You Unstuck - Introduction

Chapter 1—Stuck Happens

Everyone gets stuck. It’s part of being human. Maybe you’re stuck in your career, finances, health or relationships. Or maybe life dealt you a bad blow like a layoff or divorce. The real question is this: What are you going to do about it?

You Unstuck is designed to give you the hope and tools to get you past your sticking points. Hope because that’s the one thing you can’t afford to lose if you’re going to succeed in work and life. Tools because the process of life change is so thoroughly misunderstood, you may have been going at it all wrong. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be stuck right now, would you? It’s like trying to change a flat tire without a jack. The more you try, the more hopeless you feel and the more hopeless you feel, the more stuck you are. I want to help you change all that.

I know a lot about being stuck. I’ve been stuck in a family plagued by alcoholism and mental illness, in an overweight and out-of-shape body, in a marriage that wasn’t right for me, and in a corporate career where the stress nearly killed me. Through trial and error and sheer perseverance I changed every single aspect of my life so that today I’m fit and healthy, I’ve got two happy and productive kids, a terrific love life, and a business that feeds me emotionally and financially. It wasn’t easy to get unstuck and it didn’t happen overnight because I simply didn’t have the proper tools or guidance. But I had an abundant supply of hope that kept me moving forward. Now, I have road-tested tools that can unlock change and I want to share them with you.

First, let’s see if any of these describe you:

You know what changes you need to make but you’re not making them

You know what you want but you have no idea how to get there

When you think about change, you feel totally overwhelmed

Your life is basically good, but there’s one area that you keep avoiding

You are living other people’s ideas about who you are and ignoring your own

You are being held back by the same thing that held you back last year, five years ago, maybe your entire life

You’ve lost a job, a loved one, or a nest egg and it’s got you totally shut down

You’re willing to change everything about your life except the one thing you know will make the real difference

You’re embarrassed to tell one more person what you want to do with your life

No one wants to listen to you talk about what you want because they don’t believe you’ll ever change

You feel like you’re missing out on something and if you don’t go after it now, you may regret it forever

You’re scared to go after the one thing you really want, because if you don’t get it, what does that say about you

You’re afraid that if you fail, it means that you are a failure

You’re afraid if you succeed, no one will love you anymore

The truth is, you already know that all you need to do is change your behavior to change your life. If you’ve been laid off or you hate your job, you need to get your resume together and start interviewing. If you want to find a romantic partner, you join a singles group or an online dating service. If you’re overweight, you hire a trainer or start moving more and eating less. It’s all pretty straightforward. But if it’s so easy, why aren’t you doing it? And if you are doing it, why hasn’t it been working?

Because getting you unstuck is less about changing your behavior than it is about changing your beliefs. Sure, you’ve got to take action. Your body isn’t going to miraculously drop those 30 or 300 pounds all by itself, no matter what the latest diet guru tells you. Your dream job isn’t going to land in your lap unless you go out and find it. But if you don’t change your belief system as you’re changing your behavior, your results will probably be short-lived and possibly even counterproductive. That’s why 90 percent of dieters put all the weight they’ve lost back on within a year.

Throughout this book, you’ll see sidebars to help you isolate key tips, tools, and concepts. These include the Risk-Taker’s Tips, which are quick snapshots to help you expand your perspective on risk taking; Risk-Taker’s Tools, exercises designed to challenge your awareness and build your behavioral repertoire; and Risk Reinforcement, homework assignments for you to do at a later time to reinforce key concepts covered in each chapter.

You Unstuck will give you a philosophy and a process so you can finally change the beliefs that are keeping you stuck, which will change your behavior, which will change your life. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m so positive that if you faithfully follow this program and it doesn’t help you make significant life changes, you can contact me at and I will personally coach you. That’s how sure I am of getting you unstuck. Now, it’s your turn.


