlucks at his house. He went all out inviting people – friends, neighbors, acquaintances, friends of friends. He made one dish himself and asked others to bring something to share – with one condition: it had to be low carb food (later it shifted more toward PB style). He was a graphic designer by day, and he used his skills to make wacky invitations and “advertisements” for every event. His guests never knew what to expect. He gave a theme to each gathering, decorated and even made a Facebook page for it. Every week he got a great meal (with plenty of leftovers) and several recipes that he knew he liked – all with no boring effort or major expense on his part. Over time, he even organized “virtual” potlucks on the Facebook page where everyone showed themselves eating dinner (you can imagine the humorous photos that resulted). Many friends and acquaintances eventually told him that those events began to change the way they ate. It was a win-win all around – because one guy decided to throw some parties.

Get Honest About Your Intentions

Take the temperature on a few basic things: your motivation, your worthiness. Yes, you read that right. Are you worthy of a big, substantial, beneficial change – or are you more comfortable feeling weak and slightly unhealthy and not quite living a fulfilling life? I’m completely serious here. The fact is, some people are more comfortable waiting for a better life than they are embracing it. Perhaps that describes all of us at the beginning of the process, but I’ve seen many people over the years self-sabotage their processes because they were (deep down) afraid to be genuinely happy or vibrantly healthy or in charge of their lives. I’m not trying to out anyone here, but I want to also say that if you identify with any of those points you shouldn’t be ashamed. Trust me, the best thing you can do is realize the truth.

Bear with me, but first consider this. Forget a year-long resolution. Some people can do it, and maybe you’ll be one of them down the road, but this is now. Don’t think what you or your life would look like twelve months from now. Don’t imagine eating perfectly or even 80% for a year or a month or a week. Heck, don’t even imagine eating Primal for dinner. That’s a few hours from now, and you’ll decide that then. Promise yourself absolutely nothing for the future. Yes, do the work of shopping with Primal eating in mind. Lay out your gym clothes. Set up a meditation corner. Have a brochure and map of area parks you could visit for some nature time. Set your alarm to go to bed at a reasonable hour. That’s called showing up for possibility. But don’t make a decision about what you will actually do until then.

The thing is this about feeling stuck: Too many people look too far ahead and psyche themselves out. Tomorrow will exist when it’s ready. The same with the next day and next week and next month, yada, yada, yada. You don’t need to feel like you can make the decision to eat, move or live Primal all month or all week because it won’t be you making that choice then. It will be you with the added reflection and experience of the previous days and weeks. The person you are tomorrow will decide what you will do tomorrow. You can’t know what you’ll be capable of then. You aren’t responsible for knowing what you’ll be capable of then. You’re only responsible for right now – for the next food you put in your mouth, the next walk you take, the next message you tell yourself, the next decision you make for how you’ll live your life this hour. That’s it. Decide nothing. Promise nothing. Expect nothing. But show up for this one hour and then for the next one day by day – and see where it all goes.

Thank for reading, everyone. Have you found yourself stuck at some point in the journey? Anyone feeling this way now? What approach have you taken? If you consider yourself unstuck now, what shifted and how? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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86 thoughts on “How to Get “Unstuck””

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  1. Great post! I’ve been “stuck” so many times mostly when it comes to exercise. I’ve never been good at committing to something long term. Eventually, I had to realize that I was only going to stick with something I REALLY enjoyed. I started bicycling to work last year and it was the perfect choice for me. I basically lowered my expectations and stopped forcing myself to do things that felt too unnatural. Change is great and all, but sometimes you have to trick yourself to make it happen :).

  2. I’m most curious on how couples where only one turns Primal, they deal with it. Fortunatley my partner that is a vegetarian, at least became a vegetarian Primal person.

      1. Vegan Primal or Paleo is another I see around the web. It is to laugh!

        1. it is a step in the right direction, towards whole foods and away from junk.

          I have met seemingly healthy vegetarians and vegans who have been on their diet for years.

        2. Yup, she now eats lots of eggs, raw cheese, raw yogurt, raw butter, coconut products and has stopped eating all the breads, pastas, crackers, etc. She doesn’t get her protein from grains anymore. Trying to get her to add bivalves and fish oil next. One step at a time.

    1. Have your partner read The Vegetarian Myth. I was a vegetarian for 17 years and am SO glad I changed to primal/paleo. I can only hope I didn’t do too much damage.

      1. A vegetarian diet does work for some people. I wouldn’t try to change their views any more than I’d want them to try to change mine.

    2. My wife and I simply prepare similar meals with separate servings. For instance, when I make fish, she makes a fish sandwich while I flake mine up into a salad. I make Italian Sausage and she makes a serving of pasta while I mix mine with a package of frozen Tuscan Vegetables. It is not that hard to do.

      1. I live with two non-Paleo people. I’ve given up trying to change them, but It’s easy enough for me to skip the grain products and sweets they like to eat. I just make sure to fix several vegetable dishes and a salad right along with the meat and potatoes or pasta. That way we can all eat what we prefer.

