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In Conversation With Nancy Hawley: The VP of Unstuck Talks About Embracing Change

If there’s anything we learn time and time again at STORY, it’s that all good things must come to an end. But even after five years and 31 stories, unsticking ourselves from previous concepts, products, and habits as we create a new identity can feel a little daunting. So we took a time out during turnover to talk with the creative strategists at SYPartners (who also happen to be longtime friends of STORY!) SYPartners are the creators of Unstuck, an app that helps you make a pivotal change in your life by getting to the root of the “stickiness.” And we’re super inspired by their ever-evolving tool kit.

We had the pleasure of talking with Nancy Hawley, Vice President and General Manager of Unstuck, about their new set of Life Courses, why change often proves so difficult, and where to go for inspiration. Sit back and relax…but don’t get too comfortable!

SYPartners launched the Unstuck app in 2011. What lessons about motivation, procrastination, or just general stuck-ness have you learned since then?

We’ve learned that admitting you’re stuck can be very hard — even for people who want to do something about it. That’s because we have to admit we’re not perfect. Of course no one is perfect, but society isn’t all that accepting of it. So we stay stuck, pretending that we’re not. Ironic, isn’t it?

Getting unstuck takes honesty and courage. Releasing your self-judgment. And most of all, it requires the belief that being stuck is actually an opportunity to make your life better.

“Making a Change” is the title of Unstuck’s first set of life courses. Why do you think making a change is difficult for so many people?

We published a great Sydney J. Harris quote in a recent Unstuck newsletter that sums it up well:

Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.

With every change there is risk. And even if we don’t like our current circumstances, we have a certain level of comfort with them. It’s the unknown. The unknown is scary. That stops us.

In “Making a Change,” we help lessen the fear. Fear can be powerful, so we got a little playful and created an adorable Ambiguity Monster that shows up in the course videos.

And in that spirit, we help you uncover your true purpose for making a change. For example, if you want to get to work earlier, you might tell yourself it’s because you don’t want to get in trouble for being late. But if you look a bit deeper, you realize that you want your coworkers to trust you, to know they can count on you. That’s a stronger goal that can push you forward.

We also look at what motivates you to build belief in your purpose and yourself. Belief is what trumps your fear and helps you take action.

Then there’s the fear that you might fail. That’s a big one for all of us, going back to the desire to be perfect. So we have to look at failure as a way of learning.

Unstuck’s life courses come in short, “high-impact” increments that users can complete in a few minutes. What makes a life course “high-impact,” and how does the course maximize users’ time?

The high impact comes from bringing the user into the course, rather than asking them to passively watch a video of someone talking. Deep down, we all know what we need to do, but sometimes we need help surfacing it. So the course asks questions that provoke you to think in different ways. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s about what fits you.

The course is divided into four parts, and each takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. One reason for these short bursts is that people have full lives, so we wanted to make it easy to fit into your day. The other reason is that we encourage you to take a day between each part so your thinking can sink in. To let the realizations go deeper as you go about your life.

The overarching goal of the course is designed to prepare users to tackle any kind of improvement. But what kinds of exercises can users expect as they engage with the course on a minute-by-minute level?

With every exercise, we ask you to be honest about what you feel and think and do. We ask you to explore the fear to take the sting out of it. To imagine your circumstances differently. To build a system of beliefs and tactics that we will see you through.

This kind of work is most effective when you let down your guard, so we designed the Life Course to feel like a safe, private place that is full of support and encouragement.

SYPartners and Unstuck set out to create a positive impact in business and society in general. What sources of inspiration do you look to when challenges arise? 

It comes down to belief in what we’re doing. When things get difficult, we step back from the situation so we can clear our heads. Then we remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing. We believe we can make a positive difference in people’s lives — a very compelling reason to keep at it.

With that in mind, we humbly examine what’s gone wrong. It’s hard, but ultimately rewarding. There’s a lesson in everything if we have the courage to look for it.

As we get unstuck from #RememberWhenSTORY and gear up for #WhatComesNext, stay tuned in at @thisisstory for some behind-the-scenes sneak peaks!