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Simple Acts of Moving Forward: 60 Suggestions for Getting Unstuck

Simple Acts of Moving Forward: 60 Suggestions for Getting Unstuck

by Venita Hampton Wright

It's only natural to want to move forward: in our careers, in our family lives, in our faith. . . . But how do we begin moving forward when there is so much weighing us down and holding us back?
In Simple Acts of Moving Forward, author and workshop leader Vinita Hampton Wright offers simple but profound solutions to the problem of getting stuck in


It's only natural to want to move forward: in our careers, in our family lives, in our faith. . . . But how do we begin moving forward when there is so much weighing us down and holding us back?
In Simple Acts of Moving Forward, author and workshop leader Vinita Hampton Wright offers simple but profound solutions to the problem of getting stuck in our lives, providing us with the help we need to move forward again. Wright, who has learned in her own life how to avoid gridlock, lists 60 suggestions for taking a step, making a change, and becoming the whole person each of us was meant to be.

Product Details

Loyola Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Getting Unstuck, Moving Forward, Feeling Better
Most of us work hard, and we mean well. But we get stuck. And we get hung up, not on the big things or the months and years, but on the small things that make up our single days and hours.
You may have larger dreams for your life, but your most common struggles have to do with what you’re doing today, during this small collection of moments. You’ve probably been forward-thinking enough to make plans, and you’re doing your best to make them happen. But even the best efforts don’t always satisfy you—and, too often, you beat yourself up for that. Sometimes you feel that you will never get ahead or even get beyond the spot you’re in right now.
The only way to get unstuck is to take a step. It can be a big or little step, and you usually have a choice of directions. But it’s an action with purpose behind it, and no one else can do it for you.
Moment by moment you and I are making decisions and taking actions that help us move through time. Sometimes we move ahead in survival mode, “making it” but just barely, and not in a way that feels positive or successful. Occasionally, we slip backward or make choices that undo some of our progress. And sometimes we move in a way that is meaningful and gives us a feeling of forward motion.
This little book is for helping that forward motion. You can dip into the sections in no particular order. They describe sixty powerful acts that can make the difference in your hour, your day, maybe even your life. Some of these acts are easier than others, but they are all possible, and they will definitely move you forward. One simple act is a step in the right direction.
It won’t take longer than five minutes to read any one suggestion in this book. And in many cases, it won’t take longer than a few minutes to actually take the step. Some steps will lead you to carve out larger blocks of time, such as an afternoon activity or a weekend trip. But the majority of these acts are designed so you can do them immediately. Their purpose is to help you get unstuck from right where you are.
At the end of each act is a short prayer to help you, if you so choose, reach out to God for the love, wisdom, and power that are beyond your own abilities. After the prayer is some space, in case you want to make a note to yourself. If you follow through and do a simple act of moving forward, you might just want to celebrate by writing down what you did.
Read these acts one at a time. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to all the other folks who are trying to take those forward steps as well. Journey with them when you can. A step at a time, in good company, will make us all feel a lot better.
Acts of Creativity
Creativity opens us to revelation, and when our high creativity is lowered . . . so is our capacity to see angels, to walk on water, to talk to unicorns.
Madeleine L’Engle,
Madeleine L’Engle Herself
Make a List
Jump Ahead Ten Years
Think Again
Write Your Story
Find the Child
Reorder Your Universe
Imagine the Worst
Put Yourself in the Divine Story
Leave the Box
Take a Road Trip
Act 1
Make a List
There’s so much to do that I don’t know where to start. I think of everything I’m responsible for and everything I’d like to accomplish, and I panic—and sometimes I cope by doing nothing at all.
When life gets cluttered, get a huge sketchpad and just list everything you can think of that needs your attention. You don’t write anything in order of importance or difficulty; you just get it down so you can look at it. Then you move to another sheet of paper and start sorting the mess on the first sheet and throwing the items in some loose order onto the second. You categorize however you want. Maybe one list is “urgent,” another one is “fun,” another is “people I need to spend time with.” The beauty of lists is that you can work with them so they serve you.
And it is important that your list serve you, not the other way around. When used well, lists can help you collect yourself. But they can beat you up when you give them undue power. You have to decide when it’s time—or not time—for a list. You have to decide what kind of list it will be and what power you will give it.
