Creative release: 5 things to try when you when can’t step away from your problem

Illustrator Marc Johns likes to go for a walk or do dishes to relax his mind, but when that’s not possible and he needs to push through a creative block, he tries one of five things:

1. Instead of coming up with one solution, come up with 20.

2. Shorten your deadline to 10 minutes from now.

3. Put away all digital devices.

4. Use different materials, like chalk, crayon, paper and pen.

5. Pretend you are a pastry chef or a pilot or a hot dog vendor (you get the idea). How do these people look at the world?

Source: Breakthrough! 90 proven strategies to overcome creative block & spark your imagination, Alex Cornell, editor.

#creativity #by the Unstuck Team


The secret to work-life balance


My husband, Jesse, has been 263 miles away since Monday. (Again.) I threw together an improvised childcare plan — involving two paid babysitters, some kind-hearted neighbors, and an indispensible Granny — so I could pull extra hours at the office while my boss was out of town. When I got home, I put the kids to bed with a stern message to win the going-to-bed-game so I could teach a few online writing courses. Later, I packed (okay, made a packing list) for vacation — which officially begins as soon as I finish writing this.

Did I mention that I may have called my husband in tears on my way to work because a political situation in the office was spinning out of control?

Balance? Not exactly. More like falling. And that’s the good news.

The fine art of falling down a hill
I learned how to ski last winter. My husband is a passionately committed skier, but I’ve never been athletic. In my twenties, I broke my wrist trying to learn to snowboard. I’m terrified of being out of control. I have terrible balance. 

A dozen private lessons and two years later, I’m a sort-of-semi-decent intermediate amateur skier. I wear that badge with pride. But to get there, I had to fall. And fall again. And again.

(And again.) 

I’m telling you this because I learned an important secret on the bunny slopes: Balance isn’t something you “find” and “keep.” It’s something you lose, and regain, and lose again. Balance isn’t stasis; it’s a series of adjustments, large and small, that you make on the fly, as you’re speeding down a mountain. On skis.

Who needs balance when you have someone to catch you when you fall? 
In our life as a couple, Jesse and I embrace the “falling down a hill” model of balance. During our first six years together, I mostly stayed home with the kids, taking on sporadic freelance writing assignments and pushing a double stroller up and down the grocery aisles. Meanwhile, Jesse evolved from an underpaid social services worker into the best wheelchair-accessible taxi salesman in the world. (Hands down.)

Those years were a huge sacrifice, marked by failures large and small. I’m now coming up on my first anniversary of almost-full-time employment as a content strategist at a branding and marketing agency. My office is wallpapered with crayon masterpieces. Other than that, I mostly forget my kids exist between 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM.

Jesse works 11-hour days, five days a week. Some months he’s out of town two or three days — others, it’s closer to practically always. Here and there, we find the time to read bedtime stories, go to the park, stay in shape, write (me), and make music (him).

As we go, we negotiate (or sometimes shout) about who gets the right-of-way. Whose turn is it to go full speed? Who has to pick up the kids? Who gets the extra hour of sleep? 

Mantras, babysitters, and other necessities
Jesse and I are both ambitious and career-minded. When we get home, we face full dishwashers and overdue library books. Somehow, neither of us has ended up in the ER yet. Here are a few of our secrets:

1. Fail often and well. When I ski, I whisper a mantra before each run: No falls, no balls. In real life, Jesse and I face the possibility of a wipeout every day. But both of us are able to take on steeper hills, and bigger challenges, knowing we have someone to ride the lift with at the end of each run.

2. Invest in professional help. Every once in a while, a new mother asks me how I managed to balance a freelance career with being a stay-at-home mom. My answer? I didn’t. If you want a career that involves more than diapers, laundry, and the itsy bitsy spider, get a babysitter — whether you need to go to an office or not. While you’re at it, get three babysitters, in case the first two have car trouble or the flu.

3. Kill the Sunday blues. Every Sunday afternoon, Jesse and I pick up half a dozen oysters and drink martinis while the kids eat lollipops. Rituals like this are pre-set opportunities to regain our balance when things get out of control. Our world can fall completely to pieces, and you will find us slurping oysters and gin at 5:30 PM on Sunday.

4. Learn something new. Jesse pushed me to learn to ski. I got him into running. This summer, we’re both taking surfing lessons. Learning new things keeps us both nimble and humble, and inoculates us against the disease of perfectionism. Plus, it’s fun — and as far as I can tell, fun is the single most powerful weapon against the claustrophobia and anxiety of contemporary domestic life.

