Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Your Mind is Stuck ....

.... and you can't move forward or backward, what do you do?

I was reading a chapter of Devotional Classics the other day that seemed to profoundly capture the essence of the challenge that many people today seem mired in.

That challenge is:

I don't like who / where I am and I know I need to change but I seem unable to change my life.

I'd like to share an excerpt from that chapter in Devotional Classics, with the hope that it will encourage you to get "unstuck" from that which has ensnared you in your life.  The book is also highly recommended for those of you on a spiritual or philosophical journey.

The chapter summarizes St. Augustine's autobiography entitled Confessions.  St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430 AD and often struggled with the reasons why he was prevented from improving his lot in life, despite his acknowledgement that his life was stuck in a place that was totally unacceptable to him and he knew he should be capable of better.

The key points of the summary are worth reviewing from our own perspective of how well our lives are executed and how happy we are with the result.  How many of the following thoughts resonate with you?

1. Why is my mind a house divided?

When the mind commands a body part to move, accepting that the body is healthy, the body part moves.  Why then, is the will not honored when the brain chooses to take a particular action to produce a different result in Life? 

Since they should be one and the same (the mind and the will), one would think that moving a body part or changing an action or habit could be done with equal ease.

However, the fact that they are not equal in execution suggests that the mind's command of the will is not as deeply rooted as the command of the body and thus the will is not totally "bought in".  Why is this the case?

2. My mind is weighed down by habit

We are weighed down by so many bad habits and the "luggage of life" that it is easier to fall back on old, bad habits rather than do what we are trying to will ourselves to do.  If we were truly totally committed, we wouldn't need to be willing ourselves in the first place (since we would already be in a place of power).  Why is it so difficult to change bad habits?

3. I am torn by conflicting wills

We are torn between:

  • that which is easy or hard
  • that which is fun or challenging
  • that which is quick to provide results versus needing time to manifest
  • that which satisfies us versus that which pleases others or
  • that which produces something that satisfies the senses now versus something that bears fruit later. 

We often choose the easy, fast, more fun or more immediately satisfying choice, thus missing the opportunity for true life transformation.  What is the impact of such inner conflict?

4. The full force of my will never comes to bear

We struggle to make change in our lives because our mind is only "half in it", even though we claim or believe that we are totally committed to success.  While we know that we need to make particular choices in our life, we do not because of the previously noted points.  If the brain is divided because of habits or it is torn between immediate versus long term results, then the brain is not fully available and committed to transformation, providing minimal opportunity for such transformation to take place.  A half-engaged brain can take us very close to success but then what happens?

5. I am teetering on the cusp of success

Many times we hear of people who sabotaged themselves on the cusp of success.  It was because they finally brought themselves to a place of potential success but they could not bear to make the final decisions or take the final actions necessary to seal the transformational process.  Since the will was never fully engaged, the engaged part carried them close to the "goal line of victory" but the disengaged part of the brain eventually caught up and tackled the engaged portion to the ground.  This leaves people in a sense of limbo - they've come too far to go back but previous fears and habits are preventing them from getting up and pushing forward.  How did the old habits catch up and derail us from transformation?

6. I have too much brain chatter resulting in indecision

We've all heard of analysis paralysis, the need to overanalyze something (or everything for some people).  Many times people get into this mode because they fear making a decision (probably because they fear failure, fear what others think, etc).  See my blog entry here regarding why people are afraid to make decisions.

However, failing to choose will almost assuredly result in failure anyway.  The voices in our mind that tell us to dwell on the poor results of the past or the failure that will result in your future need to be stilled.  We need to encourage the voices of success to loudly trumpet the great results we are capable of.  If the voice of success, optimism and transformation are not encouraged, where will this leave you?

7. I am so close I can almost taste it, but ....

Similar to teetering on the cusp of success, victory is almost in your grasp.  However, there are voices inside your head, chastising you for taking so long to reach this point or telling you not to bother because failure is inevitable.  You know you should push through to the end but you cannot for some reason.  The weight of the journey has tired you but the weight of potential failure is crushing you.  Many people who fail, fail at this point.  However, given that you are this close to success, you have only one real question remaining.

8. What am I waiting for?

This led to St. Augustine's great question (great in my opinion):

Why not now?

How often do we keep saying some variation of:

  • "next week I will definitely do this"
  • "tomorrow is a brand new day, I will do better"
  • "I'll start with a clean slate and try again"
  • "just one more self improvement book and I am all set to go - things will be difference after book #150".   :-)

All of these excuses add up to the same thing:

Another opportunity for transformation has passed me by.