        1. I love this website and everyone on it. I recently became Primal. My husband who diabetic thinks I’m weird. I am passively changing his thinking. I started by inviting him to exercise with me. We have a great time running (racing) sprints and climbing hills. The eating part may be more difficult because he really only likes starchy vegetables and loves sweets. I am hopeful though. This has really changed my life.

    3. This is where I’m at. I’m mostly Primal and partner is not super interested in the koolaid. He tries to eat healthy, but would prefer less meat and oils. I think as I see more results though (I’ve only been doing this since February), he might start coming around. I think he has a bit of a “prejudice”, as he jokes about how much meat and coconut oil I consume. When the reality is that, if anything, the most dramatic shift has been in getting carbs from vegetables instead of grains – I think my meat eating has probably stayed the same or even gone down slightly! Anyway, I have had to let go of wanting to “please” him with the food I make. I cook for myself now and he can eat it if he wants, otherwise more leftovers for me. When I do cook, I will still make a grain for him if he requests it, but it stays in it’s own pot. Same goes for sauces, dressings, etc. And I do still incorporate beans and quinoa a few times a week (like I said…mostly Primal!) and that seems to be a good “bridge” between us. I think a big part is just that he’s really stubborn (or just human??) – he’s never going to come to it because I tell him to – it’s gotta be on his own terms. OK maybe that’s just being human. 🙂

    4. In my brothers case he went full bore Priimal, lost 7 stone in as many months, became super-fit and motivated and evangelical, a few years later he’s been sabotaged by his wife (who wouldn’t switch to Primal and remained an obese smoker on meds). Although strangely she would always cook him Primal originally.

      It’s very hard I think when you are going it alone.

      1. I live with my familie as the only primal living animal. The problem was never what the others ate, but the space in the kitchen. Since a few months my wife gave up she now even start to eat my dried meat but the point is. Living with non primal familie members aint hard it is about accepting the choices of your partner. MY wife knows im to stubborn to give in to proccesed foods so she doesnt even try it anymore to make me something. She gets tired of all the questions about the ingredients. So I live with my familie together but I primal alone

        1. It’s funny (in a sad way) that others get annoyed with us for asking “What’s in that.”

    5. Yes, I am having some resistance from girlfriend of 13 months in terms of completely embracing primal lifestyle. I think we interpret it differently and her vision of what is “primal” isn’t exactly what she wants at this moment.

    6. I recently decided to go more Primal this past week. For the most part, I find it very easy. We have always eaten very simply. He is Mediterranean so in lieu of bread I find crispy vegetables work for me. In the evenings we normally make a platter and munch on carrots/grapes (wintertime) or melon in the warmer months so it’s not much of a challenge so far. I recently discovered that if I even eat a few pieces of popcorn that my throat instantly gets sore so it’s easy to opt for other stuff.

      When my daughter comes home she loves ice cream & chocolate but I’ve discovered that I don’t crave it as much. I also give myself a “free day” so if I want something, I’ll have it on a Saturday splurge with my husband/daughter.

      I feel so much better already even as I am slowly bringing myself down from daily a pot of coffee and switching to tea. For each pot, I replace a teaspoon of caffeinated for decaf until I get to a full decaf and then I’m treating myself to a trip to Teavana. By switching to tea, I eradicate the sugar-in-my-coffee habit and opt for honey in the tea.

    7. One of my classmates recently came ot me for advice because she knew I am primal. She had to go gluten- and lactose-free because of severe eczema on her hands (it improved only days after cutting out those foods!) and was at a loss as to which foods she could still eat. Turned out she is a vegetarian as well, so when I told her all grains and legumes, including soy, weren’t such a good idea she was quite shocked… there really isn’t much you can do for healthy protein except eggs and she was already tired of them after a few days.

      Primal/paleo and vegetarianism are quite difficult to combine in a healthy way, especially if you can’t do dairy. I wonder if she will reconsider and start to incorporate some (ethical) meat/fish when she realizes that this is the best way to heal her gut and skin… moral concerns still take precendent for a lot of vegetarians even when they know that physically, it would be healthier to at least eat a bit of fish every once in a while.

      Industrial cattle rearing and fishing practices are atrocious and damaging, but with a bit of research you can figure out which species of fish are not threatened by extinction, wich farming techniques are ethical and therefore what you can still eat without having to feel guilty for pollution, animal suffering and environmental damage. But who am I to argue…

  3. Mark, this is SO true!! I’ve been good about my eating habits for awhile now, but I got into a rut last winter where I was basically sedentary for several months. I eventually began to think of exercise as something I can do for myself right now- I would psyche myself out of getting off the couch because I felt bad that I probably wouldn’t work out three times per week. So instead I did nothing. I started keeping a log and congratulating myself each time I did exercises, even if it was only once or twice a week, and it’s made a big difference. Sometimes the Nike slogan of “Just do it” is the most spot-on advice.
    Thanks for hitting the mark, yet again.

