Stuckness

Please Help!

“Stuckness” is a problem that visits all of us and is the commonest trouble of all. Robert Pirsig devotes a whole chapter to it in his classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It comes up when the narrator’s son is trying to write a letter to his mother, but doesn’t know what to write, so he asks his dad for help:

Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you’re trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You’re trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that’s too hard. So separate them out. just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we’ll figure out the right order.

Stuckness is right up there with Gumption Traps, and is a gumption trap in itself. Fortunately, though, dealing with stuckness is something that artists are naturally good at. The scientific method isn’t really good at dealing with it, since the scientific method is great at telling us where we’ve already been. It won’t tell us what’s next unless we’re just going around in circles (and that itself will get us stuck!)

It turns out that stuckness is a good thing! In fact, this stuckness is exactly what Zen Buddhists try to induce with koans, special breathing exercises, sitting still, and the like, all with the goal of having an empty “beginner’s mind.” Try this: consider that stuckness is something to be desired, rather than feared.

The solution will eventually show itself. Remember that all solutions are simple — in retrospect.


2 Comments. Add your own below.

  1. […] you’re more likely to be discouraged and give up. You’ll end up with a huge case of Stuckness. That’s the opposite of creativity or […]


  2. […] I’ve blogged about stuckness at some length before on an old blog I used to maintain. It is something I still think about often and deal with every day. […]


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