Sometimes you might make a list of all the tasks that need to be done—every last one—just so you can give yourself permission to cross out half of them and not worry about those. Or maybe you put that half on another list to be dealt with later. In doing that, you have relieved yourself, for today, of those tasks and narrowed today’s list to something that is doable.
Lists are good for dreaming, for prioritizing, for helping the mind make order out of a situation that has become overwhelming. Not every person enjoys lists. In fact, a list for me is a somewhat left-brained, straight-lined thing. Another sort of person might cut that sheet of paper into little pieces, each piece with one task written on it, put those pieces of paper in a jar, and then draw out an item for the day and go from there.
But when you make a list—when you take what’s on your mind and put it out where you can see it, handle it, and do with it as you please—you regain some control over a mind gone berserk with clutter and worry. A list can be very helpful this way. The key is to never allow the list to be the boss. I no longer expect to tick off everything on a list. It’s a mere tool, something to help me keep my place, to keep track of life’s details.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
I can’t control most of what happens in life, but right now I can write down what’s on my mind and give it some order. Thank you for the ability to make lists. I ask that they would serve me well as I seek more order and calm in my life.
Act 2
Jump Ahead Ten Years
I am stuck, stuck, stuck. I don’t want to be doing this. I’m sick of this project. I think I may actually be sick of my life.
When the details of a given day or week get to be frustrating or discouraging, ask yourself, What do I want to be doing—and who do I want to be—ten years from now? Dare to write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then have the courage to look at your life. Are your present activities leading you to the person you want to be in ten years? If not, don’t panic. Give yourself permission to be dissatisfied with what you’re doing now. Go ahead and imagine quitting the current thing and looking for something else that would set you on the better path.
Allow the ten-years-ahead vision to release you from today’s anxiety. If you look carefully at your present tasks and worries, you may see that few of them have any long-term value to you. If you don’t succeed at this class or project, how important is that? On the other hand, if you hope to be married to this same person ten years from now, what can you do today to keep the relationship healthy? If you believe you have gifts that aren’t getting any exercise now, what can you begin to do—even in small increments—to make room for those gifts in your life?
I knew I would change to a writing career a few years before I could make the shift in terms of my job. But the day I knew what ten-years-ahead should look like, I began to make plans and take steps, some of them pretty small. The vision helped me persevere, and it eventually led me to a second career.
The ten-years-ahead vision is good for clarifying what’s important. It also can remind you of what your true purpose or your real dream is, and it just might give you the courage to take a step toward it. Of course, any such vision is speculation, but long-term dreaming can help you focus better on today and persevere in—or step away from—the present job or project. Our culture does not teach us to think in the long term; political plans often aim merely for the next election, and corporate plans tend to address only this year’s urgent issues. But creative people learn to step back and think forward regularly, to keep life fresh, to view larger options, and to give themselves inspiration.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Help me think bigger and more long term. Life goes by quickly, and I don’t want to get bogged down in details that won’t matter even a month from now. I offer you my anxiety in exchange for creative dreams for my life.
Act 3
Think Again
How did this project ever get so bogged down? Why won’t it work? Where’s the inspiration? Where’s the punch? I should be doing better work than this.
Don’t assume that you’ve thought through anything completely. There’s always an angle you haven’t considered or data you haven’t computed.
So if the given task is not going well, just stop. Back away from the thing however you can. Get up from your desk, if that’s where you work, and step away from that computer screen or spreadsheet. Turn around a few times (yes, physically turn yourself around). Take some deep breaths. Sit in a different place or in a different position. Find a pen in a different color of ink.
And think again. Instead of starting where you left off, take up the thread of thought at a completely different place. If you’re at the beginning, look at the end. If you’re stuck in the middle, remember the beginning that inspired the whole thing.
When my fiction writing bogs down, I switch from creative and intuitive thinking to working on time lines or doing research—or even doing a spell check. One friend of mine shifts to writing with her nondominant hand when she’s stuck.