    1. Something that I’ve found useful is looking at exercise in terms of being able to accomplish something, rather than merely making you look better or making you healthier (this only goes so far). But if you set your mind to accomplishing something like, something as simple as ‘be able to walk 2 miles straight’ or something as difficult as ‘100 50lb kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes’. Its all working up to something and makes exercise less mundane. This also translates into diet. Your diet must fit being able to accomplish that standard you’ve set.

  4. “Does the life I’m living have room for the life I want?”


    With three young children I can feel the pull to the hectic lifestyle described here. With a full time career I can feel the pull of the standard lifestyle. My wife and I are aware of the pull, and we fight against it. Already we have plans for a few years down the road to buy land outside of town and have a calmer, less stressful life.

    Unbeknownst to most people they are prisoners of their lifestyle. They want to live a certain way, but feel trapped by the way they think they should live. They don’t think there’s an option to live a different way.

  5. Excellent post full of wisdom. Each time I’ve successfully made a major change, it seemed to be quite easy. But then I realized that I’d wanted to make the change for ages and why had I waited so long, why had I been so silly not to do it earlier, etc. The only answer is: I hadn’t been ready earlier on. When you’re ready, when the time is right, then amazing things can happen.

  6. Thanks Mark

    No matter how well things are going, there’s always an area that could use improvement. Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. “The fact is, some people are more comfortable waiting for a better life than they are embracing it. ”

    I was that person for a very long time, and I feel like I have made the switch to embracing the life I want. My husband is still in that first phase, and it’s taking him a long time to make the switch.

    I know it’s not fair, and nobody ever called me patient, but…. I want him on my page right now! LOL He started eating more the PB way about 2 years ago, but still has not committed to it. Now, he’s in the process of quitting tobacco. I know, a huge undertaking, and I am so proud of him! But… it is making him depressed because he feels lousy and he’s mad at everybody, most of all himself. I know it will pass and he’ll eventually feel better, but (did I mention I am impatient as hell!!??) when? When!? He keeps saying to me “I hope this is worth it!” to which I reply “You are worth it!!” It’s like he just doesn’t realize he deserves to feel better (mentally and physically).

    Former tobacco users: How long did the horrible part of withdrawing from tobacco last for you? What can I do to encourage and support (besides hiding. Seriously, it’s been THAT bad sometimes!)?

    People for whom it has taken a longer time period to make that switch I was talking about earlier: What did it take to get you to finally realize you are worth it?

    1. it took at least 3 months before i didn’t feel paralized by depression after quitting smoking. It probably took about 6 months before i stopped having major daily cravings. I smoked for 12 years and i have been a non smoker for 18 years. quitting smoking was the hardest thing i have ever done. but well worth it.

      1. Oh wow….. I had no idea it was going to take that long!!! LOL This just means I better recalibrate my tolerance for his bad mood and irritability, huh? Actually, I do pretty well most of the time, it’s just when I’ve had a bad day myself, and then he’s acting out his withdrawals… it gets a little testy. But this info helps, because now I know I can just expect this kind of stuff for a long while, it’s not really him, and it will pass. A good lesson in patience for me (at least that’s the spin I plan to put on it!) He’s been doing this a very long time (like, 30 or more years) so looks like it may be a while. Does anyone know if there’s a correlation between how long someone uses tobacco and how long it takes to get out of the system? Man… I hope it’s not 6 months for every 18 years!

    2. When I quit smoking, it was hard EVERY DAY for about six months. My then-boyfriend did not understand how it could still be hard after I’d been “clean” for months, but Mark’s post about triggers is spot on. You have to re-decide that you’ve quit over and over and over. Smoking was a big part of my life, integrated into it in thousands of tiny ways. It’s not breaking one bad habit, it’s a thousand.
      And then it was still hard a lot of the time for another year or so. Hang in there- your support means the world, even if he’s snapping at you!

      1. Thanks for that insight about the triggers. I love him so I will stand by and try and be as supportive as I can!

    3. I never thought of quitting smoking in terms of “I am worth it” although that was obviously the underlying reason. What worked for me was to get a string of smoke-free days going. Then, even if the string was only 2 or 3 days long, it became more important to me not to break that smoke-free string than to cave in and have a cigarette. I used the same system to eliminate sugar from my diet. For me it really wasn’t all that hard in either case.

      1. That tells me that you are a positive person – good for you, and congratulations on kicking both of those habits. I am still working on the sugar thing, myself (eh hem… I may have just finished a Starbucks mocha….) I like your idea, and I’m going to try it 🙂

    4. My partner has tried to quit smoking numerous times, and usually succeeded from anywhere between one month and one year, but always starts again. Each time he tries to quit, he becomes such a horrible person that it nearly destroys our relationship. I have given up on him quitting, and frankly he is just so awful during the withdrawal that I do want to go through it again. Wish I had a good answer for you.

      1. Ya, he’s quit several times over the last 10 years too… with the same result as you describe. The other times, he did it when he was really busy at work, or had a big mechanical project on one of our cars or the boat – in other words, he had something to do with his hands. This time, he doesn’t really have a project like that going on. As a result, he’s around me a lot more! One thing he’s doing this time, is using an app called quit now (or something like that). It seems to be helping. It shows you how much $ you’re saving and how many days you are adding to your life.

