How To Break Free From Being Stuck
- Posted by James Altucher
I felt “stuck” at a corporate job. I had a cubicle. I had the fluorescent lights. I had the guy in the cubicle next to mine who would make that signal with his finger and cheek whenever a girl walked by that he wanted a blowjob from. I had the boss that could make me cry. I played online chess all day long. I had the girls I had crushes on. I had the stuff I was doing on the side that nobody knew about. But I was stuck.
In the morning I couldn’t get out of bed. Light would shine in. 7am. 8am. 9am. “here’s some coffee”. 10am. Finally, I’d fall over onto the floor. Dog hairs. Cat hairs everywhere. Ugh. All over me. I walked to work past porn shops all over Times Square. I went in one. Another story. I was three hours late to work. Many days. I was S.T.U.C.K. I could figure out what that acronym means but you get it.
A lot of people get stuck. They don’t like where they are at. They don’t know how to move forward. They don’t know how to shake things up. I don’t know if this is true but one time a friend of mine told me (he got his PHd at the age of 15 so I believed everything he told me about science) that the way Bic makes lighters is by putting all the parts in a machine and then the machine shakes until the parts somehow all fit together into lighters and the lighters start falling out.
I don’t know if this is true. But I love the idea.
A lot of people are stuck. I know this because I get emails that start, “I’m stuck.” So how to get “unstuck”. Put all your parts in a machine. Start shaking.
Even when I was stuck I couldn’t accurately say I had specific complaints. I had an ok job, good boss, ok colleagues, easy responsibilities. Summers were easy when everyone took a vacation (and on that note: how bad are vacations? Much better when you get to sit around and do nothing than go off to Hawaii or Alaska, battle airplanes, hotels, “hiking” (ugh!), feeding kids, etc). So what was my problem?
Nothing was my problem. It’s ok to be stuck. Nobody will ever blame you for it. But you’ll get less and less happy. Then things start to happen that you didn’t intend, in order to get you unstuck. Maybe you have an affair to mix things up. Maybe you steal a little from the office. Maybe you start to cut corners at work because you’ve been there long enough you know you can let things slide. You start gossiping too much about the other people. You begin the arduous process of backstabbing to rise up in a world that will tease you into thinking that’s how you get unstuck.
But it isn’t. And being stuck has its consequences.
Here’s the ten step guide to being unstuck:
A) List your routine. Don’t leave a single detail out. When you are stuck it means you have a rigid routine that rarely changes. Here was part of my routine: Wake up, brush teeth, wait for cold subway, ride subway, get a donut and coffee, go to cubicle without anyone seeing me, log onto email, read stuff on the web, play a game of chess, make my list of things to do, start programming…flirt…gossip…kiss ass…..lunch….coffee break….chess break….dinner….shoot pool…, etc. I had about 50 things on my “Routine List”. Put 60 if you can.
B) Change one thing: in the routine. The idea is to only change one thing at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. One thing. And don’t do the exact opposite. Just avoid the item in the routine you want to change. Maybe, don’t go straight to work. Go to the library. Or wake up one hour early and read a book. Or jog around the block even if you have never jogged before. Or don’t read your emails this morning. Or completely stop gossiping. Or sit with different people at lunch. Over time, how many things on your routine list can you change? Half? All of it? Make it a daily challenge. Break your record. Break my record.
C) Instead of writing a things-to-do list, write a “things I did list” at the end of the day. In fact, start to reverse your routine. Read emails at the end of the day. Have dinner for breakfast. Breafast for dinner.
D) Find one thing you were passionate about as a kid: spend an hour researching what has happened since. For instance, I was passionate about Jacques Cousteau for about a month as a kid. What ever happened to that guy? I couldn’t tell you right now if he was dead or alive or buried in some sex scandal. He put out a bunch of books about what goes on underwater. What’s happened since? Why do this? You were a kid for 18 years. There were probably many things that you were passionate about. Even if it was as silly as some cartoon show. Each thing you find out about is something new you learn now. And you might find things you are still passionate about.
E) Network: Every day find one person to reach out to and stay in touch with. An old high school friend. A guy you randomly spoke to on the subway. The guy on the elevator. Go out to lunch with this person. Learn about his life. Interview him. You need to find out what other routines are like. Maybe someone will give you an idea you haven’t thought of. We are all very very afraid to break out of our routines. I am also. I recently agreed to do a media appearance simply because I was afraid if I said “no” then the people there would not like me. Claudia begged me not to do it. I did it anyway. She was right. I was afraid to break out of my routine. But networking that day would’ve probably put me more in touch with people who liked me than doing that media appearance did. Again, return the email from 2005 that you never returned. Write a letter to your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss and tell him what you really think about the company’s strategy in Kansas.
F) Create. I can tell by the emails I get that most people would rather create something than be a part of the robotic routine. How can you create if you have no time or if you have never done it before? Simple! Don’t worry about either of those things. On the subway write a 4 line poem. Buy a set of watercolors in the drug store and finger paint for ten minutes before you go to sleep. Don’t write a things to do list or a things you did list. Write a “things I wish I did today” list. Make up stuff for that list. I wish a UFO picked me up, took me to Andromeda, and then took me home for dinner. Its your wish list for the day that just happened. It’s all over. So you can wish for anything. It didn’t happen. You are making stuff up. You’re creating.