With most issues, accurately identifying the problem is the first step toward solving it. And that goes doubly for getting unstuck, since excuses and denial are often a big part of what’s holding you back. I’ll get into the slippery slope of excuse-making in greater detail in Chapter 3. For now, let’s look at the underlying methodology for getting unstuck—and virtually any other work/life challenge you may have—in my proven “Clarify, Simplify & Execute” process.

This method, CSE for short, is a simple problem-solving matrix into which you can plug any relevant data. The following story will give you an idea of how to use it, although I’m shortcutting the process here to give you the broad overview. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to dig deep as you work through the exercises. I strongly encourage you to put some time and energy into your answers and not just skim over the tools. In fact, I urge you to write out your responses, as putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is a powerful action for unlocking change. And after all, this isn’t your high school civics class, this is your life. From my decade of coaching and fifteen years of corporate management before that, I’ve observed that the folks who are willing to dig in and do the work, from basics to big picture, are the ones who ultimately succeed. Isn’t it time to be in that crowd?

The CSE model was invaluable when I coached a young woman named Amanda as part of a challenge for a women’s initiative within a large corporation. A group of participants was chosen from employees across the country based on the goals and milestones they wanted to achieve: losing weight, finding a romantic partner, overcoming shyness, succeeding in business and more. I was the coach for the group and I especially wanted to help Amanda meet her goal. She was sweet, thoughtful and disciplined, working at two jobs so she could help support her disabled mother. How could you not want her to succeed? But she had a tough hurdle ahead of her. Amanda was a smoker with a long-term habit that she desperately wanted to break.

Using the CSE process, I asked Amanda to first Clarify her vision of a smoke-free life. Wrapping your head around a clear vision is a critical starting point because that’s when you begin to see what you want as real and attainable. If it’s too abstract, distant or unrealistic, you won’t feel passionate enough to put in the work needed to reach it. Since smoking is a notoriously difficult addiction to break, this was definitely going to take work.

I suggested Amanda take a few deep breaths (even if you think that’s a cliché, you’ll see why it’s so important in Chapter 5), close her eyes and picture what her life as a non-smoker would look like. It didn’t take her long to paint a vivid image which included the following:

My hair and clothes will always smell good

My mom will be proud of me

I’ll be able to taste my food

My home will smell like flowers instead of smoke

I won’t be a slave to my habit, ducking out for smoke breaks

I’ll have so much energy and wind, I can work out again

I won’t be embarrassed in front of my friends or colleagues

I’ll feel strong and proud of myself

I can wear beautiful perfume again

Amanda’s vision was so clear that I could practically see, hear, feel, and smell the picture she was conjuring for me on the phone. Best of all, she could feel it and just speaking the words out loud, it was clear how much she wanted it. By focusing on the positive rather than the negative, she was envisioning all of the wonderful possibilities that were available to her instead of beating up on herself for being weak.

Next, I asked Amanda to Simplify the most direct route she could think of to becoming a non-smoker. This is where things began to get harder, which is another reason you need that wonderful vision to keep you motivated. Past failures, fears, and resistance kicked in as she admitted that nothing had ever really worked for very long. That was my cue to begin to challenge her beliefs, exactly what you’ll be learning to do for yourself throughout You Unstuck. I asked her to tell me all the different things she’d tried, what hadn’t worked and what had worked.

After she thought about it, Amanda realized that several things had worked temporarily, including support from friends and a drug prescribed by her physician. I asked why she was no longer relying on those two things, especially since they’d worked, at least on a limited basis. She said she had given up on seeking support from other people because every time she picked up the habit again, she felt like she was letting them down. Eventually, she was just so embarrassed that she couldn’t ask for help anymore.