      2. The re-starting – that is the WORST. The longest he quit was for 18 months. It just broke my heart when he started again… but he’s a big boy – I can’t tell him how to live his life. I have never told him to quit for me, but I did say this time, if he starts again I am not going through another attempt at quitting – this time is now or never for me. I seriously think I would rather leave than go through this again. 🙁

        1. I know what you’re going though. It’s good that you are standing your ground. It’s too late for me. I wanted a smoke free family, all I got out of him was a promise when I got pregnant. 3 years later… still smoking 🙁

    5. As far as I know, the physical withdrawal only lasts for about two weeks; after that, it’s out of your system. The psychological withdrawal is an entirely different beast.
      Personally, nicotine replacemtent in the form of patches and chewing gum (and now maybe the e-cig, I haven’t tried it) has helped me a great deal with the physical withdrawal (which can also make you grumpy and moody!). In the meantime, you can deal with the psychological aspect of it without having to worry about physical symptoms – and then, when you’re used to being a non-smoker and have established a new routine, you can slowly taper off the nicotine without much trouble.
      But to be honest, I truly believe that you can’t quit smoking unless you really, really want to. If you don’t see the point or are not convinced that smoking is that bad you’re going to have a hard time with the psychological aspect even if you can get through the physical withdrawal.
      I have quit once before after having been a light smoker for a few years; I was a non-smoker for about two years before I started again. At this point, I think that the enjoyment of smoking occasionally (I am not a heavy smoker by far) outweighs the annoyance of quitting and learning a new routine. When this balance shifts for whatever reason, I will be able to quit again. It helps to realize what the negatives are: bad sense of smell/taste, constant colds, the financial cost, clothes smelling like smoke all the time, being “ruled” by the addiction, etc. But it is still a cost/benefit analysis in the end. If your analysis doesn’t come out negative it’s going to be very hard to get through withdrawal.

  8. Very wise words. It make me think a lot about the “stages of change” model – sometimes I recognize that I am in “pre-contemplation” and that is OK. At least I’m somewhere on the chart!

    Interestingly, my getting into Primal was not through a 30 or 21 day challenge or any kind of absolute detox-style approach. In fact, for a long time I poo-pooed primal because I thought that was the only way to do it. I finally started learning more after a nutritionist gave me some education around balancing blood sugar and encouraging a 1/3-1/3-1/3 balance of macronutrients, a ratio I still find pretty legit, if not strict-paleo. Then, stumbling upon the MDA carb-curve, that got me more into this line of thinking. The nutritionist has highly recommended gluten-free since I have hypothyroid, and this has been probably the most challenging piece for me. I knew, at first, that saying no to a fancy croissant or a hamburger bun or a slice of pizza was an abject impossibility. But there were other things that were easier for me to cut out – toast in the AM, pasta, beer, dinner rolls – so that’s where I started. Now, I’m not saying I will never eat pizza or nice pastries again, but making choices about those is at least a conceivable feat now.

    Anyway, in January I was openly sobbing at my annual physical, feeling so overwhelmed by the runaway train trajectory of my health – utterly stuck. Now, it’s April, and I feel like there is hope and the direction of the path has completely changed. I have perhaps not had the “dramatic” results that come with an all-or-nothing commitment, but I think that by carving my own path and intentionally making some room for obstinacy, skepticism, and even a little pouting along the way has made all the difference. Now it feels sustainable.

  9. In a way, this reminds me of the post exactly four weeks ago about cultivating health during crisis. I think the two are similar because after crisis, it is easy to feel stuck.

    As someone going through a divorce after 10 years of marriage and two small children who I now don’t get to see daily, I can sympathize with the woman under the section “Start Over” because after a crisis like divorce, it is so easy to get stuck in a rut where you are trying the old things that used to work but now circumstances have changed so much that the old just won’t cut it.

    Divorce is especially difficult as the times with one’s children, one feels vibrant and playful but the times without them you are confronted with a burdening, overwhelming quiet and emptiness. With my children, I feel inspired to set a good example, get lots of play, be an active father, and cook healthy meals that my ex wife (being non primal) never got. Somehow when I’m alone though, I fall into a rut of too much ice cream (even if it is made with grass fed, organic milk) and inactivity. It’s a wierd rut to be in.

    1. I think like many in the MDA community, Jeff, you know what you “should be doing” – diet, movement, sleep, balance / stress mgmt – to be well. And yet it’s virtually impossible to overcome a crisis so extreme (divorce, family death, etc.) with just these tools. I’ve been there too. I’ve discovered an interesting technique called EFT or Tapping, and it may not be for everyone, but I think if you’re willing to go deep and internal, you can be well by adding another element to your “wellness toolkit” which is something like emotional release. Take care!

  10. One thing I did in the last year that has helped is thought “Is this activity helping me achieve something”? Whether that is financial, personal, emotional, learning (MDA!), things like FB, Twitter and useless news sites fell the the wayside quickly. BOOM, instantly more time.

