Let’s approach how to answer this question through an analogy.

  • Let’s say you have a broken motorcycle and you decide to try to fix it yourself. [1]
  • Manual in hand, your next step is to remove a simple screw that happens to hold the side cover assembly that you need to remove so you can get at the engine. Simple enough task.
  • Screwdriver in hand, you try to turn the screw, but it sticks. You know better, but you put all your muscle into it and suddenly the whole screw head tears completely off.

You’re at the issue’s ground zero.

Clean tear

Dang! How are you going to remove that screw now!?

  • You can’t fix the bike without removing the side cover assembly, and you can’t remove the side cover assembly without removing that dang screw.
  • You have no idea what to do next.
  • You’re stuck.

At this point your mind can go in any number of directions.

  • Frustration. Here you are staring at a stupid screw when you could be having a beer with your buddies. The more you think about it, the more frustrated you get to the point where you want to take a hammer and pound that stupid screw into oblivion.
  • Embarrassment and shame. What the heck were you doing trying to fix the motorcycle in the first place? You should have known better and paid a mechanic to do the job – someone who knows what he’s doing.
  • Disgust. You throw your hands up and walk away, leaving that motorcycle more broken than when you began.

Regardless, every passing minute you spend thinking negative thoughts about that screw only makes things worse.

  • Impatience builds. Anxiety builds. Anger builds.
  • What a disaster. Pardon the pun, but you’re royally screwed.
  • Screwed just throwing bricks at yourself in the boxcar.

Take a step back to take a step forward

If you step back for a moment and take a deep breath, one thing you might realize is that this screw is not going to get unstuck purely by you yelling at it.

  • Negative thoughts about the screw aren’t going to get it out either.
  • Pounding it to oblivion might get it out, but destroy the motorcycle in the process. Definitely not the answer.

What is needed is a re-evaluation of the situation so you can move forward again.

  • Let’s start with the premise that the screw being stuck isn’t the worst of all situations, but actually the best of all situations.
  • This is a moment not to fear or lash out at, but one that is to be cultivated and nurtured. Hard to believe, given that torn screw in front of you. But it’s true.

Get to beginner’s mind

If you’re serious about getting that screw out, a good place to start is to empty any and all negative thoughts spinning in your mind about that screw and this life situation.

  • A mind filled with thoughts of anger, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment or any other negativity doesn’t leave room for new possible solutions to enter. All you can think about is the negativity.
  • Likewise, empty your mind of foregone conclusions. A mind that thinks it already knows the answer doesn’t leave room to hear additional information that might alter those conclusions.

With a cleared “beginner’s mind,” you can now open your thoughts to new ideas – enabling curiosity, brainstorming and creativity – because you’re not attached to old ideas.

  • If you stare at the screw long enough, all sort of ideas will eventually jump in. Unless you’re a real master at staying in negative thoughts, you can’t help this.
  • You’re getting yourself out at the front end of the train ready to head toward that quality track. But remember not to let your mind wander into completely irrelevant areas. Stay focused. You’re ready to expand your knowledge about this issue.

Fishing for facts

As you continue to stare at the screw, you’ll want to start fishing for facts that might help in coming up with new ideas.

  • But which facts about this dilemma should you observe and consider in an attempt to find a solution? The size, color or year of the bike? The size of the screw?
  • In reality, there are an infinite number of facts you could observe about the issue, and the helpful ones aren’t going to shout back at you: “Look at me! Here I am!”
  • No, the facts you really need can be not only passive, but they can be downright elusive. This is especially true if your emotions are still on edge, as negativity can make it very difficult to be able to just sit back and observe the facts that will help you solve the issue.
  • Rather, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and go in looking for useful facts.
  • This means you have to care enough to start digging!

Thinking in terms of subjects and objects

As you stare at that screw, there’s a first fact that could be staring right back at you.

  • Here’s a clue: Have you been thinking about yourself as the subject that acts upon the screw as the object? You turn the screw to the left and it’s supposed to open. You do this to it and the results are supposed to be that.
  • When you think in terms of subjects and objects, your thoughts can get very rigid.
  • You turned the screw to the left and is was supposed to open! But the screw didn’t turn, so now what? If you stay frozen with rigid subject-object thoughts, you limit your ability to see new ideas.

What is needed is a re-evaluation of the situation

  • As an object, you might have thought of this screw as having little value. Need one? Just go to the local hardware store and buy one for mere pennies.
  • However, with a re-evaluation of the situation, you might stop seeing this particular screw as a valueless object. In fact, as you think about it you may realize that this particular screw is of huge value, as it’s keeping you from fixing your bike.
  • Now as you continue to look at that screw, you’ll stop looking at that screw for what it is. What the screw is has little importance in resolving the issue. Instead, you’ll start looking at the screw for what it does.

Getting to functional thinking

When you do start looking for what the screw does, you start asking functional questions.

  • Asking “How does the screw turn?” might lead you to asking “What might be keeping that screw from turning?”
  • With this functional line of thinking, you might fish for further facts as your mind starts filling with new ideas. Are there solvents that can help loosen the screw? Can you drill it out? What would applying heat do to the screw?

If your ego is not controlling you, then you might think of where you could go for help.

  • Ego has a terrible way of keeping you in a boxcar, too afraid of exposing that you’ve made a mistake or don’t know something.

You’re now getting in front of the train, not stuck in the boxcar anymore. By staying open and continuing to care, you’re allowing your creative juices to flow to resolve the issue.


And as you explore new ideas, you might even come up with a totally new way to remove a stuck screw. Who knows, this may be the seed of a new invention that you could patent and lead you to wealth beyond belief.

  • Regardless of the solution you eventually deploy, you will have grown from the experience.
  • That stuck screw, the same one that you were swearing at just minutes or hours before has helped to better you as a person. Not only have you broadened your knowledge about how to fix a stuck screw, but you’ve also proved to yourself that you can resolve a challenge that life decides to bring your way.