I jumped on her limiting assumption that she couldn’t ask for help. You’ll hear more about limiting assumptions as we go forward. Those are the conclusions you come to without any evidence, logic, or objective data that can limit your ability to get unstuck. I asked Amanda if her assumption was really true. Could she back it up? Had her friends refused to help her? Had she worn out her welcome? Or was she making her own conclusion, writing the end to the story rather than actually experiencing it? If she had imagined the limiting assumption rather than it being real, perhaps there was an opportunity to ask again. To let her friends know that she was taking her challenge so seriously she’d gone public with videos and blogs about her struggle to stop smoking. Amanda reconsidered and said that her true friends would certainly help her, especially when they heard the lengths to which she was going to finally kick her habit.

I inquired about the second item on her list, the prescription she’d taken to help her stop smoking. She told me that she had tried the drug for a month and cut down her smoking significantly without any major side effects. But when it was time for her second doctor’s appointment when she could renew her prescription, she’d simply cancelled it. Why? Because she didn’t want to take drugs. Bingo. She’d based her entire conclusion on a major limiting assumption, which had kept her stuck in the smoking habit.

Amanda’s flawed logic was so obvious and yet she’d never really seen it. She had come to the conclusion that drugs are bad and therefore she shouldn’t take them. Never mind that the nicotine she’d been pumping into her system for years was far worse than the short-term medication her doctor wanted to prescribe and manage for her. She completely overlooked the damage that smoking was doing to her health and the quality of her life and instead focused on the evils of medication. If you’re shocked that Amanda was blind to her limiting assumption, just wait until you begin to challenge your own. You’ll see how common it is for us to come to a conclusion, convince ourselves it’s the right conclusion, then find all sorts of evidence to support that conclusion. It happens all the time. But now, Amanda had made a major shift in her beliefs, the first step to shifting behavior.

Although the Simplify portion of the CSE model may not sound all that simple, the goal is always to find the most direct route to reach your vision. That might include brainstorming, reviewing past failures and successes, eliminating obstacles, getting expert information, or doing some research on your own. Once you’ve got that clear vision and you’ve simplified the action path, then all you have to do is act.

Finally, Amanda and I discussed the Execute portion of the CSE plan. That is, the specific action steps she’d need to take and how she (or others) would hold her accountable to executing her plan, especially when the going got rough. Amanda’s first step would be to call her doctor, as she said, the minute we got off the phone. The next step was to solicit the support of several friends and co-workers she knew she could count on and who wouldn’t judge her by her past failures. By changing her beliefs about the possibilities and people available to help her realize her vision, Amanda changed her life. I am proud to report that she is now an energetic, food-tasting, Mom-pleasing, perfume-wearing non-smoker.

In a minute, you’re going to be mapping out your Clarify, Simplify & Execute blueprint. As we go deeper into You Unstuck, you’ll be learning other skills that you can layer on top of this foundation. You’ll see how easy it can be to overcome nearly any obstacle, solve any problem, or make any decision as you become adept at setting up the CSE model and then asking the right qualifying questions.


I’d be lying if I told you that getting unstuck didn’t take work. Amanda certainly didn’t stop smoking cold turkey. She continued to work with her doctor, get support from friends, as well as deal with a couple of relapses. But facing risk is often not nearly as difficult as most of us convince ourselves that it has to be. If people put half the energy into making changes that they do into excuse-making, I’d be out of a job.

Despite our intelligence, talent, and best intentions, many of us get stuck in self-made ruts and have no idea how to extricate ourselves. Some of you are probably still trying to convince yourself that you’re not really stuck. After all, you’ve got a good job, a great family, yet you know there’s something missing. You’re just experiencing a minor down period, a slight erosion of confidence, or maybe some vague stress symptoms. Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that “it’s not that bad,” or that you’ll be able to change your life when the kids are grown or you have more time or money. On the other hand, maybe you know all too well what it’s like to be stuck. You may be stuck in a dead-end job, an unhealthy lifestyle, a career for which you feel no passion, a financial mess, or a life without love. But why should you wait to live your vision of excellence? Why continue to sit on the sidelines and watch other people experiencing great joy, passion, and purpose? In other words, why stay stuck?

