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We all get stuck from time to time. But not all kinds of stuck are stuck. Some are frozen.

One of the most frequent client requests for any Coach is ‘I’m stuck. Can you help me?’ Of course. And what kind of ‘stuck’ is that?

On my various bits of advertising I always say that I love working with people who are at some sort of crossroads in their life. That implies choice in the direction of travel and a feeling of not knowing which way to go. Stuck. But there’s another kind of stuck, and I’ve had a rash of clients of late exhibiting this other stuck variety. It’s called Frozen.

You’ll remember the Fight/Flight story? When I was growing up, those were the two common responses we were aware of when adrenalin is released into our bodies. Blood rushes towards our extremities and away from our core (and our brain) to prepare our body to face the danger or run as fast as it can away from it. And now we are becoming familiar with a third phenomenon with adrenalin rush, and that’s Freeze. 

As the blood rushes towards our extremities, it also leaves our brains. At this point, it’s our reptilian or unconscious brain that’s in change in any event. In these situations, it’s processing more quickly than our conscious brain, and is working at a level that is entirely instinctive. What that does mean however is that our conscious brain – our super-computer – has no blood circulating round it and it’s therefore unable to process any data. And our minds go blank. 

I know when I’m in this state, I have trouble forming sentences. And I’m normally very articulate! For many though, a prolonged exposure to adrenalin (and probably cortisol too) is a behavioural state of freeze. We cannot think our way to an alternative response. We cannot even see the crossroads. We are too busy trying to be invisible to the danger that triggered the original release of adrenalin. 

In this situation, it’s the Coach’s job to help clients reconnect with their limbs and brains and understand that if they take a step in any direction, it will release them from Freeze and they will get some data to inform what their next step might be. To create a safe environment for more helpful hormones to dominate, gently explore the trigger event and state, and support a small step in a new direction. 

The next time someone tells you they are stuck, it’s worth asking them what kind of stuck they are experiencing. It might just be the usual rut, or it might be frozen in place beause they are afraid to move in any direction. The latter requires a very different response.

The Swedes have a great proverb: The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.


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