By Dr. Steve G. Jones
It was Dana Arcuri who said that: “When we are stuck in a rut we are being invited to grow and expand.”
Wise saying. But do we always do that?
Your answer is as good as mine.
For what we usually do is what an African proverb warns against: “Don’t turn where you fell at into a bed.”
The story of Alex and his girlfriend Kate
I wished Alex had known that.
Alex is the kind of guy that everyone couldn’t help liking. In effect, he was always in between jobs and was always broke. Yet all his family and friends could say about him were only good things.
His girlfriend, Kate, thinks genuinely that he is the sweetest guy one could have in the whole world. But patience we know has limits. So over the years, she grew more and more exasperated with Alex.
One thing is sure.
Kate loved Alex in what concerns his personality. But what worried her was that he always found it difficult taking responsibility for his own life. This made Kate felt stuck in an unsavory situation where she has to bail Alex out of one trouble after another.
But one day things came to a head as they were bound to do under such situations.
Alex got into an accident. In effect, his car skidded off the road and ended up in a ditch. Luckily for him, he only suffered a few broken ribs. But his leg was in a cast for 3 months.
Matters would have been otherwise had it been Alex’s own car. The bad news was that it was actually Kate’s car Alex had borrowed to have a night out with his friends.
Needless to say, Kate was utterly upset.
Don’t get things wrong. It wasn’t because of the car. A car can be repaired or replaced. But the fact was that Alex’s irresponsibility almost got him killed. And you don’t have to be told that life is irreplaceable.
Although the poor girl took care of Alex for the next several months, she had already decided by then to break up with him.
So after Alex recovered from his accident, this obliged him to take a long, good and hard look at himself and the choices that he made. Things didn’t look too good for him.
This was when he realized that something had to change. It dawned on him that at best he was always going to be where he was or worse lose his sweetheart if he didn’t do something about his lifestyle.
But no matter one’s will, old habits are not easy to break, we are told. But where there is a will there is a way, we also know. In other words, all hope is not lost.
How to Break Free From a Less-Than-Ideal Life
Like Alex, many people lose their direction in life and feel trapped.
You might have a fuzzy idea of the person you want to be – or the kind of life that you want for yourself…
…but you don’t really know how to make that happen.
This is where destructive feelings of dissatisfaction come from.
But there is good news. You can, in fact, get out of the rut you’re stuck in – even if you feel the complete opposite. Yes, you can, let me assure you.
3 Reasons why you feel trapped
But if you feel like you can’t move forward in life, chances are that this has something to do with the 3 following reasons:
- You don’t know what you want
- You don’t know how to get it
- You’re getting in your own way
Let’s see them in some detail:
Reason #1. You Don’t Know What You Want
Like the picture above, most people don’t realize that they could be so much closer to their ideal future if only they spent real time thinking about what that future actually means.
Instead, they only have a vague, nebulous idea of the things that they want. However, without a clear idea of what to aspire for, those plans and goals will be just as half-baked.
Therefore, you need to have a well-defined idea of what your “Point B” is – a.k.a. Where you want to be…
Strangely, it is…
…work your way back to “Point A”, which is nowhere than where you are now.
What does this mean?
What this means is simple.
You have to have a well-defined “Point B” before you can start plotting your course towards that destination.
To help you with that, here are some questions that you need to ask yourself:
- What kind of values do I live for? Is it truth, helping others, creating beauty in the world, adding value to other people’s lives, etc.?
- In what way do I express these values in my personal life, and in my work?
- What kind of problems do I want to solve, and how does this honor my values?
- What would a typical day in my ideal future look like? Who am I with, and what kind of problems am I solving, and how do I add value to the world?
Take it from me that it’s very much worth your while sitting down and answering these questions as truthfully as you can. You have to be as detailed as you can and also describe any emotional details.
In effect, the clearer you can paint this picture, the better sense of PURPOSE you’ll have in your life! So do it.
And this is the perfect antidote to feeling “stuck.”
Reason #2. You Don’t Know How to Get It
Like fatality, a lot of folks tend to just accept their situation as it is and get used to feeling stuck.
It is because often they have been so beaten down that they felt like there’s nothing to do but give up. In other words, they have been used to giving up instead of confronting their situation head on.
Sometimes you can’t blame them so much.
These unfortunate folks become desperate and end up believing that there’s really nothing else for them to do about their situation. It’s like they are trapped in an endless tunnel with no light to look forward to.
What they don’t realize is that instead of being caught between fear and despair, what they really lack is a solid plan to get out of the rut they’re in. That’s why they never achieve the escape velocity to overcome the gravity of their situation, so to say.
Worse, they’re so paralyzed by their situation that they’re afraid to come up with a plan in the first place. Treading water and staying afloat is a lot less scary than trying to move forward and fail.