At its simplest, the answer is fear. More specifically, it’s the fear of taking risks, what I call Riskophobia. In coming chapters, we’ll be identifying Riskophobic tendencies specific to you and exploring methods for overcoming your fears of risk-taking. Almost everyone has the capacity for self-improvement. In fact, most people have a pretty good idea of what they want to improve by the time I come into contact with them. But they’ll do almost anything to avoid what they perceive as the nearly impossible task of facing fear, overcoming resistance, and trying new behaviors.

Often the hardest part is simply figuring out where to start. Most of us have bought into our limiting assumptions for so long that we’ve built a whole mythology to support our erroneous conclusions. So, let’s get assumptions and emotions out of the equation for a while by being as objective as possible about what’s actually working and what’s not working in your life. That will show us where to begin in getting you unstuck.


Success & Satisfaction Self-Assessment

Following is a self-assessment tool that I developed and have since used with thousands of people to help them determine success and satisfaction levels in ten key areas of work and life. By assigning scores to specific areas, you can begin to see where you’re least satisfied in your life and may want to focus first.

Below is an assessment grid that was completed by a sales manager named Jerry at a leadership conference where I was a presenter. His assessment gives you a good example of how a successful, albeit stuck, executive rated his life. As you tackle the test, don’t be surprised if some of your ratings are pretty low (that’s the stuck part), though most people find they have a mix of both high and low scores. You might even be pleasantly surprised to realize that you’ve got a lot more going for you than you thought.

Only once in all the years that I’ve used this and similar assessments, did anyone get a score of all 10s, that is, perfect in every area of life. Boy, you should have seen how quickly the crowd turned on that phony. If it hadn’t been a very polite group of financial services professionals, I might have had a mob scene on my hands!

O.K., let’s get started. Take a look at the grid with the ten boxes. Each box is labeled to represent a major area of your personal or professional life. Think about each section and, as objectively and honestly as you can, rate your satisfaction level in each area on a 1-10 scale, 1 being least satisfied, 10 being most satisfied. If a category isn’t especially meaningful to you, factor that into your score. For example, if you’re single and happy about it, there’s no need to give yourself a low rating on Significant Other. You’re not scoring yourself on whether or not you have a significant other, just if you’re satisfied with what you do have.

Next, write your rating for each category. After you’ve completed the grid, list each area and its corresponding score, ranking them from lowest to highest number. Assigning self-determined ratings can be very eye-opening because after you’ve given yourself a 2 out of a possible 10 on Health, it’s pretty hard to pretend that everything is O.K. with your self-care. Conversely, even though you may grouse about your over-involved parents and sibling, when you give Family a 9, it’s obvious that this part of your life is very satisfying for you.

As I mentioned, you’ll see Jerry’s scores and rankings below. If you want a blank copy of this assessment, just recreate it or download a PDF of this exercise from the Tools section of

Success & Satisfaction Self-Assessment

Career -2
Finances - 7.5
Health & Self-Care - 7
Relationships with Family - 6
Relationships with Friends - 8
Significant Other - 3
Purpose or Spirituality - 6
Personal Growth - 7
Recreation & Fun - 8
Home, Office, Living Space - 3

Career—worried about sales slowdown - 2
Significant Other—no time to date - 3
Living Space—need to finish my remodel - 3
Family—haven’t seen much of them lately - 6
Purpose—too focused on work to think big picture - 6
Personal Growth—could start reading more - 7
Health & Self-Care—I’m in pretty good shape - 7
Finances—pretty satisfied with where I am for now - 7.5
Fun & Recreation—enjoy sports & movies - 8
Relationships with Friends—have a great group of friends - 8

If you’re like most people, you probably have some areas of your life that are working quite well and other areas that need some attention, maybe even urgently. If you feel that the low ratings you gave yourself are indications of deeper problems than the need to get unstuck, you may want to consider some professional help. Ask yourself if you, or others, have noticed a change in your behavior. Have friends, family members or colleagues suggested that you see a doctor or therapist? If so, you may want to schedule some time to visit an internist, general practitioner, pastoral counselor or psychotherapist. Request that a trusted family member or friend make the appointment and possibly even accompany you for emotional support.