Shift modes and ideas. Ask yourself what you’re assuming to be the goal, the problem, or the main part of the process. Ask yourself what you’re assuming to be true and false, good and bad.
You always have more brain cells than you’re currently using. So exert a few more of them and think all over again. If you do this often, you will become known as a genius simply because you thought about something one more time.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Okay, so what am I missing? Where’s the puzzle piece, the new approach, the right angle? I’m going to try again, but I need your help.
Act 4
Write Your Story
I’m so tired of my own problems, my bad memories, and my weaknesses as a person. I’d love to be another person entirely, to get rid of some of this stuff. But you can’t undo the past, can you? I guess I’m stuck with myself.
How you think about yourself influences how you act, so it’s in everybody’s best interests that your self-image be healthy.
Today find a quiet place and take fifteen minutes to write the story of your life. That’s right—just fifteen minutes to cover your whole life. Write quickly so you can’t think much about it. You may be surprised at the choices you make when you have only a few minutes to summarize your life.
Read what you’ve written. What stands out? What important things were left out? Are there any surprises? What makes you feel good, or not?
Now you’re ready to write about your life a few more times. You can do this today or spread out the process over several days or weeks. Every time you write your story, choose a different part of it to emphasize. Concentrate on a certain period of your life. Or write only about turning points, failures, accomplishments, friendships, losses, or employment. Each time you write, do it quickly and for only fifteen minutes.
Years ago I read a book about writing biographies, and it stated that the best biographies do not recount a person’s life chronologically or merely provide facts but are organized around a theme that emerges from the person’s life. A good biographer edits out what does not serve the theme. Even the person’s weaknesses and mistakes are presented in the context of that theme. And some material is extraneous and doesn’t need to appear at all.
You will discover that your life story contains many extraneous details. Life is multilayered, and not one but several themes will emerge as you explore your history. You cannot undo hurtful events, but you can rethink them in the context of your life themes. You can even decide that, in the overall scheme, certain events are not as important as you have allowed them to be up to now. And you can use the raw material of your history to create a theme for the rest of your story, starting today.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Show me my life in different ways. Help me feel free enough to pick and choose the events I want to emphasize and write about. Show me the themes in my life, as well as the gifts, the successes, and the times I’ve been truly happy.
Act 5
Find the Child
Sometimes I feel so needy. It’s embarrassing how much I crave attention and how much I hope for others’ affection and signs of approval. When will I learn to be a grownup?
Sometimes you need to pay attention to the small person who still resides in your soul. You can’t approach that person with the usual adult solutions. Forget the normal pep talk you give yourself when you need to push through the week. Walk right on by your favorite junk food or libation that the adult so often turns to for comfort. No, today you’re going to pay attention to the child who still lives inside you. And that child needs a much more basic kind of help.
Search out any image or record of yourself as a small child. Look for pictures, items from grammar school, references about you from other people’s letters or photo albums. Find old toys and books.
If at all possible, go to places you treasured as a child—a tree in your grandmother’s yard, the softball field at the junior high school, the indoor and outdoor spaces where you could play without being bothered by adults.
What did you really love to do as a child? What kind of people did you admire? Who scared you, or who could always make you feel better? What were your favorite foods, television shows, games, books?
Immerse yourself in that little person you were back then. Look at her picture and pretend that you’ve never seen this child before. Try to see what she needs, what she fears, what she dreams about.
Now, write that child a letter—to give her courage and happiness and hope. Tell her precisely how beautiful and smart and interesting she is. Tell her that God is really excited to have her life unfold on planet Earth.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
You know that I’ve not been too forgiving or accepting of the me who was a child once. I’ve tried to grow up and leave that person behind. But the child is still in here, needing love and encouragement. Thank you for giving me a fresh look at this wonderful little person. Show me how to love her better.
Act 6
Reorder Your Universe
