6 reasons we stay stuckFeatured

Late last year, I created a poll on Elpha asking: "Do you feel fulfilled in your career right now?" and 57% of us responded no. This is a trend that stretches way beyond our community. More and more women have been voicing their lack of fulfillment at work and other areas of their lives.

I know the feeling well. A few years ago, a period of stuckness caused me to completely overhaul my life and career. Finding yourself stuck and unfulfilled is an uncomfortable place to be and can be incredibly lonely because many women fear the professional (or even social) repercussions if they were honest about how they are feeling. To help me better understand how to best help other women through this experience - I interviewed 50+ women from different sources about their relationship to fulfillment, authenticity, and stuckness. Through my research, I discovered a few key insights around what keeps us stuck.

Stuckness is a frustrating, yet inevitable, part of the human experience. Our lives are naturally made up of periods of movement, rest, and stuckness. Being stuck can be even more tiring than action because of the inner turmoil it causes. Have you ever noticed that when you are excited about what you are working on, you feel energized? The reverse is true. When we are stuck, there is a stress that comes from deep within, telling us that something isn't quite right. At first, it can start as a low hum, easy to ignore when we have noisier and more tangible responsibilities to address.

On top of being just plain busy, we get the message that strong people "power through", success requires sacrifice, it's normal to hate Mondays, or dating is supposed to be torture. It's no wonder that we ignore the signs of misalignment. We continue to grind it out, hustle, or overlook red flags, until the internal hum turns to a roar and becomes impossible to ignore.

Even when we attempt to create movement, it can be difficult to make positive traction. This is because the natural response to feeling stuck is to double-down on our efforts to escape. However, if you've ever used a Chinese finger trap, you know first-hand how ineffective brute force can be.

The most well-intentioned and practical advice can lead us to banging our head against the wall. Each hit a bruise to our self-esteem.

In these cases, it's not the level of effort that needs to change. What's needed is a deeper look at what's going on beneath. Once we get curious about the underlying causes of stuckness, we can reduce the amount of time spent in this painful place.

Here are 6 reasons that we stay stuck.

We are unclear on what we truly want⁠

When we aren't clear on where we are headed, it's difficult to have the confidence or motivation to move forward. Once we have a clear path in mind, it's a lot easier to show up for the next steps.

How to Take Action: If you are struggling with figuring out what you want, a great place to begin is with what you don't want. Note the things that aren't working for you in that area of your life, and then reverse them.

We don’t truly believe what we want is achievable for us

There is nothing less motivating than feeling like your efforts will be in vain. This is one of the trickier ones to pin down because the disbelief is often at a subconscious or semiconscious level. We may think that we are all-in on our goal, but under the surface there are doubts that manifest into self-sabotaging behavior.

How to Take action: If you think that there is any part of you that doubts the feasibility of your goals, a great way to make it feel more realistic is to expose yourself to people who are where you would like to be. Find people in your ideal job, running your dream business, with great work/life balance, in an incredible relationship, or whatever it is that you want. Then, soak them in. If possible, have a conversation with them. If they aren't accessible directly, follow them online and read more about their story. Bonus, if you can relate to the person through their gender, race, economic or cultural background, sexual orientation, or geographic location. The point is to show yourself that this goal is attainable, for someone like you.

We aren't fully attuned to the cost of staying stuck

It's easy to focus on the risks of going after our dreams, without giving the same level of attention to what we risk by staying stagnant. In reality, inaction can have a far more detrimental impact. Whether it's to our quality of life, self esteem, or even our bank account.

How to Take action: Write out what the potential risks are if you decide not to take action on this goal. Explore what the effect could be on your life in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years. If you'd like to explore this further, Tim Ferriss' Fear Setting exercise is a great place to start.

We are disconnected from our deeper why

Goals are easier to accomplish when they are connected to a greater purpose. Sometimes we aren't realizing a goal because it's not in alignment for us. We might be pursuing a "logical next step", what's expected of us, or what we wanted in the past. If it's not truly your desire, you may find yourself having a hard time making progress.

How to Take action: If you are having a hard time tracking your goal to a deeper purpose, try exploring why you want to accomplish this goal. If you don't already know your top 5 personal values, this is a great time to make that list. If a goal doesn't align with (most of) your top 5 values, you may want to reevaluate it.

We have conflicting desires

Sometimes we give our best effort and against all logic, we can't seem to achieve our goal. For example, we might have a monthly income goal and despite taking every intelligent action, we aren't hitting that number. Or, we might have a goal to stop procrastinating and despite all of our productivity hacks, we keep finding ourselves putting off our work. This can happen when we have two conflicting desires. Say, for example, you have a goal to bring in more monthly revenue to your business, but subconsciously you have a strong desire for freedom, and an (unexamined) belief that more money means more work.

How to Take action: If you’ve tried everything to reach your goal and can't seem to put your finger on why your efforts aren't reflected in your results, get curious. A couple of questions that you might journal on are: "What payoff am I getting through this behavior?" or "What am I afraid will happen if I reach this goal?".

