paint-brush
The Illusion of Being Stuckby@benoitmalige
1,655 reads
1,655 reads

The Illusion of Being Stuck

by ABrainArchitectApril 15th, 2024
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript

Too Long; Didn't Read

When you face the challenge of feeling stagnant in your career, in your personal life, nothing seems to help you progress. I wanted to understand why we are so resistant to change, to discomfort. I finally got a better understanding of how our brain constructs reality, how it cheats us by wanting to save energy, and how we can hack it.
featured image - The Illusion of Being Stuck
ABrainArchitect HackerNoon profile picture

You think that being stuck is a permanent state, and this is the pattern you go through every time:

  • You encounter a new challenge.
  • Your brain resists it.
  • It hasn’t been trained to handle discomfort effectively.
  • You revert to what’s comfortable and familiar.
  • You shut yourself off from potential growth and enlightenment.
  • You feel stuck, unfulfilled and unhappy.


When you face the challenge of feeling stagnant in your career, in your personal life, nothing seems to help you progress.


You feel not just stuck, but regressing.


The worst part of it was that in some strange way, it also feels “comfortable” being stuck.


I’m sure you have that feeling, because we are wired the same way, and so do I.

I wanted to understand why we are so resistant to change, to discomfort. Why is it that it’s easier for us to stay in situations we don’t like while we know damn well it’s not the right path.


Why is change hard? Why makes hard things hard?


Well, I got some answers while reading a research paper from computational neurobiologist Andrew Gallimore. I finally got a better understanding of how our brain constructs reality, how it cheats us by wanting to save energy, and how we can hack it.

1. Understanding Our Brain: A Reality-Building Machine

I won’t bore you with the very technical research paper filled with complicated words and never ending sentences. Here’s a breakdown for you:


Central to this process are the cortical columns, functional units within the cerebral cortex that orchestrate your perception of the world.

Source: https://alieninsect.substack.com/p/switching-the-reality-channel


These columns evaluate sensory information against your brain’s existing models, determining “True” or “False” signals to guide your reactions and beliefs.


To put this even simpler, They work like little decision-makers in the outer layer of the brain, sorting through what we see and feel.


They check this information against what the brain already knows, deciding if it matches (“True”) or doesn’t match (“False”). This helps you figure out how to react and what to believe.

Here’s the problem: Your brain and its cortical columns are designed to conserve energy at all costs.


This means they’re constantly seeking “True” statements, those that align with what you already know and believe.


Why? Because processing familiar information requires less energy than assimilating new data.


This is precisely why staying in your comfort zones feels so… comfortable.


It’s not just inertia; it’s a battle against a highly efficient computer in your head, always seeking stability over the chaos of change.


Your gut might scream for a shift, but you’re up against your brain’s design, which chooses energy conservation over everything else.

2. The Mannequin Misidentification: A Cortex in Action

Ok ben, that sounds cool and I get the theory. But how does this actualise, and how is it shaping my reality?


Here’s an example:

Imagine walking down a street, your eyes catch what appears to be a figure standing in a shop window.


Your brain utilizes past data, and quickly categorizes this figure as a man — a “True” response rooted in familiarity.


You continue to walk closer, until something happens.. you realize that the figure is not a person, but in fact a mannequin.


This unexpected twist sends a “False” signal to your brain, specifically to those cortical columns tasked with visual processing.

Faced with this new information, your brain recalibrates, updating your reality from a man to a mannequin.

3. Embracing the Science of Uncomfortability

So there we have it.


The path to growth is through embracing “False” signals — those challenging, unfamiliar experiences that demand our brain to adjust and grow.


This process isn’t just about acquiring new information; it’s about fundamentally reshaping our perception and interaction with the world around us.


It’s about changing reality; literally asking your cortex to re-evaluate your current reality, and change it.


That’s why it feels so hard.


That’s why it feels so weirdly good to stay stuck.


So, what are some steps to hack this?

4. Recognizing the State of “Brain Automation”

Well, first, you need to understand when you’re stuck in “brain automation”.

I’m sure you know this feeling very well.


You’re in that state when you go through your daily routines without much thought or variation.


You wake up, get dressed, get coffee at the same spot, order the same drink.


Tasks and activities feel mundane, and you’re not engaged or stimulated by what you’re doing.


You are bored.


You wake up every morning saying “ok here we go, another day doing the same thing until I get to go to sleep again. Let’s just get through it with as many distractions as possible.”


Nothing seems to make you feel alive. You are just in automation mode.


Activities that used to hold your attention don’t mean anything anymore.

5. Breaking Through with Challenging Thoughts

Now that you recognize the signs of “brain automation,” the next step isn’t just about what you do; it’s about how you think.


Changing your actions without changing your thoughts is like repainting your car when it needs a new engine. Sure, it will look good on the outside, it still won’t run though.


So do this: Ask why, and don’t judge.

“Why” is such a short but powerful question that can almost always be used successively until the truth is met:

“I feel stuck in my career? Why?

…Because I don’t like what I do. Why?

…Because it doesn’t challenge me or align with my values. Why?

…Because I settled into a role that was available rather than pursuing what genuinely interests me. Why?

…Because I fear the uncertainty of change and the possibility of failure. Why?

…Because past experiences have conditioned me to prioritize security over fulfillment. Why?

…Because I internalized the belief that success is defined by stability rather than personal satisfaction and growth.”


Take this and keep asking the same question. You’ll get to the root of it soon enough.


In this instance, your feeling of being stuck is less about the external circumstances and more about internal barriers — fears, beliefs, and assumptions that keep you tethered to the familiar, however unsatisfying it may be.

6. No, but really.. How do I get unstuck?

Listen. True transformation begins when you push beyond the boundaries of what you know and where you’re comfortable. The shift needs to happen in your head, but also physically.


You need to consciously and repetitively seek out “False” signals and embrace the discomfort they bring. You need to construct a new reality.


In plain, simple terms, you need to: do the uncomfortable thing.


Here are a few of the things I have had to do last week alone that finally led me to break out of my cycle:

  • I impulssively bought a plane ticket to Panama, to change my enviroment, create some space for me to:
  • Sit with my feelings for the first time in years, and finally stop supressing them. I cried. Haven’t done that in years.
  • I had the uncomfortable conversation with my business partner to tell them I no longer have passion for it and am leaving them the decision to continue or quit.
  • I made the decision to get a therapist and seek help to access past trauma that I’ve burried deep down.
  • I replied "I don't know" when asked about something I was unsure of, rather than trying to appear confident. I felt stupid that instant, but I actually learned something and ended up having a meaninful conversation.
  • I forced myself to talk to strangers every single day. Oh, and talking happened to be in Spanish, for which my vocabulary consisted of a total of 40 words or so.

These things were uncomfortable. These things were all dreadful for me. They are supposed to be.


They are hard, they are counter-intuitive, and they are painful.


But if you don’t do them, you are letting your cortex run on auto-pilot, validating a “true” statement that will feel comfortable.


Yes, in the immediate short term, it feels better.


But you are reinforcing your mind into shaping the wrong reality.


Do that long enough, and you will soon be living in a world that is not yours.


You’ll have a job you hate, relationships that don’t support you, a deep lack of purpose, numbing yourself to the world around you until you become nothing more than a ghost, aimlessly drifting through a suffocating and meaningless existence.


Waking up to it 10 years later will be very painful.


So Wake up. Challenge yourself. Engineer your existence and break free.