Nikodash/Shutterstock
Source: Nikodash/Shutterstock

By Patricia Harteneck, Ph.D.

It's easy to get in a rut. Maybe you have goals but for some reason you are not reaching for them. Maybe self-judgment is causing you to lower your expectations, or low self-worth is preventing you from making positive changes. You can also get stuck in worry, afraid to make a decision or change something in your life. Or maybe you're disappointed with how a particular situation turned out, and it just feels too hard to move on.

When we get stuck, we often wait for external change to happen. But change doesn't happen to us, it comes from within us. Change is scary and painful, but it's also necessary for getting unstuck. And when that happens, many opportunities open up.

Try these seven strategies when you feel stuck:

1. Let go of the past. 

Listen to the stories in your head. Are you thinking about events that happened in the past? Are you unable to forgive yourself for mistakes you made? Are you blaming yourself or others for things that did not turn out the way you hoped? Ask yourself why you are stuck on these memories, and what you can do to live with them, accept them, and move forward. You can't undo the past, but you can choose to find peace. Forgiving yourself or others is a way to let go and move on.

2. Change your perspective. 

Once you release the grip of the past, you will see your reality in new ways and feel freer to change your attitude. To gain a new perspective, meditate or spend time alone and listen to your inner voice. If you can, travel or take a break from your daily routine to clear your mind and get distance from your current situation. Open yourself up to new people and ideas, and introduce regular physical activity into your routine. All of these changes will help you gain a new perspective on the future and what is possible.

3. Start with small changes. 

Change stimulates different parts of the brain that improve creativity and clarity of mind. You can start small by changing your daily routines, moving things in your house, or making new friends. Every choice matters. You might be tempted to skip the little things because they don't always seem important in the moment. But after a while, an accumulation of small changes will help you accomplish your goals, and you will start feeling unstuck.

4. Explore your purpose. 

Your life purpose is not just your job, your responsibilities, or your goals—it's what makes you feel alive. These are the things you are passionate about and will fight for. Examples of a life purpose could be:

  • Helping people overcome the sadness of being ill.
  • Helping others reach their full potential.
  • Growing as a human being.
  • Protecting animals who suffer.

You may need to change your life purpose if it no longer inspires you. Or, if you feel like you haven't had a purpose, this is a great time to define it. Ask yourself the following questions as you consider your life purpose:

  • What makes me happy?
  • What were my favorite things to do in the past?
  • What are my favorite things to do now?
  • When do I enjoy myself so much or become so committed to something that I lose track of time?
  • Who inspires me the most, and why?
  • What makes me feel good about myself?
  • What am I good at?

5. Believe in yourself. 

Trust that you can reach your expectations and get out of your comfort zone. Make a list of your strengths and positive traits, and remember that you are very capable. Many people sabotage their own progress—consciously or unconsciously—as a result of deep-seated fears and limiting beliefs.

The first step to believing in yourself is to recognize your self-doubt. Pay attention to the ways you react to situations. Then you can work to reframe your self-doubt. Limitations like, "I can't" or "I don't know" can be replaced with, "I can't do that yet, but I'm working on it," or "I don't know now, but I will." Another way to instill confidence in your abilities is to write down your past successes and keep the notes on hand when you need proof that you can do things that are challenging or new.

6. Practice being hopeful. 

Maybe you have had a lot of disappointments that led to this moment in your life when you feel helpless. Maybe you are experiencing a naturally protective feeling of pessimism. This is something you will have to work to change. Find a practice, such as meditation, prayer, or reading inspirational books, and do it regularly. Hope is not a permanent state. You need to work at it every day.

7. Consider talking to a professional. 

If you find that you are unable to change unhealthy thought patterns, consider consulting a mental health provider to help you figure out why you are stuck, and to find ways to get unstuck. Feeling stuck can be part of a mental-health disorder that can be effectively treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two; having professional support as you work to change long-established thinking patterns can be tremendously helpful. Sometimes asking for help can be the most hopeful and powerful step you can take.

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