    1. That’s a great idea! I will have to start doing that! I will ask myself, “Will this ‘reward’ truly rewarding me?” when I feel like I need a treat. If it’s a food treat the answer is usually no, but when it’s doing yoga, walking, or cleaning the house, the answer is yes!

      1. Also, to add on to what has been said, I created a new hobby or two or helped out someone—even if it was to call an elderly former neighbor of mine every couple of days to “check up on her”. Those calls to this new widow actually helped me to keep track of where I was going and what I was doing when she’d innocently ask “How are you?!”

  11. I’m in a terrible rut presently. 54 years old, and the universe won’t let me out. It even seems determined to push me in deeper, to 55.

    1. Try reading or watching “The Secret” on a regular basis. It’ll change your thought process–even if it’s background noise while you’re contemplating your “rut”. The full movie is on youtube and Netflix by Rhonda Byrne.

  12. I’ve added a meditation practice to my life on most days. This is a relatively new change for me–I’m only 2 weeks in and I only do it for 5 minutes in the morning, but I’ve found that even in this small amount it’s made me so much more aware!

    Instead of feeling ‘stuck’ or feeling ‘fat’ even though I am not overweight or any other non-feelings, I am more in tune with myself and am able to feel what’s really going on. Maybe I’m tired, or needing some time outside, or wanting to connect socially. Meditation and awareness has really helped my ability to get unstuck!

  13. I like the notion of deciding hour by hour. My life is so regimented that deciding anything in the moment is a cosmic shift in thinking and acting. I’m going to set my lists and my expectations aside for today and just be. Thanks for the reminder that I’m the one who decides–for better or worse, it’s on me.

  14. Last January I found it easy to get motivated and exercise. I was eating “paleo” and found I had a gluten intolerance. I lost over 35lbs from (315 to 280) by watching what (and how much) I was eating and by running my 1 1/2 miles every other day as quickly as I could. I was quite proud of myself come June of last year with the weight loss and was feeling pretty good. Thats when for some reason I plateaued (probably more like allowed myself to). I started working out a little harder to compensate, went to a personal trainer who helped out a bit, especially with motivation. After the first three meetings with the trainer he would be late or wouldnt show up nor call me about not being able to keep our appointments. Thats when it all stopped. I lost all motivation, then Thanksgiving hit. I put 30lbs back on and am still hovering there today. I guess the first move I made was to start researching what was out there. I had heard about PB before and have read the blog for a while now. I just purchased the revised version of the PB and am reading it now. I hope to find that motivation again once I get more into the book. I would love to be in better shape this time next year as I am getting married next June. Thanks so much Mark for all the work you do on you site. Its been a great source of information and I really look forward to finding the motivation and getting my butt back in gear!

  15. I’m in the process of writing my Ph.D. thesis. Your last paragraph really resonated.

  16. I’ve been emotionally “stuck” for a long time and it has affected my physical well being and damaged relationships. I discovered I’m quite the self-critic and it has derailed my motivation big time!

    In doing some self work, I recently read a book by author Kristen Neff I’d like to recommend…
    Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

    3 key points I picked up… be kind to yourself, realize your commonality of being human, and be aware of your emotions.

    It may sound too simple but it takes real effort with each moment of struggle(from tiny to huge) because our culture does not support this behavior. Developing self-compassion in my experience relieves stress, increases motivation and opens up my heart to others.

    There is a Ted talk from Ms. Neff about self-compassion

    1. I’ve read Kristen Neff’s book too, several times! It helped me deal with 3 family deaths in the last few years. I highly recommend it and her TED talk too.

      1. I’m very sorry to hear of your losses. This information really did change my view of myself AND human beings.

    2. I will have to look for this book-thanks for the info. I too am very adept at beating myself up and it takes huge effort to change! Kudos to you for your self-realization and love – keep up the struggle and especially when you find yourself struggling. I recommend the following book called Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, PH.D. It includes meditations for healing and acceptance.

  17. Hmmmm…..I like to think that every moment is a gift and every moment that we experience something, good or bad…there is a reason. It could be one we created, one we let someone create or the higher power or universe (your choice) teaching us something. The answers to your history surround you…if you look in the mirror and you are in great shape and healthy…you know your history. If you see someone who hasn’t loved themselves the way they want to, a few extra pounds on and such, you know your history. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Get what YOU want, not what you think you should want (everything legal that is, lol) My mom died of cancer, 54 years old….her biggest regret…smoking. If she could rewrite it, I promise you, she would. Don’t get to that Moment in your life when you wish you could rewrite your story. Choose the characters, create the plot, enjoy the surprises and the wonder, love to live!

