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Getting Unstuck Toolkit

First Edition Published March 2018 Exploration x Design Written and designed in Austin, TX

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) This license allows you to remix, tweak, and build upon this work non-commercially. When doing so, you must acknowledge Exploration x Design. Contact if you have any questions. For more information about Creative Commons and what you can do with the content and ideas contained in this kit, go here:

Most likely you’ve picked up this kit because there is a challenge holding you back from achieving a goal - whether you’re trying to solve a design problem, trust someone (or yourself), follow a dream, communicate an idea, live your best life potentially there’s an infinite number of reasons you might feel stuck. Getting Unstuck is a process and hopefully this kit will help you begin a journey of deeper self awareness.

“It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get bad in order to get good.” –Paula Scher


You are about to embark on an exploration of deep significance. Give yourself as much time as you can afford for this journey. This kit will provide you with the equipment, but you are your own guide. Here’s the stuff you’ll want on hand: -

Post-it notes Sharpie markers Printed copy of our Getting Unstuck Worksheets Notebook Pen Timer

Find a quiet place where you will be undisturbed and able to concentrate.



reativity is a state of mind - not a job function or title.

When it comes to designing meaningful solutions we have to get better at reaching beyond our own limited points of view. Cultivating empathy requires self awareness. Our workplaces need to empower people to be vulnerable. When we’re able to be honest and open we can transform how we communicate. Workplaces can develop collaborative cultures when people feel safe to be individuals. Mindfulness is a daily practice that helps us tap into ourselves. And by understanding ourselves we are able to understand others. We can learn to identify deep insights and ignore the noise. Push past the surface and reach for opportunities that enhance our lives. We can solve any type of problem if we learn to cultivate empathy for ourselves and others. For this reason, we are all designers of our shared future. We are all responsible for sharing our experiences and points of view to elicit meaningful debate. Eventually, if we can work together to form deep insights we can create ideas for solutions to all the issues our society faces - from the superďŹ cial to the most wicked of problems.


“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Let’s face it - we’re not always in the best headspace. After all we are human and susceptible to slipping into unhelpful habits. We can be stretched too thin. We can fall into auto-pilot mode too often. We have our own unique triggers, biases and limitations that can hold us back from living our best lives.

Some believe our biases are hardwired into us and our worldview is fixed. There is some truth to the idea that we are shaped and formed by our experiences and innate nature. However, over the past couple decades some really intriguing research has surfaced and opened new ways of thinking about the brain. It turns out the brain is far more plastic than science initially believed it to be - and no, this doesn’t mean the brain is actually made of plastic. The human brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons). Research has shown that the brain never stops changing through learning. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change. EXPLORATION X DESIGN: GETTING UNSTUCK TOOLKIT

Neuroplasticity science has shown that as little as 5 minutes of meditation each day can improve attention and performance on learning and memory tasks. Getting into the right headspace requires integrating the mind and body. The more you practice mindfulness the more aware you’ll become of the signals your body sends you throughout your day. This practice isn’t just for designers - it’s for anyone who wants to become more self aware. It’s for anyone who wants to produce their best work. It’s for anyone who wants to experience more flow in their lives. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention. As designers it is an invaluable tool. Our goal as designers is to tap into empathy and we do this by paying attention. We observe and question in order to learn. We use what we learn to make ideas come to life. We prototype and ideate while paying close attention to how our ideas impact people. As human-centered designers we are obsessed with discovering new ways to solve all types of problems. Discovering is mindfulness put into action.

Automatic Thoughts Our thoughts are created by our mind, which is constantly helping us interpret the world around us, describing what’s happening, and trying to make sense of it by helping us interpret events, sights, sounds, smells, feelings. It’s just what the human mind does. Without even realizing it, we are interpreting and giving our own meanings to everything happening around us. We might decide something is pleasant or nasty, good or bad, dangerous or safe.


Habitual and persistent - our thoughts seem to repeat over and over, and the more they repeat, the more believable they seem, then they set off a whole chain of new related thoughts. They can follow themes, for short periods, or very often, throughout years and decades. Our thoughts are ours - they can be quite specific to us, perhaps because of our present and past experience, knowledge, values and culture, or just for no good reason at all. We tend to automatically believe our thoughts, usually not stopping to question their validity. But our thoughts are not necessarily true.

Mind Applies Meaning


Triggers can be words, an image, a memory, a physical sensation, an imagined sound, or based on ‘intuition’ - a sense of just ‘knowing’


Unhelpful Thinking Habits Over the years, we get stuck by unhelpful thinking habits. Learning to identify your own unhelpful thinking, you can start to notice them - and by noticing them you can challenge and distance yourself from those thoughts and see situations in a different and more helpful way. Reframing is possible when we are open to alternative points of view.

Mental Filter When we notice only what the filter allows or wants us to notice, and we dismiss anything that doesn’t “fit”.

Judgements Making evaluations or judgements about events, ourselves, others or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence of..

Shoulds and Musts

Emotional Reasoning


Thinking or saying “I should” (or shouldn’t) and “I must” puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations.

Just because it feels bad, doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad. My feelings are just a reaction to my thoughts - and thoughts are just automatic brain reflexes.

Assuming we know what others are thinking (usually about us). Am I assuming I know what others are thinking?

