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Feeling Stuck? 7 Ways to Climb Out of a Slump
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February 3, 2022 - 15 min read
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Why do you feel stuck?
How to get unstuck
What not to do when you feel stuck
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Are you feeling stuck in life or at work? Do you feel like you should just start over in life? You're not alone. It's a nearly universal human experience to feel stuck at some point in life. Whether in a career, relationship, or even in identifying the next goal — most people will feel stuck at some point.
Stuckness can look like:
- Really wanting something—a new job, relationship, or improved health, for example—and then losing motivation to get it.
- Identifying something that looks exciting and then talking yourself out of steps to move toward it.
- Endlessly thinking about what could be better or different. Indecision, worry, and over-thinking rob you of being present and enjoying life as it is.
Why do you feel stuck?
Have you ever asked yourself, "Why do I feel stuck in life?" It's not always an easy question to answer. "Stuckness" can wear different guises. Below are a few scenarios when you might want to move, but not know how to.
You've outgrown your current situation
It's a reality that people change over time. Your needs, your wants, and your hopes all evolve. Perhaps that perfect job you landed a year ago doesn't provide enough stimulation now that you've mastered it. This type of situation can leave you wondering which direction to go in next.
You fear external judgment
It can be difficult enough to make some decisions with the support of your network. Without that support, the challenge becomes even more significant. Input is helpful and can keep you on track. But investing too much stock in what other people will think or any negativity they impose on your decision can be paralyzing.
You feel disconnected from your values
Life can lose its sparkle when your values are not present enough in your life. If your day-to-day life doesn't contain the conditions for your values to thrive, they may start to dull. This can leave you feeling like you're not honoring your most authentic self.
You think a change might mean losing something
You can want a new challenge but cling to your current job, for instance. Perhaps your current job offers perceived security and stability. You can reduce your thinking to be very binary, seeing options as "either/or." Allow yourself to open up to the idea of "yes/and" thinking. This type of thought makes it possible to have both a new challenge and financial security.
You've lost hope for the future
Our thoughts are powerful tools. They can send us in the direction we want to head or keep us pinned in one place. Negative thoughts, in particular, can be very influential, and they can conjure up a world of emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and unworthiness. It's hard to move forward when grappling with these negative thoughts and feelings.
You're overwhelmed or burnt out
You could be overwhelmed by your circumstances and life events. Or the possibility and pressure of your next move could cause you to stress. Whether it's over your past or potential future, overwhelm can be hard to overcome.
Additionally, if you've been stressed for a while, as much of the world has, you could be experiencing burnout. Keeping your nervous system on high alert for extended periods of time can blur the lines between what is and isn't harmful. It can also lead to extreme fatigue, which isn't the ideal frame of mind for decision-making.
Your positives vs. negatives lists are in competition
There might be plenty of reasons to make a change and plenty of equally strong reasons not to.
For example, you may want to change your job, but you may also really value your free time. Looking for a new role may eat into that free time. What do you do? This type of pattern can lead you into a vicious cycle that doesn't lead anywhere.
You're comparing yourself to others
Keep in mind: "Comparison is the thief of joy." Compare yourself to yourself—your growth, your potential, your future. And try not to get caught up in comparing yourself to others and then feeling like you're falling short.
You're outside of your comfort zone
You may know what you need to do to become unstuck but feel uncomfortable moving forward. If it's the first time that you're testing a skill or behavior, for example, you might not know what to do exactly. You could be fighting self-doubt or perfectionism. Fear making a mistake or fear having a less than perfect result can hold you back.
How to get unstuck
There are plenty of ways that you can help yourself get unstuck. Below are some approaches you can use to get out of your rut.
Identify what you truly want
Stuckness can be a vague, ambiguous feeling of something in life not being "right." When you notice these feelings, allow yourself some time to clarify what you want to be different. Frame these desires and hopes as what you do want to happen: "I want to maintain or increase my salary" rather than "I don't want to take a pay cut."
