“Remember, you can’t reach what’s in front of you until you let go of what’s behind you.” ~Unknown
After recently relocating from the UK to Central America, I found it hard to focus my energy and attention again. The upheaval had been all consuming and I was now in a new environment with new routines, new challenges, and a new way of life to adjust to.
I had so much I wanted to do, and I didn’t know which area of life to focus on first. The stuckness I felt affected several different areas of my life, from creating a new exercise routine, to reworking how to spend my mornings, to deciding which work projects to focus on first.
Every time I’ve felt stuck or stagnant in life, I’ve noticed that what helps me get out of this place isn’t trying to resolve everything at once. When I try to take action or make changes blindly, I sometimes end up feeling even more stuck than I felt before. Instead, what helps is taking a step back and asking myself the right questions.
Here are five of my favorite questions to ask myself when I’m feeling stuck:
1. What is the number one thing that, if I started doing it, would have the biggest positive impact on my life?
I love asking myself this question because it cuts through the noise and brings me to what is most important right now.
One of the times I tend to feel stuck is when I’m trying to focus on too many things at once. I experience overwhelm, decision fatigue, and consequently don’t take the action that would get me unstuck again.
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown reveals that the word “priorities” didn’t exist in plural form until the 20th Century. Until then, the only usage was “priority.” The concept of choosing just one priority has been lost since then, and this question helps us return to that focus.
I also find it powerful to flip this question and ask myself, “What is the number one thing that, if I stopped doing it, would have the biggest positive impact on my life?” Thinking about the question from this perspective leads to valuable insights that introduce a little more clarity and ease into my life.
2. What is “good enough?”
Expecting or desiring perfection is one of the fastest ways to feel stuck, because perfection doesn’t exist. When we approach different areas of our lives with the belief “this either has to be perfect or it’s a failure,” it’s understandable we shy away from making decision or taking action. That’s a lot of pressure!
Instead, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself “What does good enough look like here?” Good enough isn’t about scrimping on effort or not trying. It’s about challenging ourselves without introducing the unrealistic burden of superhuman results.
3. What do I really want, and how might I be stopping myself from getting that?
We often have far more control over some things than we think we do. When we don’t take ownership of this power, we can feel helpless in the face of external events and forces and also feel stuck.
Of course, there are many things that we can’t influence. We need to be discerning about focusing on what we can control and letting go of the things we can’t.
For example, many of us want other people in our lives to validate and support our decisions and actions, but we can’t control how other people feel, act, or respond. If we’re waiting for others to change or to give us permission before we go for what we want, we’re waiting for something that is beyond our control.
Asking this question helps us identify where we might have more control over our situation than we think we do. It also sheds light on what we can do differently to feel more powerful and in charge of our circumstances.
4. In ten years’ time, what will be most important to me?
How many big decisions from ten years ago can you remember today? I don’t know about you, but a lot of the things I agonized over a decade ago aren’t even on my radar now!
The gift of hindsight is a beautiful thing, and the good news is that we don’t need to wait for ten years to pass to get clarity on current events and choices.
When I ask myself this question, it takes me out of a scarcity-based short-term mindset and helps me stay true to my values in the long-term. I can focus on who I want to be and on the activities and projects that most contribute to my long-term desires and goals.
5. Who do I need to become to do what I want to do?
We tend to think of getting unstuck in terms of action and doing. While this is important, there’s another piece we need to take into account too: our identity.
In the past, I’ve felt stuck even though I’ve known exactly what my next action steps were and that I’m capable of taking them. In these times, the issue has been my self-concept (i.e. how I see myself). If the action conflicts with my self-concept, I’m likely to feel stuck until I acknowledge that and shift my perspective of myself.
This happened when I started running and exercising regularly. After a while, I would stop doing either of these things without knowing why. Because of this, I wasn’t seeing much change or difference in my fitness levels or skill, and it was frustrating.
When I unpacked what was happening, I realized that I just didn’t see myself as a sporty person. I had a leftover identity from childhood of “the unathletic one,” and exercising on a regular basis challenged this. In order to reach my fitness goals, I needed to shift my self-concept from “unathletic” (a judgment) to “someone who takes care of themselves on a regular basis.”
Through doing this, the resistance shifted and I was able to make regular exercise part of my life.
What questions do you ask yourself when you feel stuck? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
About Hannah Braime
Hannah Braime is a coach and writer who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed. She shares practical psychology-based articles, tools and resources on living a full and meaningful life over at Becoming Who You Are. Get free access to workbooks, audios and much more when you join the community.