Mountains and Molehills

Compare and Despair


Critical Self


Exaggerating the risk of danger, or the negatives. Minimizing the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or minimizing positives.

Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and getting upset when comparing ourselves negatively against them.

Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen. Ok, thinking that the worst possible thing will definitely happen isn’t really helpful right now.

Putting ourselves down, self-criticism, blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not (totally) our responsibility.

Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe the the danger is here and now, rather than in the past, causing us distress right now.


Over the next five minutes we’re going to work on noticing our thoughts. Begin by closing your eyes. Start to breathe with intention. Allow yourself to hear your breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. To help you connect, make an audible ‘ahhhhh’ as you exhale. Continue this for three more breaths. Fill the room with the sound. Place your right hand on your stomach and your left hand on your heart. Feel how your lungs expand and push your rib cage against your shirt. As you exhale feel your chest gently soften. Notice what it feels like in your body to breathe. Feel your seat firmly planted into the ground holding you up. Securing you. Feel your feet grounded into the floor. If you need to shift a little to feel more comfortable its ok to adjust yourself. You should feel relaxed and safe. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice the sensations within your body. Are you feeling nervous or self conscious? Are you holding onto tension? Focus on an area of your body that feels tense or tight or uncomfortable and with each breath feel that part of your body soften and relax. Meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts. The goal is to notice them and let them go. The mind is always changing. Just like your body. Some days it’s easy to find focus and other days it’s tricky. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Give yourself permission to take a break from labels like good or bad. Just notice the types of distractions that come into your mind as an emotion or a thought and as soon as you notice them - let the distraction go. With each breath let your thoughts slip away.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person's perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It's all through our own individual prisms.” - Sterling K. Brown

Reframe: (verb) frame or express (words or a concept or plan) differently.





What’s on your mind right now? Generate as many post-its as possible within a contained amount of time. Minimum of 5 minutes. Maximum of 1 week.



EMOTIONS Place post-its that are linked to an emotion here.

THOUGHTS Place post-its that are linked to a thought here.

2. A


EMOTIONS Can you identify post-its by a type of emotion?

THOUGHTS Can you identify post-its by a type of thinking?




Examine all your post-its, which need your attention right now? Place the most important post-its here.

2. A


Of all the post-its, select a single post-it that is your number one priority and place it here.


How might a cowboy express your post-it? Generate as many reframes of your post-it here in the voice of a cowboy.



Describe what you’ve realized through this excercise. What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started step 1?

3. A

How might Princess Leia express your post-it? Generate as many reframes of your post-it here in the voice of Princess Leia.


How might your best friend express your post-it? Generate as many reframes of your post-it here in the voice of your best friend.




Complete steps 3- 4 with each post-it you placed in box 2. Advance to step 6, once you’ve generated insights for all of the post-its you need to focus on.




THOUGHTS Can you reframe your original post-its in a way that is more helpful and actionable? Place reframes here.


Describe what you can do today based on what you’ve learned. This can be as simple as reframing your post-its in a way that is more helpful to you, or listing specific actions you can take; such as, asking for help from a co-worker or friend.

FEELINGS Can you reframe your original post-its in a way that is more helpful and actionable? Place reframes here.

Jess Lowry, Founder of Exploration x Design

My job as a human-centered designer is to design for other people - not myself. When it comes to designing meaningful solutions we have to get better at reaching beyond our own limited points of view. Too often we stay on the surface and rarely dig deeper to uncover meaningful insights. We do this for a variety of reasons often we’re dealing with constraints of time and budget, other times; we fear what we might uncover because it might reveal something about ourselves that we’d rather not address (or maybe a business flaw no one knows how to change). Design Thinking is a process to help people work collaboratively and reach below the surface to uncover deep insights. The best solutions are designed by teams who allow themselves to think beyond limited points of view. When teams are equipped with self awareness and acceptance they can perform at an optimal level. Creative exploration is a practice and requires the ability to maintain a beginner’s mindset. As a design coach, I’m interested to explore what design means to you. Creativity is a state of mind - not a job function or title. I want to help people explore design as a practice, not a job function; in order to cultivate deeper levels of empathy for themselves and others.


Be Patient - Getting Unstuck Takes Time and Practice If you've made it this far, you know that getting unstuck takes quite a bit of time and effort. I hope the information presented here equips you for the challenge of reframing unhelpful thinking. If you need help, contact me. I’m happy to talk about collaborating together. You are not alone, reach out at any time! I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to use the #gettingunstuck tag on Twitter or Facebook, or email me your story at


Exploration x Design presents: Getting Unstuck, 2-Day Intensive June 15 - June 18, 2018 Austin TX


Tickets and Info on Eventbrite:

Big thanks and deep appreciation to the following people: Andrea Wheelock Jess Nordquist Erin Davis Marcy Bell Information about Automatic Thoughts and Unhelpful Thinking was sourced from the following website: Images, Icons, Photos sourced from

Content inspired by the following resources: Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD Design the Life You Love: A step by step guide to building a meaningful future by Ayse Birsel Designing Your Life: How to buld a well-lived joyful life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans


EXPLORATION X DESIGN Created by Jess Lowry, Founder of Exploration x Design in Austin TX


Exploration x Design: Getting Unstuck Toolkit  
Exploration x Design: Getting Unstuck Toolkit