Creating V4

The Five Most Common Ways People Get Stuck

The Five Most Common Ways People Get Stuck – by Lisa Jackson

I have been thinking lately about how to simplify change for people. How to make the “real deal” happen more consistently.  What I have noticed is the patterns that keep us stuck are the simplest and hardest to change – they run deep, have big consequences, and are the most interesting territory for those of us committed to being great change agents.

And they are what cause people in our world to say “We know exactly why we get into trouble. We’ve had the 360’s, the assessments, and the diagnosis. And yet, we run into the same road blocks and derail in exactly the same ways, over and over. It’s frustrating!”  A very common mantra we hear from very smart people.

Good news: There are predictable places to look for the answer.  Not to oversimplify the human condition, but being a change practitioner is similar to working on cars and computers: Accurate diagnosis is most of the solution; finding root causes solves the biggest problems, and the same stuff typically goes wrong.

Here are the five most common ways we see people get stuck:

1) Time.  When people are stuck in the past, you hear all the “I cannot change” excuses.  “I’ve always done it this way” or “Whose fault is it?” are common mantras.  Lack of vision is another form of being stuck in the past.  Being overly tied to previous successes or glories may make it harder for a person to pursue opportunities that are unclear or uncertain. On the other hand, entrepreneurs often have little attachment to the past.  Their optimism and future-focus can lead to impulsive action because they have a dim view – literally – of the lessons of the past.  In relationships, someone who is “stuck in the past” is hard to enjoy in the present.  Moving people past being “stuck in time” requires learning to notice and work with verb tenses.

2) Small chunk. When a person cannot see the big picture, you will observe they obsess about details and are uncomfortable when you try to broaden their view. As leaders, they love to wordsmith mission statements and tend to meddle in project details at too low a level. They are great at seeing what is right in front of them, but when asked to consider cause-effect, they get uncomfortable. They tend to remain in jobs that require detail. Their big challenge is relationships: They nitpick. Moving people who are “too small chunk” is about helping them learn when to let go of the small stuff.  As change agents, we expose them to “what if” scenario thinking, teach them how to map cause-effect, and have them visualize consistently “What will happen if we do this …”

3) Self reference.  This is an all-too-common “dis-ease” among human beings.  The American society feeds it through emphasis on the freedom and rights of the individual.  (I am not dismissing the importance of the individual, but I know that lack of balance between individual and “collective good” causes people a great deal of suffering).  In its most extreme expression it shows up as anxiety and depression. People who do not step into the shoes of others and reference most experiences and events by “How it impacts me” live a precarious life.  They tend to have relationship problems, don’t assimilate feedback, and take everything very, very personally.  We typically facilitate the biggest breakthroughs with these clients. When you teach and coach them to use the NLP perceptual positions model, it is as if an entire new world opens up to them.  Many experience profound, life-changing alteration very, very quickly from learning how to navigate different points of view.

4) Decision strategy.  We live in an increasingly risk-averse culture. In business, this shows up as indecision – paralysis on teams and in the executive suite is rampant.  Some of this is driven by the quarterly-profit Wall Street mentality.  But when we isolate people’s “decision strategy” – the mental steps a person navigates to arrive at a decision – more often than not, indecision is connected to the amount of change happening around them. In our society, the pace and degree of change is almost paralyzing.  People are “hunkering down” as a protection mechanism, and this hinders their willingness to make a decision. We show them that not deciding IS a decision, and help them map the precise way in which they get from point A to point B (not doing anything to making a decision).  The most common stuck point is “too many options.” Once you “install” an effective system for narrowing options more quickly, they gain greater comfort in making decisions more quickly.

5) Need for approval.  While this may sound like a cliché catch-all, being stuck in this way is a very specific and profound limitation.  People have a hard time taking responsibility when they are overly tuned into or fearful about what others want from them. For people stuck in this way, it is as if they are a marionette and everyone around them is attached by a string – not an easy thing to address! It is the most pervasive of the “stuck” patterns in our experience. You’ll need all tools in your arsenal to tap this root.  And they will transfer their need for approval TO you – their change agent.  You must stay flexible and hyper-aware, change your strategies frequently, and work to help them see, experience, and reinforce an internal world that is quite literally, separate from others.

I have been fortunate to learn from some of the most gifted change agents in practice. By learning to tap into the root “mental model” of people’s behavior, we can move people conversationally in a way that feels safe and more sustainable, without them feeling the pain.  The relief is similar to removing a splinter or toothache. The simple stuff can cause so much trouble … and make a big qualify-of-life difference when fixed.

The #1 prerequisite to doing this is to remain thoroughly curious and open. The minute I think I know what someone needs, I diminish the potential for real change. A tricky and subtle distinction, and one every person who is a change practitioner has to face honestly to take their work to the next level of excellence. Thinking about your role as a technical diagnostician can help. There is plenty of room for the warm and fuzzy human interaction to come into play. Just don’t let yourself – or your client – be fooled into a false sense that you are their answer.

When that light bulb goes on, real change happens far more quickly and easily.

Lisa Jackson is an NLP Master Practitioner, and executive coach and partner to executives seeking methods to build change-friendly and adaptive organizations. Check out their latest workshop  “New Technology of Change” for coaches and change practitioners, at


“NLP: The New Technology Of Change”  Facing change?  Want more of a say in choosing your own?  Learn how to have more choice in changing, for you and those around you.  <Continue Reading Here>


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  1. You need to put that in 4th grade words…some of us are older, others, smarter, or come from another etic group, vacinity,parents, culture.

    I am american, and yet I do not even know what you said.

  2. Some interesting thoughts there, although personally I do find these “patterns” a bit limiting. There’s 5 rules here, 5 rules there and at the end of the day there’s just too many rules. Each particular situation has a particular solution.

  3. Hi “NLP Counselor”

    To me the most critical element in using NLP is calibration: Having really good sensory acuity and training yourself to monitor the results you’re getting.

    Are you getting the outcome you contracted for? If you can’t or don’t or won’t monitor that, whatever else you’re doing is fruitless and random, regardless of how closely you are following some procedure.


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