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The Path to Progress: How to Help Your Clients Overcome Stuckness

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    Aephoria Partners

    12 Oct 2023

Stuckness occurs when we get stuck in an old recipe for life when the context for our life has changed. It’s a generally non-pathological state that can continue for years, even decades, that we may not notice until it becomes painful as we start losing relevance and traction. And yet, don’t coax yourself into believing that stuckness is inherently negative. It’s an opportunity waiting to be seized.  

Stuckness provides a pause in our busy lives. It gives us the opportunity to process our experiences or lay the groundwork for experiences to come. But only if we embrace that pause, process the changes, and do the hard work to adapt, a challenge that’s exacerbated in our modern world, where changes in our environment happen quickly and immediately. 

For coaches, the mandate is clear yet ambitious: help clients through stuckness and equip them for an ever-changing world. 

“The trick is to get stuck quickly and lightly, to be observing what’s happening, and to emerge and change quickly.” – Dr. Julia Kukard of Aephoria Partners, BA (Hons) Art History, MA, MBA, BA (Psychology and Art History), and Doctorate in Existential Psychotherapy.

What is Stuckness?

As humans, we become accustomed to a specific context, operating effectively within it. Stuckness arises when that context shifts, and we, perhaps obliviously, fail to adjust alongside it. 

Imagine the essence of a stone or a tree; their states are constant – a stone is always a stone, and a tree is always a tree. However, humans are different. We have the profound ability to embody various roles throughout our lifetimes – a waiter can be a parent, a friend, and much more. That flexibility makes us human. 

“The capacity to emerge is what defines a human. When humans stop emerging and growing and changing, they lose connection with their environment, and they get stuck.” – Dr. Julia Kukard. 

Despite humans’ capacity for change, there’s a neurological tendency in all of us to maintain the status quo. Why? Because change demands energy, it’s fraught with uncertainty, can be painful, and so, we often choose to disregard the subtle and often not so subtle hints that our circumstances are evolving and that we should evolve with them. This inertia can grip anyone – individuals, couples, friends, groups, and even whole organisations. And this is stuckness. 

Examples of Stuckness in Personal and Professional Environments

In both personal and professional realms, stuckness often creeps up on us unnoticed. Dr. Kukard cites one example of an organisation that had been operating the same way since the 1990s. Over 30 years later, and the organisation still hadn’t adapted to its new socio-economic, technological and political context. “The organisation was still offering the same thing into the world”, shares Dr. Kukard. “It needed to become more relevant and revitalised.”

Which of the following examples of stuckness resonate with you?

  • Parenting. Consider the strategies one employs for nurturing a toddler; these will hardly be effective for guiding a teenager. Thus, as a parent, you must adapt, or your parenting style will become irrelevant. 
  • Leadership. Imagine a business leader adept at managing a team of Generation X employees. When the team changes, and she must now manage a staff of Generation Zs, her old leadership style may not resonate with them. 

If the leader persists without adaptation, there’s a disconnect; no longer is there a synergy between their style and the new team’s expectations. This lack of traction between approach and context epitomises stuckness.

  • Coaching. As a coach, you could also get stuck in your coaching style. Maybe you work well with people at the middle management level, but then you get clients at the senior management level and wonder why your coaching style isn’t working for them. That’s your sign to adapt or be stuck.  
  • Teams. Stuckness can manifest within a team, too. If a team leader considers work as a deal to be made and allows the team to cruise through without accountability or responsibility, the team will struggle to adjust when a new leader comes in and refuses to tolerate their poor behaviour anymore.  

How Do We and Our Clients Become Stuck?

Significant life events such as grief, trauma, and addiction are just a few common culprits that can halt our progress and lead to stuckness. To become completely stuck, a sequence of loss must happen: first, you lose yourself; second, you lose your connection to others; finally, you lose your sense of meaning. 

“Stuckness is a relationship. It’s not the human or the context; it’s the relationship between them. When the one becomes irrelevant, then the relationship loses relevancy and its capacity to achieve something in the world.” – Dr. Julia Kukard.  

