Two concerned parents recently asked me why their 40-something-year-old son was so stuck – why he never pursued a career, why he would start down one path only to stop. They looked at me as if I could somehow provide them a magical assessment as to why this was the case. What I told them was that it’s never an easy answer, and it’s an issue he needs to explore himself with curiosity and introspection. That said, I had a lot to say about feeling stuck. Many people come to coaching because the feel stuck but manage to find a way to move forward.
To start, “stuckness” is not always a choice. For example, there are some psychological conditions which will physically deplete people’s motivation, making it very difficult for them to lead functional lives. They don’t have much control over their situation. But then there’s the other type of stuckness - the one we do have control over – let’s call it situational stuckness. So, why do we get stuck? The reasons are as varied and numerous as the people who get stuck, but here are some of the common ones I’ve come across.
- Fear - Fear can be paralyzing. You are so afraid of failure that you will actually keep yourself from finishing something and moving forward with it, for fear you won’t be perfect at it, or won’t live up to someone else’s expectations (your parents’ expectations or even their your own). With a very successful parent, you might feel so much pressure to live up to their success that you just shut yourself down from trying. Motivation killed - period.
- Lack of Confidence – You no longer have confidence in your ability to succeed based on prior negative experiences where you felt that you failed. Those experiences can cap motivation and keep you from moving forward because you simply don’t believe you can do it. Your belief systems create your reality.
- Stuck in a Disempowering Narrative – You are stuck in a limiting narrative of yourself, one where you don’t see yourself as capable and able to succeed and be independent for numerous reasons.
- Lack of Courage – You know deep down inside you are not where you want to be, but you lack the courage to admit to yourself that you need help moving forward from where you are.
Any of these ring a bell to you? If so, read on for ideas on how to get “unstuck.” Sometimes, getting unstuck happens slowly over time as you build up the courage to take a much-needed step in your life, and sometimes it’s a sudden incident or internal shift, something that clicks, and then – wham! – you move!
What gets you moving:
1. Finding Courage
People who know they are stuck and move out of it find the courage to admit that they are stuck – that they are not moving forward in their lives the way they want to. Admitting that you are stuck is one of the single biggest steps that can get the ball rolling. Be honest with yourself. Admit where you are in your life, how it feels, and find the courage to ask for help, whether it is finding a mentor, consulting a professional (therapist, coach or otherwise) or just finding someone you can openly talk with about your feelings. That is a great first step.
There is no easy answer on how to get unstuck. It takes self-discovery, the courage to admit you are not where you want to be, the courage to take a step forward and to explore and get curious about what else might be out there for you. The courage to name it. This kind of courage cannot be pushed on anyone; it is something that stems from a deep well within us, a willingness to be vulnerable and to take a risk or unfolds from within over time. If we’re too comfortable then we’re not going to make the move.
2. Getting Outside Help
Coaching in particular is a methodology completely based on asking powerful questions, using intuition, helping people make sense of their feelings and helping people come to their own transformative moments they otherwise would not be able to access on their own. Only through this type of process can one start to understand oneself and uncover what might be keeping them stuck. If they remain stuck in the same place after working with a coach for 3-4 months, then our profession generally makes a referral to therapy or another counseling methodology, as there may be a deeper psychological issue at play that needs attention. Sometimes, people require a combination of both therapy and coaching (and I have many clients that do or have done both).
The important thing is to start looking outside of yourself for help. This can be as simple as creating an accountability structure with a friend to help ensure that you are reaching your personal or professional goals.
3. Welcoming the JOLT (environmental, situational, mental or otherwise)!
Sometimes, getting unstuck requires a jolt, an unexpected one at that! It can be an illness that comes into your life, forcing you into a different perspective, a relationship gone sour, or getting fired from your job. Whatever the situation, take it as a sign that since you are not moving, the universe, God, spirit, or whatever you believe in, is intervening on your behalf.
4. Changing and Believing in Your Narrative
I see clients who make tremendous progress within 3 months of coaching, taking baby steps towards stated goals, and feeling elated because they are finally moving. They were able to clear a narrative out of the way that wasn’t serving them. Sometimes, they transform a negative narrative into a positive one. For example, they take a negative narrative born out of what a former boss said to them and replace it with a narrative they discovered about themselves that is their truth. You inevitably want to create your future from an empowering narrative, else you are just creating a future based on a narrative of the past. The first step is to know what your narrative even is, and then get help changing it if it is not serving you.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my coaching, it is that, as human beings, we are very delicate. I’ve seen some of the smartest, most competent individuals with amazing people skills and huge hearts just get stuck in a rat hole. As one of my clients put it when she came to me: “I feel like a mole living under the ground.” (She now cautiously describes herself as a rabbit hopping about above ground.)
Don’t give up if you are stuck. You are on a path to learn a lesson about yourself. Something external or environmental may happen to shift you out of your circumstances, or sometimes anger and frustration can just push you to make a move. Sometimes, you’ll muster up the courage to ask for help. Just remember that you are not alone, and millions of people before you have felt stuck and have found a way to move forward. You can get unstuck, too.
Have you ever felt stuck on your path? What shifted that allowed you to move forward, either externally or within?