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What kind of stuck are you?

Updated: May 23

I got a little gift today. It didn't come in the mail, in an email or in a bright shiny package. It came in the form of an uninteresting, innocuous conversation with my son, Nathan. Eventually, it then came in the form of a smile...actually, a look of delight and pride. Boom. It's only 10:00 in the morning and my day is complete!


We have some forest behind our house, with a little trail through it. It's short - 0.15 km, to be exact. We intended it for bike riding, but we walk it a lot more often. A month ago, I started walking 3 loops of this trail each morning for some solitude (my version of isolation did not deliver solitude, it delivered chaos). For two weeks I walked the trail on my own, and then it happened.


"Mom, I want to walk with you."


My first thought was not very welcoming: "Sigh. Of course you do. I'm finally getting some space to think..." Would it have been fine to say no? Of course. I know it's important to make time to think and reflect. I know solitude is important.


Except. Except I decided a long time ago that I wanted to live an arms-wide-open kind of life. I want to embrace what comes...embrace who comes...and stop always trying to do things "my way." So. I replaced that thought with the words "Okay, Nathan let's go," doing my very best to sound sincere.


My morning solitude turned into regular morning chit-chat. It's mostly a 10-year-old meandering conversation about the dog, school schedules or breakfast (plus snacks, lunch and dinner). It's during today's morning chit-chat that my gift arrives. Nathan tells me he is stuck on something. Specifically, Nathan is stuck on multiplying whole numbers by fractions in his progressive math program. He hadn't done much in over a week because he's frustrated at having "tried it all."


When 9:00 comes, I sit down beside Nate as he re-starts his fractions. The first question comes up and we start talking it through...or rather, I do. Three words in, he spits out the answer. Next question, next question, next question. With 6 out of 7 questions right, that smile fills his face and the look of delight and pride is enough to make my day complete. Boom. 10:00.

And what I've come to realize, is that Nathan wasn't stuck on the math. Nathan wasn't stuck on how to get to the right answer. As soon as we got started, he found the right answer. Nathan wasn't "Smart-stuck." He wasn't stuck on the knowledge part. But he was stuck nonetheless - he wasn't moving forward. For Nathan, there was more one way to get stuck, and I think that's true for all of us. We all get stuck all the time - stuck on a creative project, stuck on a wicked problem, stuck on a personal goal. I've realized Smart-stuck is neither the most common stuck, nor the most difficult to overcome.


I think there are four types of stuck:


Smart-stuck: lacking the knowledge or information we need to move forward

Mindset-stuck: lacking the belief in our ability to move forward

Motivation-stuck: lacking a compelling reason to move forward

Bored-stuck: lacking the interest to move forward (we've been working the problem for so long)


Nathan was mindset stuck and bored stuck. After working the same problem set for so long, he had started to believe he couldn't do it (Mindset stuck), and he'd become uninterested in the same old content day-after-day. He'd become bored by his own lack of progress (Bored stuck). And you know what I realized? I've been stuck in the very same way A LOT more often than I've been Smart stuck.


My friend Gwen recently got me unstuck. I didn't even realize I was stuck until after she came along and said "What if we worked on this together?" I wasn't sure I wanted to at first...I wasn't initially convinced I wanted my friend's help....but I said yes out of pure curiosity (I'm really glad I did!). I didn't ask for help with my bored stuck and Nathan didn't ask for help with his. I think we're great at asking for help when we're Smart-stuck. Not so much with the other three.

So what kind of stuck are you?


Smart stuck is the easy one to spot...and (I'm speculating here) it is also the least common form of stuck. Knowing what to do is usually not our biggest problem. It is usually not our employees' biggest problem. It is usually not our child's biggest problem. Mindset stuck (the story we're telling ourselves about what we're capable of), Motivation stuck (lacking a compelling reason as to why we should do it) or Bored stuck (working the problem for so long that we've grown tired of the work) are a lot more subtle and a lot more troublesome as a result. If I had realized I was bored stuck, I might have sought help sooner. Or at least I would have recognized the right kind of help more quickly when it came along.


And what kind of stuck are your people?


As a Manager (or a leader of any kind, in any position), one part of your very important work is to keep the people around you moving forward. Do you know what kind of stuck your people are? Do they know what kind of stuck they are? Because each stuck needs a different solution.


  • If they are Smart-stuck, they genuinely need your knowledge and information (or someone else's). Be warned though; all your smarts in the world will get you no-where if they are Mindset stuck.


  • In Mindset-stuck, they need your encouragement. They need you to be their mirror, reflecting back all they are capable of, all they have accomplished in the past. But...this will get you no-where if they are Motivation stuck.


  • In Motivation stuck, they need you to remind them "why." You need to do some vision work, painting a picture of what's waiting for them (or those they care about) when they get unstuck.


  • In Bored stuck, they need you to breathe new life into their problem again. They need you to ask them questions and get their creative juices flowing. They need you to help them look at their problem in a new way.


What does their situation require of you?


We all get stuck, and this is a good thing. In our stuck state we have opportunities to learn, to challenge our mindsets, to remember what's at stake (or why...) and to inject a little fun and creativity into our work.


Being stuck is good - it opens up potential. Staying stuck prevents us from reaching that potential.


So what about you?


Can I help you get unstuck today? I'd love to be your Gwen...


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