5. No excuses, no complaints. I fold the laundry; Jesse unloads the dishwasher. I don’t iron; he never vacuums. These are unpleasant chores, and no one wants to do them, so we have a rule in our house: If it’s your job, you decide how often and how well to do it. If it’s on the other person’s docket, you don’t criticize their execution. 

Give the judges a day off 
I skied my first black diamond this winter, and pulled my first 13-hour workday this spring. Every time I’m tempted to think, I’m getting pretty good at this, I hit some kind of crazy mogul and wind up with a face full of snow. If Jesse and I both manage to make it to retirement with no broken bones, we’ll be very lucky indeed.

We’re not alone. No one’s kids are ever signed up for the right kind of summer camp; no one’s gardens are ever weed-free. I’d like to say that no one’s judging you, but that would be a lie. Your daughter’s preschool teacher thinks you ought to comb her hair more often. Your neighbors notice that you haven’t trimmed your hedges in three years.

Fortunately, this isn’t the Olympics. We all have the luxury of not giving a damn. Better, we have the privilege of giving a very big damn about the things we truly care about. Maybe you didn’t have time to take out the recycling this week, but you worked some insane custom animations into that PowerPoint. Or perhaps you spit-balled your end-of-month reports, but you got to take your son to soccer practice and go out dancing with your husband last Friday.

I get to be a professional writer, and Jesse gets to be the best wheelchair-accessible taxi salesman in the world. Our kids get to be carefree and maniacal and breathtakingly brilliant. We’re amateurs, but the judges are amateurs, too. So are you. So are we all.

Balance is overrated.

DOWNLOAD THIS PRINTABLE TIP CARD: 4 ways to achieve work-life balance

Melissa Lore is a writer and content strategist at MicroArts Creative Agency. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children. Learn more at www.melissalore.com or follow her on Twitter @melissalorecopy.

Next week: How to stop feeling guilty
Last week: 5 make-or-break relationship stuck moments

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#fresh perspective #by Melissa Lore #relationships


5 make-or-break relationship stuck moments


Oh, relationships! When they’re great, they’re really, really great. And even when they’re not, they still give us good things — someone to share our day with, to nod sympathetically, to have our back in a tough situation — so we find reasons to stick with them, warts and all. We’re grateful for what we have and we hope that, with work and time, things will get better.

But, sometimes, warts are signs of something more problematic, and taking a step back is the best way to move forward — both for your own happiness and your partner’s. To find what separates an ordinary obstacle from a relationship red flag, we sought out two different types of relationship experts to offer advice on five frequent stuck moments. 

Coming from a clinical perspective, Dr. Jennifer Harman is an associate professor of social psychology and director of the Harman Close Relationships Lab at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on the science of interpersonal relationships, and she is an editor and contributor to The Science of Relationships, an online relationship science resource. 

Amy Spencer, on the other hand, is a “dating optimist” whose upbeat approach to dating and relationships focuses on positive affirmation, hopefulness, and self-fulfillment. She’s the author of Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match.

Though Dr. Harman’s advice leads from the objectively reasoning head and Amy Spencer’s from the hopeful human heart, often their insights overlapped. Apply their ideas as a litmus test to decide what to do about your own relationship stuck moments.

If you do decide that calling it off is the best option for both your sakes, our printable tip card offers four break up rules to help you do it in the best possible way.

Stuck moment #1. We’re stuck in a constant state of conflict. Without realizing it, I’ll do something that sets him off. We’re always picking at each other.

The social psychologist says:
“When people are in a state of conflict and using negative communication strategies — contempt, coercion, interrogating each other, or one person isn’t acknowledging the other’s experience — it can offset positive communication. The less negativity, the more positive people feel.”

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue can be a power struggle. You’re both trying to stand your ground in different ways. You’re both picking to try to change the other person, to make them the way you want them to be.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Listen and be responsive to your partner, even if you don’t agree. Laughter, physical affection, warmth and support are really important — because then the other person feels supported.”

The dating optimist says:
“Do the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Instead of picking, compliment each other. Start treating each other like you’re on the first date. Your heart has been hardening toward your partner. You have to figure out how to soften it up.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #2. My partner can’t get his life figured out, and it’s bringing me down. I want to leave him but I’m afraid he’ll go into a negative spiral if I do.

