Feeling Stuck? 4 Ways to Overcome Roadblocks in Your Life

Try one of these research-based strategies.

Posted Feb 25, 2019

Hanging the head. Author Alex. 5 March 2010. Creative Commons license on Wikimedia Commons.
Source: Hanging the head. Author Alex. 5 March 2010. Creative Commons license on Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve all been there—feeling stuck in a dead-end job, unfulfilling relationship, or stale routine. Or we begin a new project and lose momentum. Feeling exhausted and defeated, we lack the energy to move forward.

At times like these, even the best intentions and willpower are not enough. But research has revealed four effective ways to break through roadblocks.

1. Expand your perspective. Most people in Western cultures develop a linear mindset, expecting current conditions to continue (Alter & Kwan, 2009). This mindset reinforces the stories we believe about ourselves. If we grew up in poverty or a dysfunctional family, we expect more of the same. With the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, we attract more of what we know. If we had a narcissistic parent, we attract narcissistic relationships. If we grew up in poverty, we continue to see ourselves as poor and make poor choices—until we change our mindset.

To break free, we need to refocus our attention. This means taking a wider perspective rather than hiding from the truth or ignoring our problems. 

Remarkably, a study at New York University found that people developed a more dynamic mindset after seeing the familiar yin/yang symbol on a researcher’s T-shirt. Instead of expecting current conditions to continue, they began seeing the world differently, becoming aware of new possibilities (Alter & Kwan, 2009).

As this study reveals, the natural wisdom of the Tao Te Ching expands our perspective, affirming nature’s dynamic cycles of yin and yang, sunlight and shadow, day and night, and the changing seasons. We then develop what psychologist Carol Dweck (2009) calls a “growth mindset.” You can expand your own mindset by exploring the wisdom of the East, studying the Tao Te Ching or spending time in nature, observing its cycles of growth and change.

2. Move. Moving our bodies affects our minds and emotions. Research has shown that exercise helps relieve depression (Babyak et al, 2000). Increasing the circulation to our brains, it also enables us to think more creatively (Steinberg et al, 1997). You can build your energy to move forward in your life by adding more movement to your days. There are many ways to do this: going for a brisk walk, using the stairs instead of an elevator, taking an exercise class, working out at the gym, dancing, swimming, or riding your bike. Find a way to move that you enjoy and feel your energies rise.

3. Follow Your Curiosity. Following your curiosity can lead to positive experience, personal growth, and even life-changing results (Kashdan, Rose, & Fincham, 2004; Dreher, 2008). Years ago, when my friend Laura lost her job and moved to a new town, she signed up for a writing class at the local community center. There she met Art, a writer and nature photographer who became the love of her life. Happily married for years now, they take trips around the world, writing travel books and enjoying life’s journeys together.  To follow your own curiosity, ask yourself what you have been curious about and what you can do to explore it.

4. Replace an unproductive habit with a positive alternative. If you’d like to break a habit like mindless snacking or wasting time surfing the Internet, use the “If-Then” strategy developed by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen (2014). First, think of a positive alternative for the habit and create an “If-Then” statement:

  • “If I feel like snacking on a candy bar,  then I will eat  my bag of sliced carrots instead”
  • “If  I feel like taking a break from working on a project to surf the Internet, then I will get up from my desk and walk around to clear my head.”

Prepare what you need for your positive alternative (such as preparing a healthy snack in advance). Then visualize yourself using your “If-Then” plan so that you’re ready to put it into action.

If you’re feeling stuck, then why not try one of these strategies to break through the roadblocks in your life?

References

Alter, A.L. & Kwan, V. S.Y. (2009). Cultural sharing in a global village: Evidence for extracultural cognition in European Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 742-760.

Alter, A.L. & Kwan, V. S.Y. (2009). Cultural sharing in a global village: Evidence for extracultural cognition in European Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 742-760.

Babyak, M., Blumenthal, J.A., Herman, S., Khatri, P., Doraiswamy, M., Moore, K., Craighead, W.E., Baldewicz, T. T., & Krishnan, K. R. (2000). Exercise treatment for major depression: Maintenance of therapeutic benefit at 10 months. Psychosomatic Medicine 62, 633–638.

Dreher, D. E. (2008). Your personal renaissance: 12 steps to finding your life’s true calling. New York, NY: Da Capo.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset. New York, NY: Ballentine.

Kashdan, T.B., Rose, P., & Fincham, F. D. (2004). Curiosity and exploration: Facilitating positive subject experiences and personal growth opportunities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 291-305.

Oettingen, G. (2014). Rethinking positive thinking: Inside the new science of motivation. New York, NY: Penguin Current.

Steinberg, H., Sykes, E. A., Moss, T., Lowery, S., LeBoutillier, N., & Dewey, A. (1997). Exercises enhances creativity independently of mood. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 31, 240-245.