You can’t help yourself but feel a perennial envy towards those who are smiled upon by karma—the lucky individuals who seem to have the Midas touch and everything they undertake ends up with success, recognition and greater opportunities. Life must be so exiting.
We call this sensation many names: I’ve hit a wall; I’m not making progress; I’m stagnant; I’m moving in loops; Something is off in my life; I’m off balance.
Or simply: feeling stuck.
In this article, we’ll look into the reasons behind this feeling and how to get unstuck in life and live a more fulfilling life.
Is Being Stuck Really Such a Bad Thing?
Is it really so bad to be stuck in the status quo? After all, not everyone can be a super-star, right? What’s wrong with living a quiet life, with not many turns and twists and just going with the flow?
True—there is not much fun in this, but there is not disappointment, anxiety, stress and ill-ambition either. Life is easy and uncomplicated.
So why do we keep hearing over and over from the greats that staying is one place is not a good thing?
Tony Robbins gives us an elegantly simple answer to this question:
“If you are not growing, you are dying. “
“Progress equals happiness,” he says. “That ’s because reaching a goal is satisfying but only temporarily. Life is not about achieving the goals, life is about who you become in pursuit of those goals.”((CNBC: Tony Robbins: This is the secret to happiness in one word))
There you have it—staying in one place makes us unhappy.
We all know that the comfort zone can be great. It’s like a warm old blanket you wrap yourself around on a cold winter night, cuddled in front of your favorite TV show.
But just because something feels comfortable, does it mean it’s ok to stick to it forever?
Progress equals happiness, remember.
You may not even fully be aware of the small voice in the back of your mind that’s been bugging you, but you better learn to listen carefully—because you may wake up one day and realize that your productive life is gone and you haven’t achieved many of the things you wanted for yourself.
Pretty gloomy picture, indeed.
Simply put, what the wise men advise us of is not just some self-help fluff for them to gain more popularity or sell more books. It is true—as you will learn below—that not moving forward, not even making the effort to do better or become better—even if you don’t always succeed in these endeavors—is a mental demise and a waste of your potential.
The Common “Stucks”
There are many reasons why you may feel stagnant in your life—some may be completely out of your control even. The main thing, though, is to be able to identify the reasons and then try to take some remedial actions.
But it starts with an awareness—because you can’t fix what you don’t know about, right?
Here are some of the main contributors to your feelings of stuck-ness:
You lack purpose in your life, or the “why” of what you do
Simon Sinek, the best-selling author and motivational speaker tells us in his famous TED talk that every successful endeavor—be it related to an organization, your career or personal life needs to begin with defining the “Why.” You need to be able to explain to yourself why you do what you do and what drives you.
It is the thing (s) that gives meaning and inspires you to wake up in the morning and to want to take on the world. It is your reason for being.
You like the status quo
You may like your comfort zone. After all, it’s…well, comfortable. But as we established, the good old blanket is not necessarily going to make us fulfilled in life. You can watch so many TV shows wrapped in it before you get bored.
We, humans, still carry our ancestors’ fighting instincts—for hunting, for self-preservation, for taking actions to make our lives better. Inaction is not what made the mankind create all the innovations we enjoy today.
The good-old fear of failure and of the unknown
Admittedly, it’s not an emotion to be taken lightly—it can be quite real and powerful for many of us.
According to a Gallup poll done a while ago among U.S. teenagers, the fear of being a failure and not succeeding in life was at number four.((Gallup: What Frightens America’s Youth?)) More specifically, this feeling was described as “making mistakes that will mess up my life,” “not measuring up,” “not leaving a mark.”
So, fear can be a powerful paralyzer and can elicit a “safe-mode” response—i.e. stuck-ness.
We all know the famous adage that we are the average of the five people we rub shoulders with. So, if your in-crowd is similarly stuck as you are, although it may be consoling at times, you won’t be motivated to make much progress yourself.
It’s called a social proof bias—if everyone around you is doing (or not doing) something, then it is ok for you to follow suit.