My life feels so numb, so immovable. I wake up, and today is just another version of yesterday. What am I doing, anyway?
My grandma rearranged the furniture every few months. She totally repainted things about that often too. In the earlier years of her marriage, she and Grandpa moved a lot, right in the same town, first to this house and then another, fixing up each one during residency.
Grandpa’s thing was cars. We found a note he’d written to himself long ago, recording that he’d bought and sold seventy-two cars that year.
Some people change jobs often; others switch roommates. But if you’re not into drastic changes, smaller ones will do. Sometimes all it takes is a new tablecloth to reorder your universe. Or a new desk organizer. Some writers can start all over again when we buy a new pen and journal.
Every now and then, change things. Buy a new backpack or reorganize your DVDs. Eat dinner in a different part of your house. Change what you’ve hung on the walls. Make a shift in one or two large items on your schedule. Even a small change can be enough shock to your system that you’ll be forced to take some deeper breaths. It will give your creativity a chance to stretch its legs.
Find one thing to do this very day that will disrupt your little universe. Stability is a good thing, but stagnation is not.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Please help me rearrange the structure that holds me and controls what I do and how. Help me do at least one thing that changes the order of things. Help me experience the freedom I have to make choices that will help life feel more hopeful and new.
Act 7
Imagine the Worst
Worry is invading everything I do. I feel all revved up inside, as if I’m getting ready for something awful to happen. But I don’t know what that awful thing is. I just feel it—through every hour, every conversation. Without realizing it, I’m clenching my fists and gulping for air.
Go ahead. Imagine the worst thing that could happen right now—the person who could die or the possession that could be lost or destroyed or the job that could end or the relationship that could change. Imagine it in full color, in vivid detail.
Now, imagine yourself coping with that worst-case scenario. At first, “coping” may consist entirely of crying a lot and throwing things. But, hey, that is coping, or part of it. So imagine long days of crying and being unable to do much. Imagine days and weeks of that if you must. Then imagine what you would do after the tears and depression have subsided. See yourself moving forward another step. See yourself making another start entirely—finding a completely new job or meeting new people who accept you as you are. See yourself taking time out of your difficult life to go somewhere more peaceful. See yourself sleeping as much as you need to and then getting the energy required for what comes next.
No matter what happens today or tomorrow, there will always be more options than are immediately visible. You have just imagined a number of them. If your imagination is strong enough and smart enough to get you through your imaginary trials, think of how much better equipped the whole you is for getting through The Worst That Can Happen.
See, you can handle whatever comes. So put the anxiety and fear away, at least for the remainder of today.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
I am so afraid of all the bad things that might happen. There are no guarantees. Everyone is visited by tragedy, and no one is ever really “ready” when it happens. Help me have faith in the ability you’ve already placed inside me to get through tough times, to help me start over and remake my whole life if necessary.
Act 8
Put Yourself in the Divine Story
I can’t believe I looked through every shelf in the DVD rental store and couldn’t find a single movie I wanted to watch. Nothing in my own home interests me. Am I dead or just bored?
When life gets stale and boring, it helps if you remember that by simply existing on this planet, you play a part in a story that is much bigger than your particular plotline. Mystics and other spiritual pioneers have understood this and were thus able to appreciate the dailiness of life as having a deeper significance than was immediately apparent. Every small thing you do today will either make the world a richer place or a more toxic one.
So stand back from your day, and try to see yourself as a person living the divine drama. Imagine the people who have been here before you—yes, here in this house, in this town or neighborhood. Imagine those who will live here after you are gone. Consider the work you do and how that matters beyond your time and paycheck. Meditate on all the words you will speak today and how they will move you forward or others forward—or not.
You might even write your part of the grand story line. Find a pen you like, or settle down at the computer, and compose a work with this title: My Story of This Day. Dare to write this at the beginning of the day, anticipating what might happen. Or write it at the end of the day as a sort of review. Look for the underlying conflicts that keep your plot interesting. Explore the fears, desires, and other motivations that cause you to get up in the morning and do the things you do. Pay attention to the details of other characters and the subplots they contribute.
