What To Do When You’re Stuck

Too many thoughts clanging around in your head? Try these tips to question the mind. (Photo by Shaouraav Shreshtah at Unsplash.com)

This month, I’d like to share a technique that can be helpful when you’re in a difficult situation and getting stuck trying to figure out what to do. As our minds try to deal with a troublesome problem, certain patterns of thinking may emerge that might appear to be helpful but are actually keeping us stuck.

The Mind’s Job

Before we address the mechanics of this situation, let’s look at some very basic ideas about the mind. One of the primary functions of the mind is to make meaning. It’s like an assistant who provides us with information and interpretations about the world around us in order to keep us safe.

However, when the mind doesn’t know how to solve a problem for us, it may feel threatened and become defensive. It may feel that if it doesn’t have the answer, it’ll be out of a job. And the mind feels that it must keep its job at all costs so it can continue to protect us.

This is where the problematic cycle begins. In order to maintain its position, the mind tells us two important things that keep us too distracted to “fire” it. First it tells us, “You need to figure this out!” And then it says, “There is something very wrong with you.”

These two thoughts keep us spinning—looking through our mind for an answer we cannot find and feeling bad about ourselves.

Many of us find ourselves in this painful and fruitless state over and over again. We struggle to understand something that we don’t have the answer to and then relentlessly beat ourselves up. Sometimes the self-criticism becomes so habitual that we don’t even notice it. We may say to ourselves, “What’s wrong with you? You should know the answer!” and most of the time we never even question these thoughts.

However, there is a technique that can be used to question the mind and allow it to settle down, allowing for ease and relaxation.

Question Your Thoughts

Here’s how it works. When you notice you’re trying to figure something out and beating yourself up for not knowing the answer, stop and notice the pattern. Ask yourself if this process is helping you. If you notice it is not, you can use a simple technique of asking yourself questions in a specific way to let go of the disturbing feelings and stop the pattern.

Ask yourself questions like, “Does my mind have the answer to this problem?” “Would I be willing to let go of trying to figure it out?” “Would I be willing to let go of trying to control this situation?”

Next, ask similar questions about disapproving of yourself. “Am I disapproving of myself?” “Would I be willing to let go of disapproving of myself?” “Can I let go of beating myself up?”

One interesting thing about this technique is that these questions are meant to be hypothetical. Allow yourself to respond with whatever answer comes up. Either a “yes” or “no” response is okay. It’s the act of asking and responding that helps the mind let go, not a direct act of will. The question is not a command to let go, it is simply a gentle inquiry.

If you ask in this way, you may notice a feeling of relaxation. Whether it’s small shift or a large release, this response shows you’re on the right track. Notice the relaxation and continue asking these questions. Letting go is a natural ability we all have—it simply needs to be practiced.

The detailed technique of letting go of these types of beliefs and feelings was taught by a man named Lester Levenson, who started sharing it in the 1950s as a way of improving health and well-being. Two of his students organized his insights into two schools of thought, the Release Technique and the Sedona Method.

You can find lots of good information about them online, including on my website DavidSeagullTherapy.com in the Resources section.

David Seagull, LISW, is a therapist in Fairfield. See DavidSeagullTherapy.com.