This may make you feel good in the short run. But nobody escaped such a situation without really doing something radical about it.
Rather, “protecting” yourself from failure has far worse consequences in the long run than making a plan to get un-stuck. So…
Here’s a good way to get the ball rolling:
- Get your plan in place: after you’ve spent time figuring out what you want to do (i.e., your Point B), the next step is to translate that desire into an actionable plan. From here you can come up with smaller goals leading up to your Point B.
- Use the SMART approach:
any goals you make should be Specific (well-defined), Measurable
(it can be measured in some way), Attainable (it’s actually possible to make accomplish those goals), Relevant (it’s connected to your values and sense of purpose) and Time-based (there’s enough time to execute your plans and there’s a definite timeline)
- Create checkpoints: any plan should run on a schedule, and that means setting up goalposts on your way to your Point B. So you can break down that big goal into smaller goals, which can each be represented by a specific checkpoint. That way, you’ll have a sense of progress as you reach each checkpoint.
- Get a planner: the act of writing down your goals on a planner will make your plans feel more tangible and doable. It will also give you a better sense of urgency since you’ll need to schedule your goals on a weekly and monthly basis.
This is a sort of a bird’s eye view of the “getting what you want” process. Instead of being “just a view”, it is a great way to overcome your inertia and keep moving forward.
Reason #3. You’re Getting in Your Own Way
You may not admit it but that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Here’s the other thing. Take it from me that you’re going to butt into a lot of obstacles trying to move from Point A to Point B.
But I’m sure you probably know this already. For if you feel stuck in some way, it’s nothing more than a clear sign you’re having a hard time getting over those obstacles.
And the biggest reason people can’t move forward is that one feels comfortable not asking the hard questions.
But as uncomfortable as it is to grapple with these questions…
…there is no best way than that to dismantle those formidable barriers getting in your way of a better life.
That said, it’s worth sitting down and asking yourself the following questions:
- “Which of my habits aren’t serving my true purpose?” – The things that you do repeatedly only serve one of two purposes: they are either helping you get what you want, or are impeding your progress.
So, now that you’re sitting down to it, make a list of the habits that contribute positively to your ultimate goals and those that impede them. With a little humility and some self-awareness, you’ll figure out which habits you need to nurture to grown – and which to starve to death.
- “What thought patterns are making it harder for me to succeed?” – More than just daily habits, it’s also worth your while thinking about the kind of mindset you have when taking on life’s challenges.
For example, do you easily throw up your hands and give up when you come up against a wall – or do you agilely pivot and try a different approach?
Do you handle frustration well, or do you characteristically blow every setback out of proportion? Do you waste your time and annoy others complaining, or do you rather get busy taking action?
Take it from me. Answering these questions truthfully will give you good indicators of whether or not your mindset could use some tweaking.
Unfortunately this particular area is a HUGE sticking point that most people don’t even bother to address.
They might have a good idea of what they want and have a general plan in place to obtain it. But if their own mindset is working against them, it’s going to be a very tough uphill battle.
How to Bounce Back and Rise Above Life’s Challenges
Let’s go back to Alex.
He was in a rut alright, but he wanted to bounce back from his bad situation.
So he went through the process of figuring out what he wanted.
Actually Alex is a great musician and played guitar in a band. But just like people in his situation, he’d let that part of his life slide. But like the proverbial going back to pick up the pieces, for the longest time, Alex wanted to get back into it by teaching young kids to play music.
Habits being difficult to break, he’d always find some way to talk himself out of it. He convinced himself it was too hard and not really worth it. Instead, it was safer to just work the odd part-time job here and there to pay the rent.
You recognize this situation?
Typical, isn’t it?
But finally, Alex realized he needed a major mindset upgrade. He saw that it was the only way he could actually push through with his plans.
So as he put in the necessary work to make his plans happen, Alex also tried something else.
What did he do?
He started looking inward and removed the unhealthy beliefs and negative thought patterns that were holding him back. And when he finally figured out how to reprogram his mindset, everything began to fall into place for Alex like a jigsaw puzzle.
Alex was shocked to see that it was actually easier than he had thought. Not surprisingly, sooner rather than later, he managed to get out of his rut and reinvent himself.
And sure as you’re reading these lines, Alex is enjoying his great life again doing what he loves: playing music in a band and transmitting his skills to kids.
And so can you too if this sounds like your life right now.
You know, it’s never too late to be what you might have been – George Elliot
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Meanwhile, here are some inspiration quotes to keep you company.
Before you go
We would really love to hear your side of this story.
Have you been in a case like Alex and his girlfriend Kate? Not really the same, but similar. Why don’t you go down to the comment box and let us know.
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