The social psychologist says:
“Is there a mismatch in goals in terms of what each partner wants? The Michelangelo phenomenon is a process by which partners shape each other’s goals. If there’s a mismatch in terms of what of what each partner wants, there can be conflict and a lack of satisfaction.”

The dating optimist says:
“As much as we wish we could, we can never make someone else change their life.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“You have to figure out your own long-term goal for the relationship. Weigh the costs and benefits of the situation. If it’s a codependent relationship, find ways to decrease dependence so that it’s easier to exit. Get some kind of couple’s counseling so that at least the other person has some kind of support there.”

The dating optimist says:
“Step back and focus on your own life. And if that does lead to ending the relationship, we can’t be responsible for someone else’s reaction to a situation. Tell that person’s support network that you’re passing it off.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #3. We barely speak to each other any more. The day-in, day-out lack of communication feels like disrespect and disinterest.

The social psychologist says:
“The way we feel close to each other is self-disclosure. So when people aren’t doing that — sharing physical and emotional affection — they’re going to feel a lack of intimacy.”

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue is the utter dullness of their life routine. You’re officially bored with your 9-to-5 relationship, with doing what you have to but not what you want to. Clearly, both sides have fallen back a bit.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Do new things as a couple. Going on a double date can increase attraction; self-disclosing to another couple can make your current partner understand you better.”

The dating optimist says:
“Get out of your element. If you can find the time and money for a vacation, go for it. Or do a weekend away. Put yourself in a situation where you have to communicate about things that you don’t usually talk about.”

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #4. I’m lonely and tired and unfulfilled in this relationship. I want passion and intimate connection.

The social psychologist says:
“A destiny belief is that, if the person isn’t meeting your ideals, it’s just not meant to be. But if you have a growth belief, a problem is an opportunity to grow and learn about each other.” 

The dating optimist says:
“The underlying issue is ultimately a disconnection. Your couple glue is becoming unsticky. To get it back, you have to do something that fills intimacy.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Try to reignite the connection with the other person. But, if you’re young, you may not know that other types of relationships are possible. Personal growth will teach you over time what you want, and what will make you happy.”

The dating optimist says:
“Introduce new things into the relationship. Dive into the softest, gooiest part of your partner’s heart. Take a dance class where you have to learn together. Or have an intimate picnic in bed where you share your most embarrassing and painful experiences. The sharing between you is what can lead to a connection.” 

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

* * *

Stuck moment #5. I feel like I do everything, and I can’t get my partner to help around the house. I have no time for myself.

The social psychologist says:
“The feeling of being overwhelmed can make it really difficult to see how much the other person is contributing. And people’s perceptions of fairness in housework varies.”

The dating optimist says:
“It’s like the see-saw of the relationship is lopsided and all the pressure is weighing on one of you.”

What to do:

The social psychologist says:
“Make it a chore inventory: “Here’s an outline of what needs to be done around the house, and the time and hours it takes to do that.” Express that you’re feeling overwhelmed vs. pointing fingers. But it’s hard to change power dynamics if one partner has more traditional beliefs about gender roles.”

The dating optimist says:
“Make a pronouncement. Announce what it is that you need. You don’t want to open up space for negotiation when you’re not willing to negotiate. You need to take care of your own emotional needs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not of use to your family.”

Is breaking up the better option? If so, download this printable tip card: How to call it off and not be the bad guy

Next week: The secret to work-life balance
Last week: 15 ways to zap your annoyance before it ruins your day

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.


#relationships #by the Unstuck Team


Question: What’s your safety zone?

Comfort zones are critical. They let us replenish energy levels, shore up confidence, and relax. Without them, we’d probably operate in a state of manic stress or utter exhaustion. And that’s not good for anyone. But neither is shrink-wrapping yourself in safety.

Try something different every now and then to expand your world. It helps to start small (take a new route to work; attend a half-day conference) and feel your enthusiasm for the unfamiliar build.

One of our favorite stories about pushing limits is the extreme case of James Bradley, who was told after his surgery that sport activities were no longer in his future. That was not a safety zone he would stay in.

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#by the Unstuck Team #change #Questions


15 ways to zap your annoyance before it ruins your day


Stuck moment: Hey, did you see that waiter just bump into me and not apologize? How rude! That loud group over there is making me crazy… And that woman — can’t she control her kids? I’ve been looking forward to this party so much, but now I’m so irritated that I can’t even enjoy being here.

* * *

It’s an awful feeling when self-control slips through your fingers. Your body floods with stress and irritation, and you feel like a smaller, pettier version of yourself — clouded by emotion and unpleasant to be around. And that unpleasantness can ripple outward, undermining relationships and affecting everyone’s mood.