He / she stole my idea - I could have done that


I should have taken it when I had the chance - now I have regret that I didn't.

The authors of Devotional Classics suggest a great exercise that while simple, has the opportunity to be profound if repeated in frequency and scale.  I have revised the exercise as follows.

Resolve this week to bring one bad habit to an end.  By the end of the week, take steps to overcome one bad habit (no matter how small).

In addition, identify one good habit that would be powerful for you to have in your arsenal and begin executing this good habit when opportunity permits.

I would add to this, recalling something that Rick Warren once said.

It takes approximately 42 days for a habit to become programmed or unprogrammed in the brain so that it becomes second nature.

So once you have started to overcome a bad habit or program a good habit, be aware that for a while, such actions will feel foreign or may take some effort.

Do not become discouraged.  It will take time for bad habits to disappear and good habits to become entrenched in your psyche.  This is an investment in your life.  Given that you have 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60+ years of life remaining, spending this time reprogramming yourself is worth the effort.

Give this a try, starting small and being gentle and forgiving with yourself if you slip and fall into old practices.  With time and diligence, you will start manifesting a life of greater purpose.

Five books I recommend to help you with this process (of the many I could recommend) are:

Success Built to Last by Stewary Emory et al.

Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham

Know Can Do by Ken Blanchard

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Goals! How to Get Everything .... by Brian Tracy

The truth is that there are a LOT of great books out there.  However, the more time you spend reading "just one more book", the  more you realize you are justifying not making the decisions that can profoundly impact your life in a positive way.

You are a living miracle - live up to the obligation this brings.

Yours in service and servanthood.



  1. I've heard a good metaphor for the phenomenon you described in a few points on your list. Your mind is like a thermostat, where the temperature you set it to (usually a comforable 72 degrees) is your comfort zone. Every time you step away from that 72 degrees, it wants to pull you back. Back to what is safe and what it's used to. When you carry out actions that are outside what you normally do, it will do everything it can to pull you back to what resonates with your current programming (limiting beliefs, values, etc. that serve that bad habit).

    Breaking free of this pull is perhaps one of the toughest things to do. You must acknowledge the programming that is pulling you back, and re-adjust your programming to something that serves you (much easier said than done). As you suggested, you can start small, but the most important thing is to just start. The more often you step away from that 72 degrees, the weaker the thermostat's pull will become.

    This is something I by no means have mastered, but every day I try to be "comfortable with being uncomfortable."

    Thanks again for another great post, Harry!

  2. Hey Julie,

    Thank you for the kind comment! I really love your analogy to a thermostat. It is a powerful example that people can understand.

    I think we all struggle from time to time with the notion of trying to be better. Like anything else, it takes constant work and diligence.

    Take care and thank you for being you!

    Create a great day!


  3. Dear Harry,

    I happened on your blog post about Augustine and the stuck mind. Very interesting. I also noted that you referenced Marcus Buckingham's strengths development work. Since you are interested in Marcus' work, I thought you might also be interested in the work of Jenifer Fox. While it may not touch your professional practice, it may have personal resonance.

    Jenifer is a lifelong educator. In 2007, she wrote Your Child's Strengths, (Viking 2008) with an introduction by Marcus Buckingham. Right after finishing it, she traveled with Marcus on his Go Put Your Strengths to Work Tour to show the results a strengths approach can yield in a high school setting. Jeniferʼs book describes how to get children involved in strengths discovery from an early age, not just high school. It both describes why this is important with great stories from schools, but also provides practical tools to get started. I think it is worth mentioning to someone like you because it helps parent and teachers help kids discover their strengths before they get into the workplace and find themselves in jobs which don't energize them.

    Since publication, Jenifer has been traveling the country and spreading her message to schools businesses and various organizations interested in strengths. I am reaching out to you because most adults interested in developing their own strengths either have or know children who are also interested.

    I hope you will take a look at this important book. If you would consider talking about it on your website or think it might be something you could recommend as part of your practice, I would be happy to send you a copy. Let me know.

    Thanks and good luck with your work.

    Nick Siewert

    For Jenifer Fox, Inc.
    Strong Kids, Strong Future

  4. Dear Nick,

    Thank you so much for your comments and your dedication to young people.

    When I read your comment, I had to reach out to connect with you and I am so glad that I did.

    I was aware of Jenifer's work through some previous projects I worked on and find it serendipitous to be reminded of her great work again.

    I look forward to collaborating with you moving forward, to help instill a sense of strengths-alignment in our children. I think the future of our world depends on us getting it right for them.

    Take care and create a great day!