Ways to identify what you want:
- Create a vision board. Get creative and create a visual representation of what matters to you and what you want in your life. This board can be as literal or abstract as you like – it's your vision – so have fun with it!
- Determine what your values are. What's important to you? Do you value relationships and loyalty over grit and determination? Make a list of your top 10 values and look for any patterns.
Change your perspective
Remember that feeling "stuck" can be simply a mindset—albeit an oppressive one. But negative thoughts don't hold all the cards. With some self-awareness and conscious effort, you can change your inner voice. And your perspective to be more flexible.
Questions to change your perspective:
- How else can I see this situation?
- How will I feel about this situation in a week/three months, three years?
- What would my eight-year-old self offer as advice?
- What would 80-year-old me say?
Move your body
If you've ever finished the workday with a stiff neck and shoulders, you'll know that tension and stuckness can sit in the body. Exercise can get more positive chemicals running through you. And being outside and in nature does wonders for your well-being.
Ways to get moving:
- Do a quick virtual yoga class. Some are even formatted to do at your desk (but we recommend taking a break if you can)
- Go for a walk
- Stretch your neck, shoulders, and arms
Set a date and park decisions until then
Give yourself space to clear your head, and set a date to re-evaluate your situation. Mark the date in your calendar, and allow yourself to focus on present issues until then. This practice gives you the chance to fully commit to what you're doing without the extra weight of questioning yourself and your future.
Take action to avoid "analysis paralysis"
Once you're clear on what you want, ask yourself, "What's the next smallest step I could take?" It's so easy to get entangled with the stuckness that you forget there are small steps that you could take to make progress.
How to beat procrastination:
Try the Pomodoro Technique. Commit to spending a short time, such as 25 minutes, working on a task uninterrupted. Since the first step is often the hardest, things feel more straightforward once you get going.
Tap into your agency
Stuckness can often make you want to wallow in helplessness. Identify an aspect of your life where you do feel in control and then do something about it.
You cannot be stuck and in motion at the same time. So doing anything with choice reminds you of your ability to get unstuck.
Small activities that build agency:
- Deciding what you want for dinner
- Sending out one job application
- Phoning a friend
Rest, recharge, and focus on self-care
During a challenging time, keep in mind that you're responsible for your well-being. Do what you need to look after yourself through a good diet, sleep, healthy movement, and connection.
Suggestions for self-care:
- Take a break from technology or social media
- Make a gratitude list
- Go to bed earlier
- Take a mental health day
- Do some inner work
When to seek help getting unstuck
Feeling stuck can happen at many different stages of life: early in careers, when transition phases end, at mid-life, after a period of relative stability, or during a pandemic.
If you have persistent feelings of low mood, worry, or anxiety, or your sense of stuckness is getting in the way of your ability to cope, it's a good idea to speak to a doctor or healthcare professional.
What not to do when you feel stuck
To reduce any extra stress and worry that can arise when feeling stuck in a rut, keep these in mind:
Try not to over-identify with the situation
Say, "I'm feeling stuck," rather than "I am stuck." It's subtle but essential because it allows you to remember that feelings pass. One moment you might feel stuck, but the next moment you might feel tired, delighted, or any number of emotions.
Don't beat yourself up
Most people like to have clarity and control over their lives. So the feeling of being stuck can be frustrating. Rather than beat yourself up over feeling stuck, treat yourself with self-compassion.
Don't focus on the stuck area as the only thing in your life
Remember that each situation that makes you feel stuck is just one part of your life. For example, if you feel stuck at work, spend some time appreciating what is good about your health or relationships.
Try not to blame others
We don't live in a vacuum, and others' decisions and actions can impact our lives. But dwelling on them isn't productive.
Give other people the benefit of the doubt, and consider that they may be doing the best they can with the tools they have. And remember that you're ultimately in charge of many aspects of your personal and professional life.