Comparisons to others
While comparisons are not always bad, according to the Social Comparison Theory,((Psychology Today: Social Comparison Theory)) they have to be handled with caution.
Faring against others can make you very unhappy with yourself. Failing to recognize that your path is not the same as others’ and that there are many ways to get to an end-point (goal) can be very discouraging to taking the first step to unstuck-ness.
Our temperaments can also contribute to a sense of feeling stuck. For instance, you may be more of a passive, dreamy kind of person who prefers observing to taking action, pensiveness to gregariousness, solitude to venturing out in the world.
That is, you have more of a slow-burn personality vs. a fiery one—therefore, it takes you longer to contemplate all alternatives before taking the plunge.
And that’s ok. But you need to recognize that this may also be the reason why you are not progressing as fast or as much as you would like towards your goals.
And while changing who you are is hard (impossible even, according to some psychologists), there are things that can be done to make it so much better for yourself, which I will discuss a bit later.
A final point to note here is that, paradoxically, it is possible to feel both stuck and unstuck at the same time. For instance, you can have a great career, but your family life may feel a bit stale, or wise versa.
As our personal and professional lives constantly fight for the top spot on our attention list, the feeling of stuck-ness may also depend on where you are on your life’s trajectory.
For someone who is younger and single, stagnation may be felt more vividly in their professional lives, as opposed to someone who is in their mid-life, where family takes priority—such individuals may not feel as down-hearted that they are not progressing quickly enough professionally.
How to Get Unstuck in Life
The neat thing about your path to becoming unstuck is that it follows the so-called Principle of Equifinality,((Management Mania: Equifinality Principle)) which states that the end state can be reached by many means.
It’s not just one thing that can help you to start moving forward again. There are many avenues you can explore to find out what works for you and with your own story and personality.
1. Show up and be willing to do the work
Woody Allen has famously said that “80% of success is showing up.” That is, you need to begin with the right motivation and willingness to take action towards unstucking.
You must want to improve your current state. And you must follow through.
Spend some time alone. You need to figure out why you are stuck—that is, what is the root of your discontent. Meditation may help here too. But this step is essential:
Packing on some self-knowledge and awareness on why you are where you are in life can help you discover a whole new universe of ideas on how to make it better for yourself.
It is as the saying goes: Identifying the problem is half of the solution.
3. Break a sweat
There is an avalanche of research on the benefits of exercising for the body and the mind. The latest research tells us that if you want to put your mind in the best possible focus shape, a 15-minute jog will do the job better than 15 minutes of relaxation and meditation.((The British Psychological Society: A brief jog sharpens the mind, boosting attentional control and perceptual speed. Now researchers are figuring out why)) It also clears your thinking, improves your attention spans, and can generally make you feel like a “brand new person.”
4. Find a purpose
As I already touched-upon, the “Why” behind your actions is a prime driver of self-progress. If you link your goals—be them personal or professionals—to a “bigger-than-me” aspiration, then it will be so much easier to convince yourself to keep moving.
According to recent research,((Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology: Collegiate purpose orientations and well-being in early and middle adulthoodCollegiate purpose orientations and well-being in early and middle adulthood)) we all have a specific purpose-seeking style—similar to our own way of writing, dancing or speaking.
There are four types or “Whys”—creative, prosocial, financial and personal recognition. The prosocial approach to finding meaning, though, which is based on kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others, is the best one in the long-run—it was shown to lead to greater caring, integrity and personal growth.
5. Find a passion
It’s barely a secret that if you enjoy something, you will want to do more of it and it won’t feel like an obligation. You will have an internal motivation to keep going despite setbacks, despite the stress or the tiredness you may experience at times.
So, find what thrills you and makes you come alive and strive to become better, the best even, at it. The more progress you make, the more confidence you will have that you can apply the same passion and dedication to all other parts of your life that feel stagnant.