If you attend to the story of your quite significant life, it won’t matter so much that you leave the movie store emptyhanded. In fact, that may be a sign that your own plot needs more attention, and applause.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Some days it’s hard for me to believe I even have a story. Help me see it. Help me live it as though it were truly important.
Act 9
Leave the Box
People probably think I’m a real bore because I’m never interested in doing anything new. Maybe I am a bore. But it’s scary doing new things.
Today you’re going to do what you never do. You’re leaving the box that you believe is everyone’s perception of you. You’re leaving your own perception of you. Today you’re someone a little bit different. You go someplace you’ve never visited. You wear a bright color of lipstick—or none at all. Or you buy a jersey of the hometown team and go to a game. You hang out with people who have invited you several times, but you never took them up on it. Someone says, “You want to drive out to antique county for a day?” and you go along, even though you can live without old pieces of furniture that are beyond your budget.
When I was first dating the man who would become my husband, I went to a Super Bowl party with him. I have never connected with football in any positive way. Jim doesn’t care for it that much either, but here was an opportunity to hang out with some friends on a Sunday afternoon.
No, I didn’t become a football convert. But I participated in the banter (and, of course, in the eating and drinking), and later I turned the experience into a humorous piece for journalism class. What does an introverted, unathletic writer-girl do with a Super Bowl afternoon? I had ventured outside familiar territory, and it turned out to be fun.
We’re much too concerned about who we are. We’re so protective of the image that others have of us. Well, others don’t think about your image nearly as much as you do. So forget the “real” you today and have lunch with different people, or go buy a pair of funky shoes. Give up your perceptions of who you are, even if just for a day.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
I need to loosen my grip on this image I have of “me.” I need to forget about what’s “good for me,” what’s a “good use of my time.” I need to forget that I even have preferences or passions. Help me let go. Help me just experience life today, unhampered by my own ideas of who I am.
Act 10
Take a Road Trip
I feel so restless lately. The walls feel closer, and my days are getting shorter. Maybe I’m the one getting smaller. I have a good life, but it doesn’t feel good right now. What am I looking for?
You’re going to take a few hours off—or if you can, a day off. You’re going to pack some snacks and beverages and your favorite music. And you’re going to put all of it in the car, fill up the tank, and drive.
Just drive. Pick a direction; pick an area you don’t know much about. Or choose a route you enjoy but haven’t been on for a while. Drive and munch and listen and watch the scenery go by. Feel the sensation of moving somewhere, of watching life slide by your window.
The point of a road trip is twofold: (1) You get a change of scenery, and (2) you confine your concerns to what you have with you. The big rule of road trips is that you don’t take work with you. You can take along a hobby such as your photography or journaling or drawing. But it can’t feel like work; it must add to the adventure of the trip.
And if you can make it a longer trip—say, two days or a week—and include a friend or two, then the road trip gains real momentum in terms of getting you away and freshening up your view of the world. You can make it a theme trip. Make it a tour of small-town museums or of ballparks. I have some girlfriends who took a trip to explore diners in every town in the area.
If, like me, you live in a city with public transit, a train ride can be a decent substitute for a car trip. Take a transit line to the end and back again. Or get off the train at an interesting stop and wander around, then catch another train and continue the journey. A ride on public transportation is slower but cheaper, and although you can’t take as much stuff with you, you can haul out a small backpack and roam with ease.
So make it an afternoon by yourself to no place specific or a days-long journey with friends and an agenda. But sometime soon, as soon as you can, do the road trip. Put on your comfortable shoes and leave your schedule behind. Look at how the sky and the land change, mile after mile.
A Little Prayer for the Next Step
Please open up the world to me, even if it’s a small part of the world within a day’s drive. Show me how to get new energy and new ideas from all the scenes and faces I pass. Help me stop and linger in the places that are good for my soul.

Meet the Author

Vinita Hampton Wright leads workshops around the country on the creative-spiritual process. She is the author of many books, including Days of Deepening Friendship, Simple Acts of Moving Forward, The Soul Tells a Story, The St. Thérèse of Lisieux Prayer Book, and the novel Dwelling Places. She and her husband, Jim, live in Chicago

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