4 TYPES OF STUCKNESS (part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this post we looked at the first two kinds of stuckness I often encounter in my Mental Chiropractic walks with people: subtle and acute.

As I described, being subtly stuck means you experience a faint but noticeable something—a tension, a contraction, a lack of mental flexibility or confidence in a particular area. Addressing a subtle ‘stuck point’ is a sign of low tolerance for misalignment: you could easily ignore it and be “fine”, except you know on some level that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that addressing that final 5% will make a non-linear difference in your performance and satisfaction.

Being acutely stuck is more serious business: something comes along that you can’t ignore, and you choose to address it head-on. But like a subtle stuck point, being acutely stuck means that the issue is somewhat fresh, as in recent or new— or at least newly recognized. In both cases, the act of noticing it leads more or less directly to you resolving to resolve it.

But that ain’t always the way, is it? We all can look in our lives and see places where stuck things STAY stuck. They persist, they take root, they fester. Sometimes they worsen over time; sometimes they fade into the background and become wallpaper we no longer notice… except every now and then we feel queasy or uneasy and think “Hm, I should really change that wallpaper.” And then we don’t. And then sometimes they explode in our faces.


Welcome to the second two ways of being stuck: chronic and urgent. These old guys are like Statler and Waldorf, those two permanently pissed-off Muppets who start every show by wondering aloud,

Why do we always come here?
I guess we’ll never know.
It’s like a kind of torture
To have to watch the show!

In both cases they represent something misaligned that’s been that way a while— the only difference being, one is screaming bloody murder at you while the other just grumbles in the background.

Let’s find out a bit about each of them and see if we can’t kick (or coax) them off of that balcony…


“Something’s got to give.”

“Something’s got to give.”

I was going to deal with this one last because it’s the most severe, but actually, come to think of it, it’s also by far the simplest. 

When something’s urgently stuck, there’s no getting around it, going over or under it, putting up with it, or putting off dealing with it. Things get real dramatic, real fast. This is when we can utter the phrase “something’s got to give” and really mean it.

On one of my first Mental Chiro walks, a client was dealing with an absolutely explosive end to a romantic relationship. The whole romance had been dramatic and eventful from the start—that’s part of what had been so alluring, even addictive, about it for him. The emotional volatility of the whole thing had gotten to the point where he was completely beside himself: urgently feeling like he needed to end things, but also deeply afraid to let go. Meanwhile his partner was reacting to his attempts to end it by doubling down on the intensity, trying to cajole or convince him into staying. When that didn’t work, the tactic became calling him names, accusing him of spiritual cowardice, showing up at his door uninvited, and even threats of reprisal.

With total compassion for his partner’s anxiety and distress, I told him that it was urgent that he end things conclusively. The relationship was clearly not aligned for him. And that misalignment, between what he was committed to in his life—peace, growth, space to reflect—and the constant co-dependent drama, was simply glaring. There was clearly no way to square the two: he had to choose. (I don’t often give “advice” in this sense, but honestly this was more me just being an advocate for the obvious.)

He did end things, and reported that immediately he experienced an influx of energy and insight, as well as mental space in which a lot of profound questions about his life’s purpose and direction could be faced. Part of what had kept the relationship in place for him, he realized, was that it was an effective distraction from having to deal with some of these deep, unfamiliar, and nerve-wracking questions. Better the devil you know, you know? 

Usually if something’s urgently stuck, it means it’s been chronically stuck a while (see below) and life is just turning up the heat, forcing the issue, making what was previously tolerable now absolutely a must-deal-with. This can be incredibly taxing, feeling like the worst-case scenario. It helps, however, if we also recognize that this code red is in some ways doing us a favor: first we actually get to deal with the thing that’s been cramping our style for a while, and then we get to deal with everything that it’s been distracting us from.

It also helps to realize that the flipside of an “emergency” is an “emergence, see?” Something new and better, or truer, might be trying to emerge out of this five-alarm 🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 clusterf**k.

Asking the question “What is this perfect for?” is a good way of keeping an eye out for these hidden blessings. That’s not positive thinking; it’s highly practical intelligence. And like I said, the fact that something now has to change might be a powerful blessing in itself.


Chronic stuckness (not to be confused with a different kind of sticky chronic) is the ugly wallpaper you’ve gotten used to hating. It’s the thing you tolerate, put up with, “power through”… except you’ve been powering through it for months or years now. And if we’re honest, the experience tends to be not all that powerful: grim determination at best, depleted resignation at worst.

It’s a big old ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, without the smile.

