Fed up with feeling stuck?

21 Jan 2023
Carrie Birmingham

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I work with clients who feel stuck personally, or who are involved in complex & messy problems.  Their experiences inspire me to keep writing in my blog posts about what I have experienced and learnt.

When things feel stuck we can feel lost, unable to see the “wood for the trees”.  When this happens some people “push through”, some put their head in the sand and others start doing something in the belief that doing something is better than nothing (guilty as charged!).  But what I consistently find is that it is actually our own habits about how we see problems that causes us to get stuck in the first place.

Do you only use a microscope?

One of those habits is the tendency to focus on the details of the situation – i.e. the individuals involved, the events, who said what and questioning motives.  Just like a  microscope, honing in on the precise details of who, how, what.

Especially when it comes to conflict, this microscope puts our attention on the immediate issue.  In turn this makes us more likely to blame others, take things personally or fight our corner, rather than understanding what it may be telling us about what is going on in the wider system.

“When we don’t see systems, we see individual personalities. Our explanations are personal, and our solutions are personal. Fix the individual.” Barry Oshry

By interrupting this microscope habit, we are able to get additional insight to the situation and deepen our understanding of what is really going on.  If we can look beyond these  details to a wider picture (relationship, team, organisation, industry), we can start to see what else is going on, what has been missing from view.  By consciously pausing to look at how things are allows us to find a more grounded and considered starting point and, hence, we start to unstick.

As an action orientated person, I have to practice holding myself back from getting busy doing something.  Once I give myself time to get a wide angle view, I realise I was starting the journey in the wrong place because I didn’t have a wider perspective.

Head, heart and gut

As we get more senior, the problems get more complex, and it’s difficult to really know what is going to really make a difference. So we have to rely on instinct and judgement.  When things are more complex it is usually because we are trying to influence something in a web of relationships, or in a wider system (i.e. think culture change). In fact everything we do is shaped by relationships and systemic forces.  To gain access to these systemic forces, means getting beyond what we ‘know’ (i.e. logical brain), and tuning into our sensing and intuition.  Often we sense things, but ‘dismiss them.’

We use mapping to unlock this deeper wisdom and this allows us to see greater options. Mapping helps access wisdom from our brains, hearts and our bodies.  In fact research shows that we have three brains: our “head” or cephalic brain, our heart (cardiac) and a gut (enteric) brain and mapping helps us access all three.

Our cephalic brain is great for thinking, cognitive perception and making meaning of things; at its best, it is the seat of creativity. Our heart brain is designed to take the lead on emotional processing, on values and on our connection with others; at its best, it is the source of passion and compassion. And our gut brain is designed to focus on our sense of self, on self-preservation and mobilisation; at its best, it is the root of courage. In western society, many people are disconnected from the wisdom of their heart and gut brains.


Mapping is a process of exploring what you are stuck with and then creating a literal map for yourself of the elements that are important.  You can do it alone with post it notes, with a coach and large bits of paper on the floor or even in a team with people bringing to life the elements you need to understand.

Working with a CEO client launching a new Standards Authority, we used mapping with her team to explore the multiple elements that they were trying to take care of (purpose, the potential users, potential investors, other standards bodies) simultaneously and were feeling the strain.  Their feedback was that it gave them helpful insight about where to prioritise and what was really important and how elements were connected (i.e. how shifting one thing would help something else).

So this might sound a little weird and that is OK!

So what?

As you read this blog, ask yourself:

  • Where do you feel stuck?
  • What habits in you are prompted when you feel stuck?
  • Where would you benefit from pausing to get extra insight about what is going on?

Curious then give us a call!