If you’re ready to tackle the You Unstuck process on your own—with me as your guide—this assessment will give you a great starting point. Take a look at the low ratings you gave yourself. Any surprises there? Were you shocked to see some 1’s and 2’s on your list, or maybe even a 0? Not to worry, that’s actually good news and here’s why—now you have a starting point. As you become adept at getting yourself unstuck in your first areas of focus, you’ll see how easy it is to transfer your newfound unsticking skills into different areas of your life. Keep in mind, it’s all about incremental stages, so if you gave yourself 3 on Finances because you’re carrying debt and not doing anything about it, you need to think of some steps that would take that 3 to a 4, not all the way to 10. That’ll come later but, for now, it’s one step at a time.

Like most self-assessors, Jerry had a mix of high and low numbered responses. His scores ranged from a 2 in Career at the bottom end of the scale to an 8 on Friendship at the top. His initial focus, and what prompted him to seek coaching was his work slowdown, but once he began to turn that around, he was able to add “Start Dating” and “Finish My House” to the list of things he wanted to accomplish. Although we often tend to think of our challenges as all-absorbing, that’s rarely the case. When you’re able to chunk it down—that is, break action steps into the tiniest imaginable pieces—you can tackle one baby step at a time. In Jerry’s case, that meant calling a woman he’d intended to ask out for a drink. Until now, he’d seen his desire to start dating as a huge goal, but suddenly he saw that it was one phone call, one date, and then he’d take it from there. It wasn’t as though he had to drop everything and figure out a strategy for meeting the woman of his dreams, settle down, get married, and have a family. It was just a cocktail date. He made the call, which immediately took his Significant Other score from 3 to 4. It was all much less pain and effort than he’d built up in his mind, as it will be for you. Just remember to chunk it down!

RISK REINFORCEMENT Once you’ve filled out your Success & Satisfaction Self-Assessment, zero in on the area of greatest urgency, which will probably be the one you’ve assigned the lowest score. Think of some steps you can take that would bring improvement in that area. “Chunk down” your ideas into the smallest possible components so that the steps you’re considering are easy, unintimidating and doable. Next, determine one action that you can take within the next 24 hours that will move your satisfaction level up at least one point. Now, go do it!


After he’d finished scoring his assessment, I asked Jerry to take a few minutes to describe the areas where his life was especially satisfying, like his relationships with friends, fitness and social activities. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to acknowledge what’s working in your life because a big part of getting unstuck is setting specific goals and recognizing when you reach them. Once you’re there, you need that moment of recognition to reinforce the change you’ve made. No matter how small, as success breeds success, taking risks and making changes will become a habit. Being mindful of your progress and conscious that it’s worthy of recognition are critical to keeping the unstuck momentum. Besides, doesn’t it feel great to celebrate your success?

More than just feeling good, however, maintaining a state of gratefulness has some side benefits that might surprise you. Throughout this book, I’ll be citing the work of some experts in the emerging field of “positive psychology,” which is now widely recognized as the scientific study of human wellness, happiness, and well-being. A departure from the traditional focus on negative life aspects, such as addiction, trauma, or depression, researchers in this field provide insight on how we can make our lives more purposeful and fulfilling.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, professor at the University of California at Davis and a pre-eminent positive psychologist, calls gratitude the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. In his book, Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Emmons states that, “Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.”

