Most of us are familiar with the nagging feeling of getting stuck, the sensation of being trapped in one place for too long, and the seeming absence of a way out. What if there was a way out?
Getting stuck is common and it can happen in any area of your life. The good news is that getting unstuck is entirely possible. Depending on why you’re stuck, it can be as easy as finding a new hobby or doing something you’ve always wanted to try, or as difficult as rearranging your entire life and reconsidering your purpose. Either way, getting stuck doesn’t mean you’re stuck forever.
In this article, I’ll take a look at what we mean when we talk about getting stuck, why it happens, and most importantly, share four tips on getting unstuck.
- What does it mean to get stuck in your life?
- Can it be good to feel like you’re stuck in life?
- The 4 best tips on how to get unstuck in your life
- Wrapping up
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
What does it mean to get stuck in your life?
At some point or another, most people report feeling stuck in their careers, relationships or lives in general. Despite the ubiquitous nature of this phenomenon, it’s quite hard to explain what we mean by “feeling stuck”.
Before you read any further, I invite you to think about what “feeling stuck” means to you. What does being “stuck” look and feel like?
Feeling or being stuck often prompts people to seek counseling or therapy, even though “stuckness” isn’t a clinical diagnosis or a psychological condition.
In her PhD thesis, British psychologist Marianne McGoldrick researched therapists’ understanding of the client-reported phenomenon of “feeling stuck”. The interviewed therapists described “stuck” as “a place, one in which the client felt tethered and restrained, an unrelenting position from which there seemed no escape.”
Does this description align with your experience and understanding of feeling stuck? It’s possible that you recognize the feeling of being restrained, but your experience might also be completely different.
Everyone experiences stuckness differently. For some, being stuck means being trapped, for others, it means inertia and stagnation. Only one thing is for certain – no one wants to be stuck.
Can it be good to feel like you’re stuck in life?
Despite our best efforts, we do get stuck occasionally, for various reasons, some of which are eminently practical.
For example, a recent article found that people often get stuck in unsatisfying relationships for reasons like cohabitation, marriage, children and family entanglement. Similarly, a 2016 article implies that people might be stuck at an unsatisfying or emotionally draining job because of job insecurity.
While feeling stuck is generally perceived as something bad, the feelings that come with it can act as a catalyst for change. This can ultimately result in something positive.
As for the less practical reasons of getting stuck, the literature is less conclusive, but throughout my career, I have identified some common reasons for getting stuck.
Sometimes it’s because our goals and dreams have changed or because we didn’t have a goal in the first place. Sometimes it can also be because we’ve been following someone else’s goals instead of our own. It’s often goals that give our lives meaning and it’s having a meaning in life that makes us happy.
Sometimes there is simply too much on our plate and being on a one-way track to burnout is what makes us feel stuck. When we do not feel that we are in control and can handle whatever life throws at us, the feeling of being trapped is quick to follow. We tend to thrive in situations where we have a say in the outcome, and wilt in ones we don’t.
The 4 best tips on how to get unstuck in your life
Getting stuck may feel scary and discouraging, but it is possible to get unstuck. It’s important to remember that most people experience a spell of stuckness at some point in their lives and no matter how strong the feeling, it won’t last forever. Here are four tips on how to unstick yourself.
1. Make a radical change
There’s a tip I give to fresh high school students every year: if you’re stuck on your homework or an assignment, put it aside and do something else for a while. If you’re stuck on a math problem, work on your English homework for a while. If you’re stuck on the opening paragraph of an essay, close the document and do something fun. When you come back, your mind will be clearer and the solution will come to you more easily.
When we are highly focused on one task, it’s easy to get lost in a never ending spiral of the same thoughts over and over again. Some variety will help to break the spiral. The same idea applies to unsticking yourself in life, just on a larger scale.
If you find yourself stuck in life, change one aspect radically. Whether it’s picking up a new hobby, changing your job, moving to a new place, ending an unsatisfying relationship, or doing the one thing you’ve always wanted to do.
Obviously, quitting your job or a relationship, no matter how unsatisfying, isn’t an easy choice that should be made lightly, and sometimes it may not be an option at all. That’s why I’ve included taking up a hobby or fulfilling an old dream here – although they don’t seem like the biggest changes, they can still be radical and the key to unsticking yourself.
(Bonus: my personal example of getting unstuck)
For example, a great unsticking moment for me was getting my first tattoo. I had been wanting to get one for years, but something always held me back. Will I regret it? I’m not a “tattoo person” – whatever that means. What would I even get? It has to be meaningful, right? What will my family and friends think?
Eventually I got a small branch design with leaves that doesn’t symbolize anything other than me conquering my hesitation and doing something indulgent for myself. Letting my tattoo artist friend poke me for an hour turned out to be the start of one of the most productive and fulfilling years of my life (so far).
2. Find out why you’re stuck
Solving any problem starts with identifying the problem. When you’re feeling stuck, try to find the reason why. You may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason, but try to find the general category.
Check in with yourself. Are your basic needs taken care of or are you stretched too thin and overworked? Does your life have meaning and are you finding satisfaction in your work and relationships? If not, why? Figuring out why you’re feeling stuck will help you unstick yourself faster.
3. Find or remember your purpose
Working or living without a purpose is often the reason behind feeling stuck. When you get stuck, it’s good to reorient yourself to your goal. Why are you doing what you are doing?
You may find that your goals have changed and that’s completely okay. We are constantly learning and evolving as people, so it’s natural that our priorities, dreams and purpose may change. Feeling stuck may be a sign that you need to reconsider your goals and the meaning you seek in life.
If you’ve never had a goal in life or if you’ve been working towards someone else’s goal, it’s time to figure out what matters to you. Working towards a personal goal that has importance to you will create meaning in your life. And not only will creating meaning unstick you, it can also prevent you from getting stuck again.
4. Focus on the journey
While finding your purpose is important, it’s equally important to stay in the present and not focus too much on the future.
Keep your purpose in mind, but be mindful of your journey and how far you’ve already come, not how far you still have to go. Enjoy the little successes and wins and don’t forget to reward yourself for them. Trust the process: don’t give up when things go wrong, but try to find lessons in your missteps.
They say happiness is found in the journey, not at the destination
(Bonus: activities you can do to become unstuck)
We’ve written a lot of actionable tips on Tracking Happiness that focus on a specific tip that can help you get unstuck in your life.
Here are some tips that you’ve probably not considered before, that will help you find happiness again:
Getting stuck is a natural part of life, but staying stuck doesn’t have to be. Whatever your reason for feeling stuck – insecure job, unfulfilling relationship or lack or purpose – you can unstick yourself and find meaning and satisfaction again. Just be prepared to modify your goals and make changes in your life and you’ll be back on the road in no time.
What do you think? When was the last time you felt stuck in your life? Do you want to share a tip that helped you deal with this situation? Please share your voice in the comments below!
Maili TirelSchool psychologist
School psychologist, teacher and internet counselor from Estonia. Passionate about coffee, reading, dancing, and singing in the shower, much to the neighbors’ dismay. Counseling catchphrase: “It’s okay!“