We haven’t broken up our goal into bite-size action steps⁠

Goals without a step-by-step action plan can be overwhelming. This seems straightforward but it can be easy to overlook. You don't need to have all the details of the plan to get started. In fact, just having clarity on your next step can be powerful and reduce overwhelm.

How to Take action: Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What is a smaller micro-goal that I can achieve in the next week that maps to my bigger goal?
  2. What is the next task I can complete to make traction on that micro-goal?

Contrary to popular belief, big action doesn't have to feel forceful or difficult, if you know how to pull the right levers. When we get curious about what's happening under the surface, we can begin to gently and easily move the needle in the direction that will best serve us.

The benefits of getting curious about what's going on beneath the surface are exponential. Not only do we create traction in an area of our life that has been stagnant and boost our self-esteem, we also begin to naturally shift into alignment in other areas of our life. I regularly see clients who come in looking to get unstuck in their career, and are pleasantly surprised to see the ripple-effect that this greater awareness brings into all areas of their lives.

If you've been trying to make a change in your life but continue to find yourself stuck. Rather than forging ahead, allow yourself to take a step back and get curious about how the above points might be factoring into your situation. You may be surprised to see how easily you can get free, once you understand how the trap works.

Edit: Thanks for all the love on this post! This is such a common (read: normal) feeling and a big part of the work I do as a Transformational Coach. I know that I packed a lot in here - if you are resonating with this and would like to go deeper, feel free to send me a DM and I'll be happy to chat with you. :)

This one really resonated with me - "We don’t truly believe what we want is achievable for us". For a long time, my limiting beliefs and self doubts held me back from pushing myself and dreaming big. Looking back now, it's because I didn't have people around me to model what was possible and I didn't believe that success was possible for someone like me. This is a hard one but so important to address!
I love this reflection, Cynthia! Thanks for sharing. Imposter syndrome is a popular topic for a good reason - it's something that most of us deal with or have dealt with at some point. What have you found to be the most helpful for you in your own journey of overcoming self-doubt?
I haven't yet but trying to! Personally, I'm not sure that I ever will. But doing things that scare me, pushing myself to try new things (and knowing I'll survive and probably even thrive!), surrounding myself with people who believe in me (and are smarter and more successful than me) and building successes on top of each other have all helped. Also read so many books, articles and listened to podcasts about personal growth, mindset, overcoming limiting beliefs, etc. It really is a journey and so many things along the way that make a difference, rather than one thing. One thing my husband always told me is to think "why not me?" This isn't something I've mastered but it's a good way to approach why you shouldn't do something and get over that fear and doubt.
Yes, Cynthia! You are so right that it's a journey. I'm sure you have already seen benefits to your personal and professional life, from the work that you've done around this. I'm celebrating your for meeting your edge and continuing to explore this for yourself! One thing that came to mind as I was reading your response is around the stories that we tell ourselves. If you haven't already, it could be interesting to poke around and ask some questions like:1. Why isn't this possible? 2. Why isn't this possible for me?Really letting yourself vent this out through journaling can be really insightful. Sometimes we can surprise ourselves. From there, you can one by one go through the beliefs and question them by asking: "Can I know without a shadow of a doubt that this is true?". Then, (and this part is the key to re-patterning) looking for evidence to the contrary. Example: "This is possible because I know x person is doing it." or "I know I can accomplish x because I did y similar thing last summer."I hope it's okay that I dove in here with these! You seem like someone who enjoys personal growth and I was inspired to share in case you wanted to try on another approach. :)
I love this! Thanks so much for sharing Sara! This is very similar to the things that my husband and I talk about as a way to counter the inner doubts. It reminds me of the exercise around trying to find counter examples of my doubts - if I'm doubting my abilities, I try to find examples why I shouldn't. But I love #2 you included above because it really makes you articulate your doubts and see how they probably don't have any basis in reality. I appreciate you taking the time to dive deep <3.
YES! A lot of times we naturally want to skip over that part, but it can be helpful to let the insecurity have a voice before we move into shifting our mindset. It keep us from getting stuck on it by letting it move through and like you said, articulating our fears can help us see how ungrounded they are. I love that you've been doing this kind of inquiry work - so powerful!
I think you make excellent points and if it helps, I coach on this and created an hour-long free webinar to guide people out of being stuck. In it, I also focus on becoming aware of the thoughts that are keeping you stuck (like "I'm stuck"). Here's the link in case any readers want to take an hour to become unstuck. Taking different action is one way to keep moving forward:
Thanks for sharing that, Abbie! Mindset work is so powerful and I'm always happy to see other coaches out there supporting clients through their stuckness.
My challenge is the visualizing and naming what I want. I can't seem to get there and I've tried all the tools! I'll keep working on it. I apparently have to go deep, deep! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Kim! This is such a common theme I run into, especially amongst high-achievers. It can be tough to get in touch with our deeper desires and purpose, when we've trained ourselves to orient toward success. It can mean going a little deeper but sometimes it's as simple as pulling a different lever for insight. Are you up for sharing what you've tried/or what's making you feel stuck? I'm happy to offer insights and resources that might help. Feel free to DM me privately for this. :)