Don't doubt your ability to handle your decisions
If you're really stuck with a choice between two options, they may be equal—or one would be more obvious. When you consider the cost of staying in the limbo of indecision, you may find it's better to commit to a decision. You can then move forward with the self-belief that you're able to handle what comes next. Trust yourself.
Final thoughts on feeling stuck
Unlike a ship that's run aground, a car stuck in the mud, or a fallen tree blocking a river's path—the particular stuckness of humans can be one of choice, state of mind, and perspective. Remember: it's never too late to start over in life.
Choose to see your situation through a different lens and see what opens up for you.
Hopefully, by using the tips above, you will get unstuck, find your agency and ultimately change your life.
Published February 3, 2022
BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC
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Why We Feel Stuck in Life and the Secret to Dealing with It
“It is the way we react to circumstances that determines our feelings.” ~Dale Carnegie
We’ve all felt like we’re drowning in mud.
You feel stuck, worthless, and confused.
You want to move. You should. You have to. But you can’t.
And then it evolves into anxiety, fear, and overwhelm.
But what if—just what if—being stuck isn’t the problem, but how we perceive it?
The Truth About Being Stuck
Every year, I have periods where I feel “stuck.”
Yet when I look closer, I see that “being stuck” is a label I give to a natural part of life.
It’s a time when not much happens. The anxiety comes when I think it should be otherwise. I start to force myself to work, to come up with ideas, and to make things happen.
And when I don’t get anywhere, I call it being stuck.
So, what is being stuck except the way I perceive life?
As I write this, I’ve been in a stuck period for the last few months. The difference is that I struggle less, because I’m beginning to let it be.
Why We Get Stuck
You get stuck when you think you should be something you’re not. When you think life should be different than it is.
I know I’m trying to force myself to do something when words like ”should,” ”have to,” and ”must” enter my mind.
When I relax and surrender to this quiet period in my life, things seem okay. I see that I can’t control life. I can only notice what life brings to me.
The Secret to Being Stuck Completely
Being stuck is like quicksand. The more you try to get out, the deeper you sink.
My mind wants to push, control, and manipulate. It stems from insecurity. I want to be secure, be loved, and be remarkable.
I think that if I could just control life, all would be well.
It’s not until I face reality that things begin to lift. Here are three things I do:
1. Give up.
When you’re stuck, surrender to being stuck.
I notice the thoughts and feelings within me that say that I’m stuck, and that something is wrong.
If I stay completely in this moment, there is no being stuck. There is only the label of a situation—a label that I’ve invented based on what I think my life should look like.
When I notice all this going on, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.
But that doesn’t mean that the feelings go away. I might still feel the anxiety, but it doesn’t have a death grip on me anymore.
I can see the play of thoughts. I can surrender to what comes.
And I still fall into resisting, but I’m getting better at letting it be what it is. I’m getting better at enjoying being stuck.
The funny thing is that when we enjoy being stuck, we’re not stuck anymore, because being stuck was all in our head.
2. Enjoy yourself.
There’s always something you feel drawn to do during these periods. You’re not completely stuck, not in every area of your life.
Right now, I’m reading books. I’m playing with my son. I’m watching movies and TV shows (the British version of Sherlock is amazing).
And on occasion, I’m writing articles like this, expressing what I feel.
I do the work I need to do. But then I let myself have fun.
It’s easy for me to feel guilty during this period because I feel like I’m not doing enough. But I’ve learned to see that I’m doing the best I can.
It’s another example of getting stuck in the story that I tell myself.
I am who I am. I’m doing what I can do. That’s enough.
And right now, that means doing less. The tide will shift soon enough.
The same is true for you. Do what you can, but go easy on yourself.
At times when I feel truly stuck, I write.
I don’t have a system or structure. I get a piece of paper and I write. I like to write by hand, the old fashioned way. It seems to clear my head more than writing on my computer.
What I do is write down everything going on in my head. No censoring. No looking back.