Here’s another thing: follow someone. I love doing this! Pick a random person and just follow them for fifteen minutes. You’re an evil spy! Then you can see their routine. Make sure they don’t see you follow them. (See, “Nine Ways to Light Your Creativity On Fire”).
G) Daily Practice. I’m a broken record already. Here’s why the Daily Practice I recommend works: (note: what this is my personal belief about how the world and universe is set up. You don’t have to believe it. But I know it works for me). I firmly believe we have four bodies and most of the time we are neglecting at least 2 or 3 of them if not all 4. If you neglect your physical body, you start to have stomach disorders, you get sick more frequently, you eventually die younger or at least have a painful, unpleasant life. Guess what!? The same thing happens if you neglect your emotional body. Or mental body. Or spiritual body.
And it’s even bigger than that. In your physical body (in all 4) there’s blood that hooks everything up. If the blood is not working, oxygen is not getting to the different parts of your body. You might have to breathe faster then, or you might breathe irregularly, or worse: if oxygen doesn’t get to the heart or the brain then you have a heart attack or stroke. If oxygen doesn’t get properly to your cells you get cancer. The same thing happens in all four bodies. BUT, it’s not only that: there’s a blood that connects up each body. If they aren’t all in sync then that blood flow starts to break down.
I know people don’t care about all four bodies. They say to me, “I love the idea muscle idea”. Or, “I like your thoughts but don’t really think much about spirituality.” If ALL FOUR BODIES are not in harmony with each other then they being to break down. Then they start letting crappy people into their lives. Or they start being unable to execute on good ideas. Or they get sick. Whatever. Many people don’t like some words. Like “spiritual”. Call it something else then.
And don’t believe me at all on this. I’m making it all up after all. But I know, for me, this is what works. I can’t break out of a routine, any routine, unless I am following this advice. So I know it works for me. And I know it works for the people who read that blog post a year ago because I get their emails. I’ve gotten well over 1000 emails on how people’s lives have changed. I’m not saying this because I am trying to sell you anything. I’m not selling anything at all. In fact, better for me to “succeed” if less people follow my advice. But whatever, it works for me.
H) Buy ALL My Books. Haha. I’m just kidding. I just told you I’m not selling anything. But, seriously, buy my last book.
I) What Are You Afraid Of? Sometimes a “routine” is a person. I wake up..did she write me?…its 11am…has she called?…did she say she loved me yesterday?…how come she didn’t make plans yet for this weekend with me…she said she would be here at 7 but she hasn’t even called and its 8…etc. Maybe this routine is particular to me. But ask: why might I have a routine like that (in the past). List your reasons: fear of being alone. A parent telling me I was disgusting when I was youger. Experiences of other women cheating if its 8 and they said 7.
Fear that I will “never meet someone like her again” (a statement which is always said but never true). Sexual obsession. Love addiction. On an on. You break the routine by being aware of the fears: I’ll never get a job this good again. I’ll fail as an entrepreneur. I’ll run out of money and have to move. I don’t know any rich people to help me. On and on. There’s excuse after excuse of why you shouldn’t break your routine.
List all of those excuses. Think about them. Think of the opposite (“well, I’ve always met a girl within six months after a big breakup so I will probably meet one again” or, “I haven’t lived in a homeless shelter yet so odds are I won’t this time.”
But I can’t change them!? You might say. “I really want this girl!” Or..”I really might go broke!” That’s ok. Think them.
Here’s how you wither them away, like the water against a rock metaphor:
- i. become aware of the excuses.
- ii. figure out why they exist. What part of your psychological timeline do they come from.
- iii. where in your body do you feel pain when you think of them. Just think about that.
- iv. What’s the reverse of that fear. I really had to say to myself, “I will meet a woman I will fall in love with if I leave this girl”. I had to say it over and over. If I didn’t say it, I never would’ve left the girl. I never would’ve met the right girl. If you don’t say it, you won’t believe it. I had to say, “if I start a company I won’t go broke.”
- v. Visualize now what you just said in part “iv”. Lie down. Put your hands by your side. Take ten deep breaths. And really visualize the situation. You will meet the girl. Your business will be a success.
You might say, “that’s sort of new agey”. Ok. Don’t do it then. All I’m saying is: this is how I broke my routines. All of them. Every time. Even micro-routines.
Then repeat from “i” tomorrow.
I said ten things but I gave nine. I broke my routine of doing “Ten ways to do X”. But that’s ok. Oh wait, here’s Letter “J”) Read this post again tomorrow.
I eventually climbed out of bed and told my boss I quit. He said, “can you please wait until I get back from vacation in 3 weeks.” But I said no and sent in my resignation. I eventually stopped calling back “the girl” when it was clear she didn’t like me. I eventually stopped gossiping about the people who clearly hated me. I never ended up in a homeless shelter despite repeated attempts for the universe to put me there.
Waking up at 7 am, lying there until 10am. The sunlight coming in and filling the room when everyone was busy doing their routine and I was too afraid to move. Sometimes I’m still too afraid to move. But sometimes the good thing about too much sunlight is that eventually it leads to an entirely new day.
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