What Happens When You Lose Yourself

The first stage of descending into stuckness begins with losing yourself, a process that can manifest in various forms: 

  • Bewitched. You or your client may find yourselves bewitched by the allure of success and wealth to the point where you’re willing to sacrifice your identity to attain it. In pursuit of these external goals, it’s all too easy to lose touch with who you are at your core.
  • Amputation. Your client may be in an environment, like a workplace, that doesn’t embrace or even allow the full expression of who they are. As a result, they must leave parts of themselves at the door, bringing only a fraction of their identity into the workplace.
  • Identity Shift. This phenomenon can occur following a significant change in status or role, such as a promotion to CEO. Despite the change in title, internally, your client might still feel tethered to the identity of a middle manager, unable to make the psychological leap to embrace the new role fully.
  • Dead Inside. And in some cases, particularly with executives who’ve weathered the corporate storm for too long, there can be a sense of being ‘dead’ inside. This is where the humanity that once sparked enthusiasm and innovation fades. 

When your client reaches this point, they become a cog in the machine rather than an engaged, contributing human being. 

What Happens When You Lose Others

The second stage of stuckness is marked by a loss of connection with others. When we begin to lose ourselves, our relevance to those around us starts to wane. People might perceive us as out of touch or obsolete. They might offer advice and encourage us to evolve — ‘be nice’, ‘change your leadership style’ — but if we’re not listening, we find ourselves isolated.

The crux of the problem is that we are intrinsically relational beings who thrive on interaction; we need others to learn and grow. Now, it’s as if we’re building walls, blocking out the world, and by extension, new possibilities for adaptation and growth. This withdrawal can have a direct impact on our performance. As we become less responsive to the people and the changing dynamics around us, our effectiveness in the world diminishes. 

What Happens When You Lose Meaning

What we each find meaningful is deeply personal and changes over time, influenced by the politica, sociall and economic climate. But when we seek meaning and a sense of purpose in material possessions rather than experiences or connections, life becomes harder to navigate.  

Planning for the future feels less compelling when you’re not sure what you’re aiming for beyond the next big purchase or promotion. This is where the personal crisis of stuckness can spill over into our professional lives. The motivation that once drove us to succeed can dwindle, leaving us going through tasks without passion or purpose.

This loss can lead to dissonance within the workplace. If you’re not finding meaning in your job, dissatisfaction can surface in harmful ways. Some might start lashing out at the very structure they’re part of, engaging in destructive behaviour as a misguided form of retaliation. From quiet quitting to outright fraud, these are symptoms of a deeper problem: a life out of alignment with one’s values.

Why Traditional Coaching Methods Can’t Tackle Stuckness

When it comes to tackling stuckness, traditional coaching methods often hit a wall. This is primarily due to a deep-rooted belief that stuckness is a personal failing within the individual – a sort of internal psychic penalty. There’s a tendency to attribute being stuck to personal deficiencies; the individual is labelled as lazy, unintelligent, or incapable of learning. 

Traditional coaching often points the finger squarely at the ‘stuck’ person, insinuating that the root of the problem lies within their character or their choices. Additionally, traditional coaching can overlook the fact that stuckness can be a crucial phase in the rebooting of one’s life – a chance for a client to accept where they are – without judgment – and acknowledge and understand their ‘dark little sides’ without being overwhelmed by shame.

Shame, in fact, has the opposite effect of what’s intended; it entrenches behaviour rather than alleviates it. By shaming individuals for their situation or character traits, coaches prevent their clients from seeing stuckness as a temporary and useful state. 

“Nothing is a strength or weakness. It’s how you use it. It’s about using or overusing your inherent traits.” – Dr. Julia Kukard.

How to Help Your Clients Overcome Stuckness

To help your clients overcome stuckness, you must cultivate a nurturing environment – one that’s compassionate, understanding, and devoid of judgment. This kind of supportive space encourages individuals to reflect introspectively on their predicaments, fostering the resilience and adaptability necessary to navigate through stuckness and re-engage with life meaningfully.

Next, identify a baseline. An Enneagram personality assessment will allow you to understand your client’s personality patterns and how they’re creating stuckness in their life. For example, if your client is fixated on success, the assessment will point that out. 

