My friend, Kelly, was just lamenting about being
stuck. In fact, we hear this often from creatives or from people who feel they aren't making enough progress on their goals or their life lists. I think the idea of being stuck is wrapped up in a faulty metaphor that we buy into without even knowing it.
"Everyone in the modern West has taken up Freud’s vocabulary, even if they’ve never studied psychology. We ask, “what is driving me to do this?”—usually not realizing that the origin of this way of explaining things is the Viennese originator of psychoanalysis, who said that we had within us certain drives (for example, a sexual drive) that maneuver us around. We claim, with this question, that there are these forces within us, both known and unknown, that are having us take action (or in some cases refraining from taking it).
Yet no one has ever seen “a drive.” That’s okay because no one has ever seen “happiness” either. We grew up learning these words in a particular culture, and when we observe certain behaviors, including how people speak and describe their experience, we say that a “drive” or “happiness” is present. The trouble begins when we forget that these words are descriptors and are not pointing to freestanding phenomena such as a mountain, a river, or a tree."
~ James Flaherty
Why did Freud use the word drive?
Because the definition fit his theory - drive means "to push from
behind" as in a team of horses; as in a car. We are immersed in the
metphors of a car culture. We sing about life being a highway, we talk
about running out of gas and putting the pedal to the metal, we publish
amazing books on the importance of intrinsic motivation and erroneously
title them Drive. (yes, I'm looking at you, Dan Pink.) And this is why
we think we get stuck. We think there is some
unknowable force that needs to push us. Or that we need to push
Stuck is an extension of our metaphorical drive thinking, it implies a
linear process. Imagine a car stuck in the snow or mud - what do you
do? You spin your wheels, you try to force it out by pushing from
behind. You gun it, pressing down on the gas pedal as fast and as far
as you can.
There is power in the words we use - the way we talk can bring us
freedom and open us up, or it can close us down. To quote James Flaherty
again, "Please start to notice when you begin speaking in a way that
ties you up in knots, that leaves you with few options for action, that
leaves you estranged from others [or from yourself- L], that leaves you
distraught." I think that's what happens when we talk about being
I'm proposing an alternate metaphor to describe this state/process. In
sailing the term used when the wind dies down such that the boat stops
moving is becalmed. Becalmed. Be. Calmed. Whoa, how cool is that?
That's a world away from stuck. Completely different energy in that
And what do sailors do when their boat is becalmed? Well, first of
all they recognize that it's a partnership - the boat is not completely
under their control - it moves due to a partnership between the wind
and the sailor.They have techniques for
ensuring they can make the most of any light wind that comes up, for allowing themselves to be drawn, rather than driven.
1. Lighten the weight - the heavier the boat, the more drag. What's weighing you down?
2. Move towards the centre of the boat. How can you move closer to that which moves you?
3. Seek the ripples - little ripples on the water tell you where the slightest wind is. What is making your heart flutter?
4. Minimize unnecessary movements - they rob you of momentum. Rest.
5. Use the current. Where is the deeper flow that you can tap into? Create rituals and routines that can act as your current.
6. Keep all movements slow and steady - quick, jerky movements keep your boat from gliding. Small steps.
7. Remember that even on the calmest days, a slight breeze always comes up as the sun begins to go down. Don't panic.