  18. Mark, your posts are just spot-on! You know how to address the topics that most people need to know about… your blog is like a gem and I’m so glad I know about it, and so glad that you update it with top-notch content daily! 🙂

  19. This is truly spot on! I previously lost 20 kg from low-carb dieting and heavy exercise. Loved that lifestyle! Then life happened with loads of stress and shit, starting with the breakup from a 3-year long relationship. Now I’ve gained 10 kg again and I’m struggling so hard to lose them without getting any results what so ever. My lifestyle is completely different now from what it was before – shared accommodation instead of living alone, studying instead of working, single instead of relationship, Australia instead of Sweden and so on…

    I haven’t figured out a solution yet, or even identified the problem (there are probably several issues), but it’s really a daily mission. It’s just frustrating when you know what you have to do, you have the receipt, you’ve done it before… but it’s not working anymore.

    What I’m trying now anyway is to find the way back to my former confidence, reduce stress, celebrate success instead of blaming myself for slips, lower my expectations, apply a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t affect a social lifestyle too much, finding ways to eliminate the inner sugar monster… pretty much do the “starting over” thing in whatever ways I can.

  20. Motivation and consistency are keys to success in fitness and in life. I have struggled with self-discipline myself over the years. What you say about starting with small changes first is a good way to proceed. Better to start to do something no matter how small and stick to it, than going over the top and giving up. As we form new habits even for little things, self discipline grows and success is possible.

  21. What a timely post! I am 100% believer in PB – I know that I do better with good sleep, feel better with less carbs and zero grains, am happier when I slow down, read, get rid of unnecessary obligations… but I still get stuck in a rut, can’t quite get the food where I want it and don’t get going with some physical activity.

    I’ve been searching for ways to get kick started and quit making excuses (family thing this weekend, work too busy, what-have-you) because I know I’ll feel better once I make the transition.

  22. I’m still stuck in this all-or-nothing, quick-fix mentality. I’ve been primal for two and a half years, but the last few months I’ve definitely gone back to my old ways. In my head, I’m still primal, but I ate oatmeal for breakfast yesterday. Ugh. To get me unstuck, I need a paradigm shift that this is about a lifestyle, not a label or a “solution” to all my ailments. It needs to be a habit for just what I do, and not a “program” or something that I’m “on” or “off”. I’m still trying to figure out what will work for me to change that perspective!

    1. I am all or nothing too – but thats because after trying and failing so many times, I have discovered that I cannot do moderation, especially when it comes to sugar.

      So I have to be strict. Sugar is my trigger, whenever I allow myself some, it takes days (weeks?) to get back into it!

  23. I train for a 5K whenever I feel in a rut, once or twice a year. I usually only give myself 4-8 weeks to train so it definitely shakes things up. Oh, and because I have bad hamstrings most of my training for running is not actual running, it is biking, elliptical, and fast walking. Then I go off the hard cardio for months, back to low level walking, and I feel rejuvenated and happy to do so!

  24. Three weeks ago I decided that all of this was just too hard so I decided to “give up”. I gained 5lbs in 2 weeks. I then had to decide if this was the right trajectory for me and promptly thought, “no”. So, back to eating strict primal this week and went for long hike after work yesterday. I’ve lost 4lbs already. I feel better but still not happy about having to work so hard to lose weight and be healthy. Not sure why it’s harder for some and seemingly so easy for others. But ultimately, Mark is right… It comes down to choice and whether the choice we make right now moves us closer to our goals or further away. Day by day, choice by choice. It’s up to us.

  25. When I get stuck, it’s usually because I’m trying to make the wrong change at that particular time. There might be something else going on–usually something that I’m not consciously aware of–that needs more of my attention. It helps me when I ask myself, What’s really going on here? And I try to prioritize and simplify as much as possible.

    1. This all the way. I tried to go gluten-free about five years ago, but it wasn’t the right time for that change. Two years ago, however, was; and I didn’t really understand why until I read this comment.

      It’s also something to keep in mind when telling other people about Primal/ Paleo. Even if they don’t take it up immediately (or ever!) it will never stick unless that change is right for them at that time in their life.

      Thank you for the insight!

  26. It’s been a long road to “true” paleo for me. There is such a huge mental and motivational wall between knowing what is healthy for you (and even what you want to do) and being able to have the confidence in yourself to achieve it.
    I would say I began my Paleo journey about a year and a half ago by going gluten-free. That was a huge step that I finally found the motivation for as a result of some skin irritation I was trying to solve. Just realizing that I was in fact capable of changing positively and resisting temptations gave me the confidence to go Primal last October. Each step builds confidence, getting through Christmas unscathed was huge! A few months ago I gave up almost all dairy (which was the one thing I never thought I could) and a bit later finally let the grass-fed butter go. There are still things to improve (better exercising, less natural sweeteners), but I am no longer worried about getting everything right immediately, each step gives me the confidence to move forward.

  27. I was stuck a month ago. Then I started waking up earlier and starting crossfit and change definitely helps. But I need to take mark’s advise and change more things around for sure. Nice post.