6. Nudge yourself
The Nudge Theory((Independent: The Nudge Theory)) has been around for a while and has shown some wonderful results in positively influencing people’s behaviors—from making us conserve more energy, to improving the payment rates of fines, to making job-seekers more engaged and involved.
Small things as daily reminders in terms of micro-goals you can set on your phone, for instance, can have a profound favorable effect on becoming unstuck.
Nudging can also help overcome some of these personality traits we talked about—like passiveness or acute proneness to procrastination.
7. Seek different experiences
Even if you are in a happy relationship, you may still feel stuck—i.e. you may be unfulfilled, uninspired, or bored even of doing identical things over and over. The same rings true for your professional life.
The end-point is that you need to feed your brain different experiences if you want to get unstuck. If you repeat more of the same thing, you will end up with more or less similar outcomes. Change requires taking the path less trodden, experimenting, learning new ways, seeing new places, reading, travelling—it’s an endless list, really, to personal growth.
According to research covered in Psychology Today,((Psychology Today: What Happy People Do Differently))
“Activities that lead us to feel uncertainty, discomfort, and even a dash of guilt are associated with some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of people’s lives. Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy.”
8. Leave behind the things that are not constructive for you
Arianna Huffington put it in a great way:((HuffPost: Arianna Huffington On The Third Metric: You Can Complete A Project By Dropping It))
“You can complete a project by dropping it.”
Assessing the things that make you feel stagnant is important. But equally valuable is to recognize that just because it may be hard or even impossible to get something that you really want, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you are necessarily stuck.
Maybe it’s simply not your thing. For instance, you may want to become a professional golfer. You practice and practice but you can’t quite reach the level of Tiger Woods that you aspire to. Perhaps it’s time to take stock of your life and shift your focus.
9. Compare wisely
Comparisons can often make you feel down and create a sense of stagnation, which may not always be valid. You must realize that your pace of progress differs from your friends’, neighbours’, siblings or even significant others’.
Just because you are not a millionaire by the age of 30, or haven’t started your own business, or written your third bestseller yet, doesn’t mean that you are not moving forward.
So, mind how you measure your progress and your state of stuck-ness. Your perceptions may differ from reality.
Besides, it’s never ever too late to start things over! Here’s how:
10. Ask for help
Finally, remember that you don’t have to do it all alone. If you feel stuck in your personal life, you can speak to your close ones and find a solution together. Maybe they feel the same way.
At work—raise your hand, speak to your manager, volunteer to do things that can help you learn and become more valuable.
You don’t have to come up with all the answers right now. The most important thing, going back to the first idea, is to be willing to make a change.
When Is Enough Enough?
Seeking progress is a great thing. Who wouldn’t want to become a better version of themselves after all?
But the pursuit of growth should be handled with caution. It can become very addictive and sometimes even be counterproductive.
It’s true—you may experience a “runner’s high” and success can make you overflow with dopamine, but the constant chase of “more” can toss you into a never-ending spinning wheel.
You will never be happy with the status quo and won’t accept things as they are—which, naturally, can open a Pandora box of mental health issues.
That is, too much of a self-improvement drive may leave you unable to enjoy your life, to be fully present in the Now and to appreciate the person that you are.
And this is not necessarily a good thing.
So, should you strive to improve yourself, so that feel unstuck and free again? Absolutely.
But remember to take a breather and be grateful for what you have.
Summing It All Up
The feeling of being satisfied or unsatisfied with one’s life is very personal. Similar to its cousins—happiness and success, it is best measured by and depends on our individual histories, personalities and paths—i.e. my trajectory is different than yours and what makes me feel content may not create the same feeling for you.
For instance, you may be happy to be in a position where you help others and their gratitude is sufficient enough reason for you to wake up in the morning. But for someone else, this situation may create a sense of stuck-ness.
The main take-away here is that you shouldn’t compare your story to anyone else’s because you may end up feeling constantly stuck. And this, speaking from experience, is not the best place in the world to be.
Progress is great, but don’t forget that your life is here and now.
So, try to enjoy yourself some too, while making your grandiose plans to take on the world, will you please?