Maturity can also provide a baseline. An effective maturity assessment tells you at which stage of maturity your clients are and what kind of interventions you should bring in. For example, if the client is at stage 2 in the stuckness cycle, you know to ask questions about relationships. Or if they’re at stage 3, ask them about how meaningful their work is. 

“To get unstuck, you need to be totally present, be with all of yourself, and be with other people, since we form – we learn – in relation to other people.” – Dr. Julia Kukard.  

Gain Self

Stuckness is a period of incubation. It is a time when one should stop the fervent pursuit of ‘more’ and ‘better’ to simply be in the present moment, “No more running,” urges Dr. Kukard. “Lie down and look at the world.” One should begin to question, “Who am I?” and it is in this quietude that self-discovery happens.

“You need a bit of yourself to start the journey towards unstuckness,” says Dr. Kukard. It’s only when you find yourself more fully that you can venture out and look for other people. 

Gain Others

The next step is to seek out the right community – not one that perpetuates the same unhealthy cycles that keep us stuck, but one that offers feedback and supports growth. For instance, a recovering addict would benefit more from a supportive community focused on recovery rather than one mired in substance use.

When you or your client find this community, be vulnerable. Open yourself up to the people around you and embrace authenticity. 

Gain Meaning

Philosophers have long contended that meaning is not simply received; it must be actively constructed through our actions and choices. Unlike the given responsibilities like parenting, which naturally confer a sense of purpose, other aspects of life require us to actively engage in the creation of our meaning. 

As coaches, it is essential to guide clients in this active construction of meaning. This could be as simple as helping a client recognise that since they’re a highly technical person, it is their relationship capabilities that need work. Or, it could be encouraging a client to identify their passions and interests in life. True meaning is never materialistic.

Living Life “Unstuck”: What It Looks Like For Your Clients 

Living life unstuck is akin to embodying fluidity. It is to see the world as it is, not as you are in it. We naturally read the world through our eyes, which are coloured by how we were brought up, our race, and our experiences. But Dr. Kukard emphasises that it’s only “when we see the world as we’re in it that we can respond to it appropriately.” 

“Unstuckness is to remain relevant all the time so that what you produce and what you do is relevant now.” – Dr. Julia Kukard.

Greater Productivity and Efficiency

When your clients engage with the world as it truly is, they experience a more authentic and effective interaction with their environment. This perspective prevents the misallocation of effort and resources into endeavours that are misaligned with reality, such as pouring funds into business projects that are doomed to irrelevance. 

When clients are able to see with such clarity, they’re naturally more efficient and productive.

Deeper Connections 

Fluidity also has profound implications on interpersonal relationships. It strengthens one’s ability to connect with others, fostering a sense of likability and trust. 

By keeping in step with the growth of those around them, clients can maintain and strengthen relationships over time. This adaptability is a key factor in ensuring one’s relevance and, by extension, survival in an ever-evolving world.

  • Consider the generational divide as an example. Instead of passing judgment on a Gen Z colleague or employee, a person living “unstuck” strives to understand and engage with them. This not only improves the performance of the individual but also enriches the collective dynamic.
  • Similarly, in personal relationships, an “unstuck” approach involves interpreting criticism constructively. It’s about discerning the positive intent behind feedback rather than reacting defensively due to past conditioning. 

Recognising that criticism can be a gateway to growth allows clients to interact with the world around them with grace and resilience, reducing conflict and enhancing their capacity for empathy and understanding.

Growing Unstuck: The Path to Flourishing

Unstuckness is an elusive happily-ever-after. It’s not something coaches or their clients can achieve and then never think about again. It requires ongoing work – and ongoing surprises and transformation. That is the beauty of being human. 

As a coach, it’s your privilege to guide clients through unstuckness whenever it might arrive. To assist you, the AIM for Maturity assessment stands as a benchmark for personal and professional growth, allowing you to quantify maturity development before and after coaching intervention. 

Would you like to explore the assessment? Simply accredit in AIM for Maturity and unlock insights for yourself and your clients.