Every human walking this Earth knows the feeling of being stuck. That agitated, grinding, indecisive, spinning-your-wheels feeling can make life feel heavy and leave you feeling trapped.
Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret I figured out:
When we feel stuck, it’s usually because we’re trying to do too much.
Yeap, go ahead and sit with that one for a second.
What’s that thing you’ve been putting off doing? What’s that decision that you just can’t seem to make? What’s that change you can’t commit to starting?
If you really drill down on what’s holding you back, I’m willing to bet you’re feeling a sense of overwhelm. You’re trying to create a plan that’s too detailed. You’re trying to anticipate what’s going to happen way in the future. You’re trying to juggle too much in order to just get started. In fact, you probably feel like you don’t even know where to start.
The power of mindfulness is that it relieves you from the pressure of having to do everything. Mindfulness is about just giving your best to one thing, the one thing you can do in this moment.
But what does that even look like when you’re trying to make a major life change? Let’s talk it through together…
Imagine you’re trying to make a decision about your career. Maybe you’re in the corporate space and you’re thinking about branching out. Or maybe you own your business and you’re considering expanding. Maybe you’ve been weighing transitioning from one field to another.
Whatever change you’re weighing, just can’t seem to move forward.
First, take a beat.
If you notice you’re feeling stuck, stop, take inventory, and ask yourself, “Am I trying to do too much?”
Make it concrete. Grab a sheet of paper, pull up a note on your phone, or open a doc on your computer, and then write it all down. That’s right, all of it. What are your concerns? What’s making you feel worried or stressed? What are the different ideas you have? What are the considerations you’re weighing? What things would you have to do to reach your goal?
Take a step back from your list and look at it with a detached eye. How many of those things you’re ruminating on are actually within your control?
When we pause to take stock of all the things running through our heads, we can then release the things we have no control over, which usually shortens the list by a lot.
In fact, half of the items on your list are likely problems that you don’t own. You can burn yourself out trying to fix them in advance, or you can choose to let them go and trust that you have what it takes to navigate them if they become a reality.
This is something I’ve learned on my own personal journey. When I would try to make a decision, I would get hung up on the weight of the considerations. I was always trying to factor in all of the other people who were involved. In the end, the weight of all those calculations was just taking my sight off what I really needed to analyze—what would be best for me.
I realized that I could take everyone else’s needs and feelings into consideration, but eventually, I had to put some of them on the shelf. I couldn’t let them outweigh what I knew I needed to do.
Once you’ve got all your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, cross out anything you can’t control, including other people’s reactions. Take them off your list. Don’t let them be the things that keep you from getting started.
Next, find something you can do this week.
Once you’ve eliminated the things you can’t control, home in on the things that are left on your list. Those are the things you can control. Find one or two things you can start working on immediately—I’m talking this week.
Now here’s where that overwhelm is going to try to find you again. Your first instinct might be, “That’s the thing. I don’t know which of these is most important. I don’t know the best place to start.”
Oooh, do you hear that perfectionism monster sneaking up on you? I didn’t tell you to pick the most important thing from your list. I didn’t tell you to find the best place to start. I just told you to pick something you could do before the end of the week.
Perfectionism will hold you back from even getting started, and my friend, I’m here to tell you, when it comes to getting unstuck, getting started is the only thing that matters.
In fact, it’s something I talk about in Stop & Shift. Most of us want a road map for our lives. We want to believe that we know the exact right turns to take in order to get us to our goals in the most direct, efficient way.
But life doesn’t come with a road map. Heck, it doesn’t even come with GPS. What we need to rely on is our internal compass. A compass can’t tell you every turn you should take. But if you’ve got a well-calibrated compass, if you know the direction you’re headed because you’re clear on your values and how you want to show up in life, you don’t need to make the perfect choices; you just focus on making a choice that will keep you moving in the direction of your goals.