I let everything come out, especially the nasty bits.
The more I do this, the more I notice repeating patterns. I see how I want to change what is, and how futile it is.
The more aware I become, the more these things fall away.
When you truly become aware of what goes on inside of your head, you start to let go because you see how you create your own suffering.
My Biggest Mistake
When we resist what is, we suffer. That’s true for anything in life.
When I try to change what is, I poison myself from the inside out.
But with time, I’ve learned to see my resistance as a sign to relax. To see that I can only do my best with what I have, then it’s out of my hands.
There’s no pushing needed. Life lives itself through me, because I am life.
I am not separate from anything or anyone. I am this planet. I am the stars. I am you.
I sometimes wonder why we think we are not supported in life. We come into this world through a womb, where we’re supported.
The trees in the forest are supported. Yet we believe we’re the exception. Are we? I don’t think we are.
We just think that life should look different than it does. But the fact that life isn’t what you think it is shows that you’re wrong.
Let Things Be
Whether you feel stuck for a week or for a year doesn’t really matter.
You do the best you can with what you have.
But something I’ve noticed is that the longer I’m stuck, and the more I surrender to it, the more I learn when I come out of it.
It is the darkest periods of my life that have taught me the most about myself.
I’ve learned that life isn’t all about accomplishing things. Sometimes it’s about resting and letting things be.
These periods are no different than the seasons. There’s sun. There’s snow. There’s light, and there’s darkness.
Once you let it be what it is, things change because your perception changes.
But beware of making this another thing you have to do. Be kind to yourself. Let yourself be completely stuck.
And let yourself fight it, because you will.
It’s all good.
About Henri Junttila
Henri writes at Wake Up Cloud, where you can get his free course: 7 Steps to Building a Lifestyle Business Around Your Passion. He's also the author of Find Your Passion: 25 Questions You Must Ask Yourself and Follow Your Heart: 21 Days to a Happier, More Fulfilling Life.
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Stuck? Here are 8 ways to move your life forward
I'm sure everyone experiences this feeling from time to time. And some stay in it all the time. This is an unpleasant feeling of powerlessness, doom, fatigue that occurs every time you want to change something in your life, but circumstances prevent this. You hit your forehead against the wall, but you can't move an inch. You rake out of the swamp, and it sucks you back with gusto. You're stuck...
At such moments, you really want to give up, put up with it and pretend that everything is going as it should. Do not give up. There are effective ways to regain control over the situation and get the ball rolling. nine0003
Decide on the terrain
First, determine where you are and where you want to go. Do you feel stagnant and lack of perspective in your work? Do you have problems in social life or in relationships with colleagues? Maybe your family relationships have exhausted themselves and require renewal? Decide what problem makes you feel negative and think about how you can solve it. Do not grab changes in all areas at once, focus on the main thing. This will help bring much more clarity to the situation. nine0003
Find a tugboat
Sometimes there are such circumstances that it is simply impossible to get out of life's impasse on your own. Experienced motorists know that if you are really seriously stuck, then you need to stop stepping on the gas (only dig deeper) and follow the tugboat. In our situation, such a tug can be a best friend, family, teacher, therapist, or even a professional coach. Put aside excessive pride and do not hesitate to ask for help. You have to move forward, don't you? nine0003
Try to keep a journal in which you record the details of your life journey. Write down why you feel stagnant in life, what opportunities are available for you to move forward, what you have tried and what results you got, new ideas you can try, and so on. Ask yourself tough questions that no one else would dare, and answer them honestly. You may be surprised how much this can help you.
Practice at least 10 minutes of meditation a day. Very often, this is a good way to find a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation, when all attempts have been tried, and the brain is driven in circles, sorting out deliberately failed options. In the process of meditation, our consciousness relaxes, but the brain continues to work on the problem sitting in the subcortex, so as a result, you can get a sudden insight into the issue that is tormenting you.