While that may not be news for philosophers, poets, or perhaps even you, scientists are relative latecomers to the thankfulness party. Better late than never, however. In the past few years, gratitude has become the subject of increased scientific study. As considerable as the emotional benefits of gratitude appear to be, there are initial reports that also demonstrate positive physical results. In a three-week sampling of adults with a neuromuscular disease, a gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of energy, elevated moods, increased feelings of connection to others, and better sleep duration and quality, when compared to a control group. What do you suppose that means for those of us not suffering from chronic illness? Perhaps we can reap health benefits from something as simple as a smile and a heartfelt thank you.

While all this is good news for us individually, social scientists involved in the study of gratitude aren’t stopping there. Instead, they’re starting to consider the positive ramifications that gratitude findings might have on society as a whole. While critics, cynics, and skeptics might poo-poo the notion entirely, imagine what it would be like to live in a society where feeling and expressing gratitude on a daily basis was part of our shared emotional lexicon.

So how can you begin to live a life of gratitude? Try the following tips. You’ll be grateful you did!

    Keep a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes each day to jot down some things for which you’re grateful. These might include family, health, sunshine, your pet, or just a good piece of fruit. Review and reflect upon your list regularly.

    Think grateful thoughts. Psychologists refer to your inner thoughts as “self talk.” This constant internal monologue can be an incredibly powerful influence on how you feel about yourself, other people, and the events of the day, so make sure you turn up the volume on grateful thinking.

    Be grateful for the negatives. It may sound counter-intuitive, but remember to give thanks for the lessons learned and insights gleaned from situations that turned out less than ideal.

    Put some visual reminders of things you’re grateful for in your line of vision. These could include placing a family photo on your desk, an award on your bookshelf, or a slogan that sums up your grateful attitude where it will catch your eye each day.

    Write a thank you letter to someone who affected your life. Thank an inspiring teacher, a beloved babysitter, or a treasured colleague or friend who did or said something that helped you, even in a small, subtle way.

    Forgive your enemies. While this may seem like a stretch, try to forgive those who’ve wronged you. Hanging onto anger and resentment can block feelings of gratefulness. Consciously shift your focus from bitterness to blessings.

Now that you’ve taken a snapshot of ten key areas of life and gotten a sense of where you may want to focus, let’s get started with envisioning your Clarify, Simplify & Execute model. Whether you have a clear sense of your life vision or no clue at all where you’re headed doesn’t really matter. Just start with the mental imagery, we’ll get into more specifics later.


Creating Your Clarify, Simplify & Execute Model

Start your journey just like Jerry did by completing the following exercise. You can either read through the exercise in small chunks and do a bit at a time or have someone read it to you. Get comfortable, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and let go of stress. Continue deep breathing until you feel relaxed and ready to begin.

Create a mental image of the life you want to live. Make sure you consider both the professional and personal aspects, including your work, home, family, relationships, spiritual life, and so on. Meditate on your vision until it takes shape and comes into focus in your mind’s eye. If negative thoughts arise (“Who do you think you are?” “What makes you think you can have all that?”) acknowledge and release them, without giving them too much energy.

Imagine all the “pathways” to reaching your goal. If it helps, see the pathways literally, as a road, train track, or street map connecting you to your vision. Consider specific actions you can take, feelings you want to hold foremost in your mind, and ways that other people can support you on your journey.

Next, focus on how you’ll maintain the mental energy and motivation to keep you moving toward your goal. Reflect on what’s worked to keep you motivated toward past successes, including keeping a journal, joining a “mastermind team,” or working with a coach.

After you’ve done the exercise above a couple of times, write down your initial CSE plan by filling in the following:

Clarify the Vision

My vision for my best possible personal and professional life includes:

Simplify the Mission

The most direct route to realizing my vision is:

Execute Your Plan

I will execute my plan by doing the following:

Practice the visioning exercise above for a few minutes a day, ideally when you wake up in the morning and/or as you’re drifting off to sleep. Allow your vision to become increasingly focused and clear. In Chapter 2, we’ll be looking at your brain and how you can begin releasing fears, doubts, and insecurities.

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