Employing simple, mood-saving tactics to help you maintain your balance can make all the difference when dealing with everyday annoyances. Because, face it, annoying people are here to stay. (And sometimes, without intending to be, we can be annoying, too.) While you may not always be able to come to terms with the other person, you’ll be able to control your own vexation — allowing you to manage a frustrating situation with reason and grace instead of getting stuck in a sinkhole of frustration and negativity.

Here are 15 strategies to try to help you take the sting out of whatever (or whomever) is getting under your skin. 

Use these tactics to deal with repeated annoyances by familiar offenders (e.g., the nosy in-law, the gossipy colleague).

1. Count what you’re grateful for
Think of three things you appreciate about the other person. Reminding yourself that they have positive qualities to balance the annoying ones will help you take the aggravation in stride.

2. Be aware of your pet peeves
It could be that the bee in your bonnet is due to your personal peeves and preferences. Replace a mindset of blame (“she is so obnoxious!”) with one of personal responsibility (“okay, maybe I’m a tiny bit uptight about this”).

3. Flag it for later
If your boss keeps giving you last minute work, or your neighbor keeps stealing your newspaper, you’ll need to have a confrontation for your long-term peace of mind — but when your blood pressure is rising is not the time. Stop. Breathe. Make a mental note to speak to the other person later, when you’re calm and in control. For some useful feedback strategies, use our guide “How to stop being a reluctant confronter”.

4. Avoid stockpiling your complaints
If you have to address an annoying incident in the moment, avoid dredging up every bothersome thing the other person had ever done. You’ll just get even more worked up — and antagonism rarely produces a positive result.

5. Offer an alternative you can both live with
When you do confront the other person, offer a solution. For example, if you’re annoyed that your coworker plays her music too loud, suggest a great, inexpensive pair of headphones that she might buy.

Use these tactics for those random encounters with annoying strangers (e.g., the line jumper, the arguing couple in the subway).

6. Do a mental cost-benefit
A. Is it worth your energy to get worked up? Or, B. Are you likely to forget about this in an hour? Run through this mental A/B test to remind yourself that it’s probably just not worth it to get hot and bothered.

7. Catch a sympathetic eye
Sometimes, just knowing that you’re not alone in this experience can soothe your nerves. If you’ve got a witness to your suffering, catching their eye to share a sympathetic glance will release some of your tension.

8. But don’t make faces
Rolling your eyes, making rude gestures, or huffing to broadcast your annoyance can aggravate the situation. Controlling your body language helps the situation from getting out of hand. 

9. Tweet it, text it, or micro-blog it
If it’s an option, pull out your phone and start narrating a comical play-by-play to a friend. This works if you’re victim to an annoying incident in a public setting, such as a rowdy table at a quiet café where you’re trying to work.

Whether you’re dealing with road hogs or an overbearing family member, these tactics can help.

10. Make a funny story out of it
Another way to use humor and storytelling to take the edge off is to pretend you’re in an episode of your favorite absurdist TV show, like Seinfeld or Louis. Imagine how you’d retell the incident for maximum irony and laughs.

11. Make a graceful exit
An oldie but goodie: If it’s an option, make a polite getaway before you lose your cool. A 10-minute head clearing walk can works wonders.

12. Or make a virtual exit
If you’re stuck in place, try an exercise in which you focus on an image of a place you love (e.g., your favorite armchair, a summer beach house) and visualize yourself there. Count to 10 and let your happy place’s restful effects wash through you.

13. Kill it with kindness
Ask politely how you can fix the problem, or help put the other person at ease. The honey vs. vinegar strategy can halt someone’s — even a stranger’s — insensitive behavior in its tracks, helping the person to see the incident from an outside perspective.

14. Remember that you’ve been there too
We’ve all been the annoying person before — even you. Reminding yourself that no one’s perfect will help you dial up empathy to stay calm and disengaged.

15. Buffer your patience by taking care of yourself
Stress and lack of sleep are notorious causes for a short fuse. If you find yourself in a constant state of irritation, take some time to think about how poor diet, exercise, sleep, and work habits might be affecting you. And then make some changes so you can stop letting your exasperation get the best of you.

Next week: How to know if it’s time to end a relationship
Last week: 4 ways we stop ourselves from pursuing our dreams

You can use the free Unstuck web app here or download the iPad app from iTunes.

#relationships #on the job #by the Unstuck Team