And the worst part? You might be so used to it that you no longer even notice it.

“It is what it is.”

“It is what it is.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that chronic stuckness is probably the most challenging of the four types. It’s both tenacious—it’s got a lot of staying power—and inherently tolerable: it’s the kind of thing that neither kills you nor makes you stronger, just more tired. The fact that it’s tolerable is actually a huge obstacle to dealing with it effectively. (Isn’t that ironic.)

There’s lots of reinforcement in our culture for tolerating being chronically stuck. Justificatory clichés abound:

  • “Yeah, but… what are you gonna do?” (I dunno, maybe… something about it?)

  • “I know I just need to accept the situation. I’m working on it.” (How’s that going for you?)

  • “It is what it is.” (This one’s my favorite, and I’ll say more about it below.)

These mantras are insidious precisely because they borrow the language of equanimity and acceptance—very powerful spiritual principles, when genuinely applied—in the service of staying exactly where we are. In the process, they conflate and confuse two very different activities: accepting something vs. tolerating something.

I’ll have to devote a future post to the distinction between the two, because it’s really really important and can be hard to see. For now I’ll just say that although they seem related, they are often, in fact, quite opposed to each other. Acceptance, when it’s real, doesn’t cost you anything; it leaves you free and clear and available to take action to change the situation, where appropriate. Toleration, on the other hand, basically guarantees that the situation will continue as is.

When we drill down under the surface of phrases like “It is what it is”, what we’re often really saying is:

“I’ve looked at this situation in all the ways I’m familiar with, and although they all pretty much suck, I’m pretty much resigned to things not changing. And possibly I’d rather not deal with what I’d find out if I tried to see it a different way.”

What’s extra sneaky about this is, we don’t see the ways we might be holding onto or re-upping our investment in what drains us. Like Statler and Waldorf, we keep asking ourselves the rhetorical question “why do we always come here?”, without any actual intention to put an end to the “torture” of having to “watch the show”.

What to do with a chronic stuck point? Simply put, you have to find a way to stop tolerating it. That doesn’t mean doing something rash to “get rid of it” or cut it out of your life immediately— often that’s simply not possible, not without doing a lot of damage, at least.

No longer tolerating something just means no longer normalizing it, treating it as a given. Bring it from the background to the foreground of your awareness. Put your conscious attention on the ways in which it’s misaligned with who you are and what you want your life to be about.

One place to start is in how you speak about it, even or especially to yourself: you might want to go on a verbal diet of sorts, for example, when it comes to pseudo-accepting (but actually denial-heavy) phrases like the ones above. Replace them with language that keeps it real. Instead of “I’m working on accepting it,” say “I’m starting to realize how long I’ve been tolerating this shit.” Instead of “It is what it is,” try on “It seems how it seems, and I’m now open to seeing it differently, since the way I’ve been seeing it leaves me chronically stuck.”

And then—and this is crucial!—take an action that interrupts the drift. Action is literally the only thing that makes an actual difference in human affairs. With chronically stuck places in our lives, it’s extra important to take action, since there’s a strong inertia at work there. If the idea of taking action is scary to you, consider that you’re already taking a very powerful and consequential action in that area, an action called “keeping things exactly as they are.” So it’s only a matter of taking a new sort of action, one that’s aligned with a new intention.

Fortunately, it only takes one good yank of the intentional steering wheel to begin to turn your vessel in a new direction. I’ve seen this over and over with clients: the minute they actually form a new intention, even if something’s been chronically stuck for years, their experience starts to shift powerfully. They begin to remember who they are and what matters most to them, and suddenly they feel alive and fluid where there’s been a dead, stuck feeling. (I’ll have a lot more to say about the power of intention in upcoming posts. Short version: Intention Is Powerful.)

Booking a walk with me would be one obvious example of a new action you could take, since interrupting the drift so people can get free and clear is my specialty. (Click these links to find out more about my Mental Chiropractic method, and the whole taking-a-walk thing.)

Know that you might have to deal with some feelings of shame or embarrassment, which can crop up when something’s been stuck for a long time. That’s fine; they’re welcome to the party, as long as they don’t trash the place. Really they’re just well-meaning but stupid friends, trying to protect you from the risk of actually doing something. Let them have their say, thank them for sharing, and then drop the needle on a whole new tune.

Whatever you choose to do, take my pals Mos/Yasin and Busta’s advice and… DO IT NOW.

PS: I made this chart summing up the 4 types of stuckness. Perhaps you’ll see one or more stuck points of your own on it…

Quadrants, yo!

Quadrants, yo!