Google is available to everyone and is completely free. Almost certainly one of the billions of people on earth has already been in your situation, solved it and shared their experience on the network. Of course, there may not be 100% identical cases, but you will surely find some similar situations. Perhaps this is what will give you new ideas and strategies for overcoming the crisis.
Brainstorming is a great way to get on the right track. Just take a piece of paper and write down all the ideas that come to your mind to solve your problem. No thinking, evaluation or discussion - a maximum of ideas, even the most crazy ones, in a unit of time. Then you can calmly weigh all the pros and cons and in a pile of frank slag you will find that diamond that you missed so much. nine0003
Change your surroundings
If you want to start running, but your friends pull you for beer every night, then you will have to overcome not only your internal resistance, but also theirs. If you want to devote your life to music, then surrounded by musicians it will be much easier to do. Try to surround yourself with people who, if they don't help you, at least won't hinder you.
Try something new
Albert Einstein said that “madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a new result.” So why don't you, if you want to break out of the quagmire of life's stagnation, try to do something new? New recipes, music, routes, hobbies, goals. This is the only way to break out of the vicious circle of routine, when it seems that everything has already been tested, passed, felt and nothing will happen in life. nine0003
Do you ever have a feeling of stagnation in your life?
“I do a lot, but nothing happens!”: for those who are stuck on the same level
I recently met a certain radio host. He is quite famous (in narrow circles of sports fans), he has extensive experience in sports journalism, everything seems to be fine, but he is confused: “I work a lot, I lead several projects, I develop in sports knowledge, I regularly go in for sports then I implement it, but... it doesn't fire. I stay at the same level. It's like I can't go to the next step. Outwardly, everything is fine, but I seem to be frozen. nine0003
I asked him how long it took. And he said this: “Three years already. You know, it feels like my real life - bright, large-scale, amazing - runs exactly in parallel, and I can't jump onto these parallel flights.
And I understand him very well! I myself had such a feeling in those days when I made the decision to leave the "beautiful life" from Moscow. I felt languor inside: it seems like you have been doing something for a long time, developing, working hard, but still you can’t break through the ceiling. You seem to be around all the time. I call this stage the Age of Accumulation. nine0003
Feel familiar? If so, then this chapter from my second book, 100 Ways to Change Your Life, is for you. It is like tea with chamomile, it should calm you down.
What is the Age of accumulation?
Let's return to our problem: you have been doing something for a long time, but you do not see a large-scale result. For example, for me this was expressed in the fact that by the time of my "last straw" - when I decided to quit everything and leave - I had been regularly published in various publications for 12 years, was a celebrity interviewer, worked in the largest radio holding, TV projects, but ... fundamentally nothing happened. I also had this feeling: my real life goes in parallel, but I, as in a dream, run in place and cannot reach it. nine0003
So, how do you know that you are in the Age of accumulation?
- You are satisfied with the direction of your activity, but not satisfied with the result: you know that you can do more.
- You have been moving along this path for three, five, seven, ten years, but there is no long-awaited breakthrough.
- You cannot be called lazy: you work hard.
- You have the feeling that real life is running in parallel. And you need quite a bit to reach.
- From the outside, it seems that other people who do the same thing as you move to a new level faster. nine0068
So, if you agree with at least three points, then I congratulate you: you are in the Era of accumulation.
How to get out of the Era of accumulation?
1. Understand that this is part of a larger puzzle.
Calm down: what is happening to you is normal. And on each new turn, such a segment will be waiting for you. As I said, while working on TV, I was engaged in castings and interviewed thousands of girls and women over several years. Then it seemed to me that all this was empty chatter and nonsense. I did not understand how I could be moved forward on my magnificent, amazing path by the fact that I am now sitting in some Volgograd and listening to the story of a girl who was beaten by her mother in childhood. nine0003
But now - years later - I realize that it was a huge puzzle. Incredible in beauty. Then I did not see him from the outside and was too stupid to understand the highest plan of everything that happens to me.