  28. I have no motivation to exercise.

    I hate living in the feedlot suburbs, don’t have money to move, gained weight because my bite was off from braces and it still doesn’t feel right. Winter has made things much worse because farmers markets don’t start til mid May.
    Eating super market food over winter sucked…I’m addicted to my morning coffee which prevents me from tapping into keto. My brain is always screaming for something (salt mostly) and I have no idea how to satisfy this craving without munching down a bag of salty chips (which is actually ‘sugar’)…and with chips comes the craving for a coke…arrgh.

    Yea I need to be primal for my colon health but after my bite getting messed up and the long messed up winter months 2013/14 I am really not in the mood to do anything other than eat and sleep.

    My motivator to get up and do stuff would probably just be money.

    1. Al, might I suggest, as kindly as possible, that you stop feeling sorry for yourself and just do what you know you need to do? For starters, try rewriting your comment by putting everything in the past tense; i.e., that was THEN, and this is NOW. And then continue to follow through by “rewriting” your present and future. BTW, money is a minor issue when compared with good health.

  29. Oy, this is what I needed today. My mother’s stage IV cancer keeps spreading; I’m trying to be a caregiver as well as keep up with work. I am in a serious dark place. But today, I woke up, spent about an hour lying in bed surfing the web, and came across this post. So I said “work can wait” and went for a walk in the sun. And I feel so much better. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do tomorrow, but this is what I can do today.

  30. I needed to hear every bit of that, thank you so much. I started primal living several weeks ago, but into my second week i started to “cheat” a little bit here and there. Now im back to my old regular SAD and im amazed at how horrible (physically, and somewhat mentally) i feel. only two weeks took away gas, bloating, headaches, fatigue. and the whole time i felt like i was just craving sugar so i barely enjoyed myself feeling better. it was only until i started feeling worse that i got it. but im SO hooked on sugar. and habit. and excuses. and fear. Thank you for this article, and im open to any feedback.

    1. Try behavior modification on a weekly plan. For instance, if you normally eat a two donuts every morning, determine that the next week you’ll only eat 1 on one or two mornings. Then the following week, determine that for 2 or 3 mornings you’ll only consume 1 but do remember to consume your usual two donuts on the other mornings. Eventually you’ll get down to a single donut every morning.

      Then repeat this cycle by switching out a single morning with something more primal.

      I also save a “free day” every week to eat____ in whatever quantities I desired. Everything you’re craving in the moment, put on a list for your free day, remove yourself from the kitchen or house and drink A LOT of water. Eventually I couldn’t eat everything on my craving list so the dog gained weight eating the leftovers until things were more under control. I also made sure to get the junk out of my house while I was still full from eating all of the junk—and went grocery shopping during the same time span so I wouldn’t be prone to purchasing more junk.

    2. You might be a person for whom “all or nothing” doesn’t work, and for whom Mark’s 80/20 plan would be a better option; that is, plan your treats and don’t necessarily “forbid” anything. If you know that your co-workers bring donuts every Friday and you just really, really want a donut because that’s your favorite treat, and you want to indulge with them, then build that donut into your 20%, and savor every single bite.

      I personally hate the word “cheating” — it’s a word loaded with shame and guilt. You could try the occasional indulgence and then decide if that food is really what you want to keep indulging in, after you feel the effects on your body.

      The people I know with the healthiest relationships to food (and normal weights throughout their adulthood) don’t assign “all good” or “all bad” values to food. I aspire to that healthy mindset.

  31. I feel stuck all the time. I manage to motivate myself for a week or two and then take a few weeks off without really realizing it. I definitely find myself “thinking too far ahead” as Mark said and I think I need to just take my workouts 1 day at a time.

  32. I think when one I stucked and can’t really start to train regularily and properly it can be really useful to hire a coach in the first weeks. I was generally more motivated and got better results when I used to train with a personal coach. Maybe it is because when you spend money on a trainer you are more motivated to profit from the service you already pay for.

  33. I wake up each and everyday thankful that I no longer live with back pain! I had back surgery 5 years ago and currently work out 4 days a week with no pain. When I am at the gym and feel tired or just don’t feel like being there, I remind myself how fortunate I truly am. I have my health and I will always remember what my life was like when I wanted to workout and could not. This is my reality check everyday and it works for me!

  34. WOW~ This article spoke to me, especially towards the end. I am a newbie here and was attracted to your philosophies and values. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on “stuck”. There are so many different ways this can affect our lives and one step at a time is excellent advice. I’d say I am halfway to where I see myself being and I have been “stuck” completely, before. A friend once found a saying,”the habit of persistence is the habit of victory” and made it a magnet for my fridge. It is still there.
    Another short phrase on my “board” is: Plan, Prepare, Expect

    Mark, thanks for your infinite wisdom and the energy you share with all of us!


  35. One of your best….Thanks!

    Very thoughtful and compassionate and motivating….

