However perfectly we plan, very few of our lives will turn out exactly as we expected. Most of us well know the feeling that we’re spinning our wheels, not living the way we wanted or intended. We aren’t pursuing our dreams, caring for ourselves the way we should, or making time for what we value most. It isn’t unusual to feel trapped by our circumstances and unable to change our lives in a meaningful way.
Many people turn to life coaches for this very reason — like Stuck in a Rut: How to Rescue Yourself and Live Your Truth author Fiona Craig, who has put many of her practices and recommendations into her book. Like many self-help authors, Craig seeks to enable her readers to live more authentically, make healthier choices, and strive for attainable goals.
In many regards, Stuck in a Rut is a typical self-help book. Craig encourages readers to reflect on their childhood experiences and the values they received from their parents. She uses case studies and quotes from previous clients. She offers exercises for dealing with your inner critic, becoming more creative and playful, and defining your life goals. Readers will also find the ubiquitous “power of positive thinking” arguments and rampant individualism that persist in the genre. And as in similar texts, despite her universal approach, it will become obvious that Craig’s audience is much narrower and consists mainly of middle class mothers and white-collar professionals. However, that does not mean that Stuck in a Rut is without merit. It’s an accessibly written book with some worthwhile recommendations amid the self-help standards.
After introducing herself and telling her own story of getting stuck and then unstuck, Craig lays out a sensibly ordered discussion divided into three parts: “Breaking Limitations,” “Inner Balance” and “Finding Joy.” She recommends that readers engage with her methods gradually, saying, “it’s not a novel,” and the book’s structure certainly lends itself to a slower engagement with its ideas and exercises. Within the different sections, you’ll find offerings like “Bad Habits,” “Fearing Failure,” “Creative Spirit,” “Bully-Busting,” “Self-Care,” and “Celebrating No.” Craig concludes each chapter with a variation on the same exercise: listing three action steps to getting unstuck as it relates to the chapter. As has become popular, there are more exercises and worksheets available online, which can be accessed by entering the url in your browser (more convenient for e-readers) or by scanning a barcode in the book with your smartphone.
Given the ordering of the sections, Stuck in a Rut is clearly meant to have a cumulative effect — Craig is a self-admitted holistic or Gestalt psychotherapist, so her remedies are not at all piecemeal. First, we discard the negatives in our lives like our feelings of guilt and attachment to values other than our own. Next, we develop strategies to cultivate creativity and emotional balance, followed by exercises to attend to our needs, get organized, and maintain boundaries. Then, we’re ready to embark on the lives we always wanted to live.
If it sounds a little overly simplistic, it often is, although Craig is open about the fact that getting unstuck takes a tremendous amount of work, self-reflection, and perseverance. Indeed, there is much more to do than can be reflected in two hundred or so pages. (This is perhaps, the true failing of much of the self-help genre and certainly not limited to Stuck in a Rut.)
Ultimately, whether all of the methods will work for everyone is highly debatable, but there are some key lessons in Stuck in a Rut that seem widely applicable, particularly those chapters related to self-care and undermining our inner critics, which Craig calls our “inner bullies.” While some might feel selfish putting aside time for themselves or feel silly holding court with imaginary adversaries, these exercises are practical methods available to any reader, even those who don’t have access to life coaches or the means to completely re-imagine their careers. Moreover, the simple reminder to look after our own needs and reflect on our own desires can be a beneficial one, however we proceed from there.
Stuck in the Rut, then, is ultimately a mixed bag. Some might find the techniques here enlightening and beneficial, which is certainly positive. Others, however, will recognize the all too common tropes of self-help, from the uncomplicated success stories to the overuse of “mindfulness” to the testimonials and life coaching package deals in the back of the book. Discerning readers will be able to pick out what’s helpful, but whether they wants to make the effort is ultimately up to them.
Stuck in a Rut: How to Rescue Yourself and Live Your Truth
True Balance Coaching, October 2015
Paperback, 244 pages