Sometimes I see a quote that perfectly captures what I’m thinking. This being the start of a new year and all, in this case, it’s about making changes in your life – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,” by that ever popular source, Anonymous.
In other words, when you continuously repeat actions that didn’t work the first time or have never proved to be effective, it is like beating your head against a wall – it hurts, is incredibly frustrating and progress simply doesn’t happen. Chances are good that you are stuck.
The feeling of being stuck is common. I define the term stuck as being at odds with your desired life circumstances. You don’t live up to your expectations for yourself—whether that means in your job, love life, health, and more.
Getting unstuck has become my superpower, probably because I’ve gotten stuck and unstuck so many times in my own life. Over the past few decades, I’ve transitioned from financial ruin to prosperity, chronic health challenges to a constant state of wellness, obesity to sustaining a healthy weight, divorce to lasting love, and an unfulfilling career to a purpose-driven life. Curious if there were discernable patterns and practices that held people back, I conducted independent research to better understand which key factors cause a sense of stuckness.
Over a three-year period, I interviewed more than one hundred individuals who overcame disruptions and intense challenges: like Marie, a jazz composer who completely burned out after holding her dream concert at Lincoln Center and had to recraft her purpose; and Suzanne, who moved to Sri Lanka to start a new business in midlife and found herself in an extreme COVID-19 lockdown; and Misty, who overcame a lifelong struggle with overeating by getting clear about her motivation.
Leveraging that original research with my personal experience, I created a step-by-step process to help others get unstuck and last year, published a book about it, Free and Clear: Get Unstuck and Live the Life You Want. From that perspective, here are four ways to get unstuck and achieve your goals this year:
1. Take ownership.
When you always blame the failure of certain goals, or being mired in stuckness, on circumstances beyond your control, things are never going to change. You need to take personal accountability for your part in the situation to overcome the obstacles. Plus taking ownership of the problem empowers you to do the same for the solution, which generates better outcomes.
Something that can help is this free quiz I created to determine what type of stuckness you face. Recognizing how you may be stuck, and knowing that it can be in multiple areas, is important in planning how to move forward.
2. Leverage your “tipping point.”
You might call it the proverbial moment of truth or coming to a crossroads. I prefer the term “tipping point” to describe what happens when you have the idea to make a change, the strong desire to break free from what is holding you back.
In epidemiology (the branch of medical science dealing with the distribution, incidence, and control of disease in populations)—something we’ve unfortunately become too familiar with in recent times—a tipping point is the moment when a small change ends up shifting the balance of a situation and ultimately leads to a bigger change. In his fantastic book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
When it comes to being stuck, I’ve observed that the tipping point occurs when the pain of being stuck is less bearable than the effort needed to change circumstances. Sometimes it involves a major loss or disappointment, or even a seemingly small incident that becomes the final straw.
When you reach that moment, lean into it. Write or speak your thoughts into a journal. Embrace it as the catalyst for change you need. It can become part of your “why,” which is your reason for being. Keep it in front of you, as a screen saver, meme or printed document, as an extra source of motivation in powering your forward momentum.
3. Get focused.
Break your desired change down into one specific goal. Trying to do everything at once scatters your energy and effectiveness, and it can be overwhelming. For example, a baby does not just start running; they army crawl, then crawl and cruise until that tiny soul becomes completely mobile.
Instead of setting a general intention like creating a more successful career, think about what that means for you. Does success mean achieving a specific title or compensation package? Perhaps it is about having more flexibility and life balance while generating results and respect at your place of work. Be clear and define that objective.
Once that goal is set, make a list of the micro steps that need to take place to make it happen. Then pace yourself, ticking one or two things off your list each week until that object is achieved.
4. Accept being uncomfortable.
Change can make people uncomfortable for many reasons. Your brain may interpret change as a loss of stability and a threat in a primal way that has nothing to do with who you are.
You could associate that change with diminished power, control, independence, relevance, or a loss of who you are. Perhaps you’ve worked at a company for twenty years and it’s shutting down. Instead of figuring out how your skills apply to other roles or leveraging job-counseling resources, you feel that your skills are irrelevant and shut down, too. Or maybe that goal you want to achieve requires serious behavior modification or learning new skills that don’t come easily to you.
Whatever the circumstances might be, making a positive shift can require you to be uncomfortable for a while. Understand that upfront and recognize that being uncomfortable means you are getting closer to your desired state in life. Sometimes you need to embrace the discomfort for a while. When I lost 50 pounds in a healthy manner over 30 years ago, it wasn’t comfortable at first. But each week I started making small healthy changes that eventually became my norm.
Focusing on your progress and celebrating small wins helps. The discomfort will pass as you adopt your new behaviors for good. For more insights on how to get out of your comfort zone, check out this article I wrote for Thrive Global.
It’s never too late to get unstuck and achieve your goals. Hopefully these tips support your journey of making positive, permanent changes.
What goals are you looking to achieve this year? How have you gotten unstuck recently, and what helped you make that shift?
Looking for a step-by-step process to help you get unstuck and stay that way for good? Check out my book Free and Clear: Get Unstuck and Live the Life You Want. It is chock-full of helpful tips, easy-to-use tools and inspirational stories of individuals who overcame obstacles against the odds.