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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