So pick something, anything, you can work on this week, and then…
Make a list of three tasks that will move you closer to that goal.
Science tells us that our brains love sub-goals. When I talked with Sebastian Terry, author of 100 Things: What’s on Your List?, for his episode of In the Details, he clued me into some really great research about the benefits of writing down our goals and breaking those goals into smaller tasks.
A Stanford research study showed that when we focus on smaller goals, rather than the end point, we’re 30% more likely to complete the tasks we need to finish to get to our larger goal. And a Harvard Business Study found that MBA graduates who wrote down their goals, which accounted for only 3% in their study, ended up earning 10 times as much as the other 97% of graduates combined—all in just the first 10 years after they finished their degrees.
And if you don’t mind, I’m going to nerd out on #brainscience for just a minute more. Our brains love a pattern because patterns allow us to see something, mentally process it quickly, and make a decision about what to do with that information—a pretty important survival skill. And it turns out our brains especially love patterns that revolve around the number three. So by making a list of three items, you’re really hacking your brain and opening space for it to operate to its fullest potential.
Having a checklist of tasks can also help you stay unstuck by fueling your motivation. Research has shown that when we check an item off our to-do list, we get a little hit of dopamine, and those little bumps of feel-good chemicals make us want to accomplish another task so that we can get another dose.
So don’t just settle on something you’re going to accomplish this week. Break it down into concrete tasks, and write those down.
Let’s say your goal is to expand your freelance work so that you can transition out of your corporate job. One of the things you wrote down in step two was, “I need to connect with more potential clients.” What three things could you do this week to move you closer to that goal?
Maybe this week you can update your LinkedIn profile, create an Instagram account for your business, and register yourself on a job board for freelancers in your industry. None of those are time-intensive tasks, and all of them would move you one step closer to your goal.
And last, pick a task you can do today.
You’ve created a list of concrete tasks for this week. Now pick one—just one, my friend—and get it done. Today. Before the sun sets.
Caution: Don’t allow yourself to get re-stuck in this step. Your IG account handle, your job board bio, your LinkedIn profile—none of it has to be perfect. None of it is a lifetime commitment.
Just getting something done, even if it’s just a work in progress, and ticking it off your list will feel incredible. In fact, that instant gratification from getting unstuck will feel so good, starting the next task will be even easier!
YES! (Did you get goosebumps? Because I sure did!)
If feeling stuck is a sign of being overwhelmed, then the antidote is finding one concrete task to get you started. Give your brain the space to think. Reduce your mental load by writing those thoughts down. Focus on what you can control. And then simplify things by breaking it down.
That’s how you start to build momentum toward those big, bold dreams, my friend.
Space + Simplification = Unstuck
And here’s one last stat for you… Writing down your goals increases the likelihood of that you’ll achieve them by 30%, but another study showed that people who wrote down their goals and shared them with a friend were even more likely to achieve their goals—in fact 70% of participants who shared their plans and regularly updated a friend on their progress successfully achieved their goals.
Because living life together makes life more meaningful. So if you’re feeling stuck, lean into the people you love, trust, and admire to help you get out of your head and start moving forward.
Feeling stuck is an all too familiar feeling for many of us. It can be frustrating, overwhelming, and at times, paralyzing. Whether it is a difficult decision you must make, a significant change you are considering, or simply a lack of direction or motivation, being stuck can make life feel heavy and leave you feeling trapped. But the good news is that there are ways to get unstuck and move forward.
By looking at things from a different angle, you can gain a fresh perspective. It will help you better understand yourself and the world around you. Keep things simple. By breaking down complex problems or goals into smaller, bite-size pieces, you’ll tackle them with greater ease. And taking action is key. Those small steps will make a big difference in how far you get. And finally, don't be afraid to reach out for support. Seeking the help of friends, family, or professionals can provide valuable guidance and encouragement when you need it most.
Incorporating these practices into your life will help you get unstuck and start living the life you really want. Let’s get to it!