  36. This was a good post. I really appreciated it. I have felt stuck often over my lifetime for various reasons, but recently I was diagnosed with insulin resistance and realized that my entire approach to how I eat had to change. That’s what turned me on to paleo/primal. For the most part I do well enough, but ever since last December I haven’t been able to move inches or pounds from me and have been waffling in the same five pound range. I am grateful I have gained all of it back and while that’s a win (I have plus more in the past) I need to start moving again or my health will be at serious risk. The moment by moment thing really resonated with me. I am a planner at heart and I plan things to the point of irritation for most. I will definitely still plan, but I will make the decision my decision and have no regrets. I saw something on the internet the other day that struck me in this same regard, “For all those waiting for somebody to come and change your life, look in the mirror. Only you have the power to do that.” At least I think that’s what it was- it’s pretty close. It’s become my new mantra. That with the in the moment idea you provided, hopefully I can get moving again.

  37. Holy cow, did this post ever speak to me. My “vitamin J” post got record numbers of views (for my teeny tiny blog) after it was linked to here on MDA, and the sad truth is, the reason I was able to write so passionately about it is because I’ve learned the hard, lonely, and unpleasant way just how an unfulfilling life can affect health and physique. I have been “stuck” for far too long, and even though I’m trying to make positive changes, it’s very slow going and I tend to get frustrated. (I’m a glass half-empty person, but I am trying to transition to the half-full perspective. Not sure that’s even possible, as I think I’m hard-wired for pessimism to some degree, but I’d like to think I can be a little brighter, even if I have to fake it ’til I make it, as they say.)

    This really hit home. And while I don’t wish these low, troubling thoughts on anyone, it’s definitely comforting to know I’m not alone. Enough of us are “stuck” (in our own myriad ways — whether it’s diet, career, relationship, or something else) that Mark thought it warranted a discussion.

  38. Dear Mark,

    This is one of my favorite posts, and I thought of returning to it today as I am emerging from a period of personal “stuck”-ness. I value your work tremendously, and your insights which encompass both the scientific realms of nutrition and exercise, but the spiritual aspects of health and vitality as well. As a professional dancer now teaching pilates here in Malibu, I am incredibly grateful for the wise mentors who have guided me to rebuild my health, and I am devoted to now helping others to get “unstuck” through movement and positive lifestyle changes.

    Three years ago, my chronic hip pain became so intense it was like knives were being driven into my body as I walked. At the age of 39, and incredibly passionate about my life as a dancer, I was frustrated with the lack of answers I had been able to garner through my own studies, and through visits to a myriad of PT’s, orthopedists, bodyworkers, acupuncturists, and other specialists over the past decade. I am an avid student, and was searching desperately for answers to unlock my body from the strange mix of instability and stiffness that grew in my lithe, hyper mobile, athletic body. The same year, three other major challenges were presented to me…separation from my husband, my father’s diagnosis of Grave IV glioblastoma (a highly aggressive form of brain cancer), and transitioning from my life as a professional dancer–my identity– to becoming a pilates teacher.
    I remembered the teachings of wise authors, guiding me to see injury and setback as signs of imbalance and a necessity for a shift in perspective. I did my best to see these as opportunities to review the way I was living my life and embrace it as an opportunity to evolve, and as my steely disposition leads me to do…to grow stronger and more resilient in the process.

    I am very grateful for the wise mentors who guided me to heal, from within. Having initially attended UCSF Medical School, with the intention of being a sports medicine physician, I had become frustrated with the medical paradigm of treating symptoms without addressing the root cause of imbalances in health. It felt to me like trying to stop cascades of water with a bucket downstream, instead of looking at where the water was coming from. My body became my laboratory, as I searched for the root causes of the musculoskeletal and neuroendocrine imbalances. I gradually shifted away from the western paradigm and began to learn that the body wants to be healthy and is its own best doctor. We must remove the blocks.
    As I shifted away from medications, NSAiDS, ice, low fat/high carb diet, and learned the importance of healing my body through nourishing food (bone north, healthy fats, gluten free), rest/recovery (high intensity interval training with ample rest periods replaced my 8 hour dancing days), and behavior (training myself to shift out of anxiety, high stressed states to a calm ability to navigate high stress, and complex interpersonal relationships), my health was transformed.
    Within a year I went from brain fog, daily aches and pains, and uncharacteristically low energy, feeling isolated, needing bilateral hip replacements and begin diagnosed with osteoporosis, to thriving again. I have rebuilt my body, cancelled surgery, and now enjoy cross fit, rock climbing, dance classes, swimming in the ocean, and playing with friends in the outdoors without pain. I am incredibly grateful. My energy has been restored and once again I greet the day with high levels of eager enthusiasm. I love teaching people to move with efficiency, power and grace, have a wonderful circle of friends and community I am excited to be with and contribute to every day. I seek to inspire and empower others to heal themselves through positive lifestyle changes and to trust that it is possible. The body, mind and spirit are incredibly powerful and resilient. Remove the blocks to health and allow the expression of one’s fullest potential.

    Health and wellness to all.

    Thank you for all you do.


  39. I know I belong here, one of my genes is one that is left over from 45,000 years ago-it didn’t evolve as did most other humans from Hunter Gatherer to Agricultural. But hey, sometimes its good to be caveman.

    Great post on getting unstuck. Full of insight and responsibility. I try and use this often, as I can get stuck frequently in both large and small areas of life.