After a couple of years, the impressions, observations and conclusions from these interviews and conversations became the basis of my picture of the world. And the desire to tell people about it led to the fact that first the group appeared, and then the first book, and now the second.
And now, when I have reached a new level, I can say that everything was not in vain. Every impression, every conversation, every experience helped to become the foundation for the spaceship that carried me through space and brought me to a new planet. nine0003
Indian philosopher (and, by the way, one of the leaders of the Bank of India) Ramesh Balsekar said a brilliant thing: "Whatever happens at the present moment is necessary."
Everything that is happening to you now will later be built into a giant puzzle, and you will see the whole picture. My friend, now a successful herbalist, told me how it happened for her.
“At first I was an ordinary pharmacist in a pharmacy. I always wanted to create medicines myself, but I did not know what it would be and how it would be. For 10 years, I received several types of additional medical education. But... nothing happened. And all this time I was drawn to herbs, medicinal plants. From various trips, I brought herbs with me, I became interested in biology. And in the end, the path led me to herbal medicine, in which all the skills suddenly formed into a single picture, and I made a breakthrough. I realized that all my movements made before that were not an empty sound, but part of a large canvas that could be seen only by seeing it in its entirety. And I don’t regret at all that it happened now, and not 20 years ago.” nine0003
So right now, your actions may seem pointless and dead ends to you. But believe me: if you move forward, the path will lead you where you need to go. Everything that is happening at the present moment is necessary.
2. Ask yourself a couple of honest questions.
Here are two tips on how to get through the Age of Accumulation more easily. I came up with a system of five points. Take a piece of paper, a pen and write their names: Dawn, Era of Accumulation, First Breakthrough, Second Breakthrough, Climax. nine0003
Dawn : where you were at the very beginning of the journey. Let's say I have a newspaper in the small town of Salavat.
The era of accumulation : where are you now. What do you already have at the moment? What experience? I had a job in the major media in the Age of Accumulation.
First breakthrough : answer to the question "What needs to happen for me to understand: hooray, I jumped on my rails, now I need to gain momentum?". What exactly will be the event for you, after which you will understand that you have made the First Breakthrough? If you know the answer to this question, then you are a great fellow. If you, like me in my time, cannot answer it, then you can do one of two things. nine0003
1. Write several scenarios and list, say, three possible scenarios.
2. Write how you will feel after the First Breakthrough. Believe me, this feeling cannot be confused with anything. I remember the day I signed the contract to publish my first book. I got behind the wheel of my car, looked at the contract and suddenly saw me standing on my rails. And everything fell into place.
Have you ever had a displaced vertebra? Or a pinched nerve? Remember the feeling when a vertebra falls into place? The same happened to me. In general, in this paragraph you can describe your feelings, and not a specific event. nine0003
Second breakthrough: According to the scheme from the previous paragraph, you need to roughly understand what will become a second level Breakthrough for you.
I decided for myself that it could be:
- a fiction book that will be translated into 50 languages;
- script for a great movie that will make people change their lives;
is a new live performance format that will reach millions of people.
In general, there are many possibilities. The unifying thought in all variants is to spread your ideas not to a couple of million people, as it is now, but to hundreds of millions. nine0003
Why do we single out the First Breakthrough, Second Breakthrough, and Climax? To understand that we are moving, not standing still. These points are needed to track your movements in life.
Climax : the highest point of your Path. Here you can fantasize freely. Imagine the highest level of travel in your path. What could it be?
When I think about it, my hamstrings tremble. Pulitzer Prize for Literature? Oscar for Best Screenplay? An online performance for a couple of billion people? nine0003
Unleash your imagination and your desires. In the end, there is nothing to lose.
Once again, our goal in this exercise is to see that, first, we have made great progress along the path from dawn to noon; secondly, to find out how we will understand that the First Breakthrough has come.