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In talking with several business owners over the past two weeks, I’m noticing a pattern of thought that made me curious.

image of a woman who is stuckYou see, in each of these conversations, the main focus was around feeling confused, overwhelmed, and stuck about what to do to build their business. This seemed to break down into two problems- the first, not knowing how to choose what to do (the paralysis that comes from too many options- what you can call the paradox of choice)- the second, not knowing in what order to do whatever they eventually chose.

So, really, the confusion was a combination of how they were thinking, and the lack of action around their thinking. It’s always both- confusion only comes when both our minds and our bodies are stuck.

If we can get one moving again, it often helps the other- this is one reason, I think, why physical activity can help shift your perspective.

The three types of thinking that keep you stuck are:

1) Fear that you’re missing out

2) All or nothing thinking

3) Believing you need to know the whole path before you take the first step

Let’s look at each of these in more detail:

Fear that you’re missing out

Fear is a big factor in creating paralysis. Fear whispers to us in low undertones, coloring what we focus on, how we think about it, and what we do. One of the most common types of fear I hear about is “fear of missing out”- which translates itself in several ways. One notable way is that it shows up as information hoarding- where we keep collecting and reading and saving information, trying to think our way to a good solution but, because we have no real life data, we never do. Fear can keep us stuck in this constant cycle of “what about this? or this? or maybe that?”- and if you’ve ever gotten stuck in one of these mental loops (and I know I have!) – you know that this takes you nowhere, fast.

All or nothing thinking

All or nothing thinking, as it sounds, is a pattern of thinking where we believe we have to do it all or do nothing at all. You might be familiar with this in the realm of dieting or weight loss- “Oh, I blew my food goals- let me just eat whatever I want from now on.” or “I only have time for 15 minutes of exercise, that doesn’t really count.” In all or nothing thinking, we operate on the extremes of our chosen behavior. Either we overdo, or because we can’t overdo, we do nothing at all. It shows up in business when you can’t select smaller activities to do, so you don’t do anything. For example, because you can’t finish a blog post in one sitting, you don’t even start. This type of thinking has its roots in perfectionism, and perfectionism often leads to procrastination.

Believing you need to know the whole path before you begin

I think of this one as the place were “fear that you’re missing out” meets “all or nothing”. In this third type of stuck thinking, you believe you need to know exactly how everything is going to go before you begin. You create elaborate flowcharts, diagrams, and “if-then” contingency plans, all of which, again, take a lot of mental energy without creating physical result. At the end, you feel exhausted and perhaps even more stuck than when you began.

The truth is, we all experience these kinds of thinking patterns at least now and then. For me, they tend to show up more when I’m tired or haven’t played enough. In these times, I can actually feel my thinking getting more narrow, and I become, as I describe it, “squinchy”.

Let’s say that you’ve noticed you get stuck in one or more of these patterns of thinking.

How do you shift out of them?

Here are three ways that reliably work for me:

1) Do something physical  – go for a walk, wash dishes, dance around- anything that gets your body moving will work

2) Take a nap – in my case, I usually think this way when I’m tired anyway, so a nap helps at the level of both symptom and cure

3) Do something crafty or artistic- it’s difficult to stay narrow in your thinking when you are engaging other parts of your brain. I immerse myself in bead weaving or mosaic making and that helps a lot.

If you find yourself getting stuck in thought loops which take you nowhere, your first step is to observe them happening, and your second step is to do something to break them.

The neuroscience literature shows that our neurons wire in patterns of how we usually think- so we need to do all we can to keep stuck thinking at a minimum lest it become a physiological habit.

So stop working on questions that have no answers. Become more comfortable with trusting that what you need will come to you, that even small actions make a difference, and build your tolerance for thoughtful risk taking – so you can make moves, even if you don’t know where you will end up.

No more stinkin’ thinkin’.