banner image

How to Move Forward When You Feel Stuck

I proudly consider myself a high-functioning individual most of the time. But every once in a while I feel like I hit a wall of stagnation. Stagnation is a state or condition marked by lack of flow, movement, or growth. For me, it's when I start to feel like I’m just going through the motions or doing things on auto-pilot - unmotivated, dispassionate, more reactive, more insecure, more anxious. Sound familiar? For some of my clients, even the high-functioning, it’s been a struggle to get out of the rut of stagnation. 

These are common experiences when we live disconnected from the present and disconnected from ourselves. We rigidly focus on the outcomes rather than on the process. Our brain brings into sharp focus the ‘reality gaps'- the separation between our desired reality and our current reality. That reality can be very useful when we flexibly use it to guide our actions and motivate us. But it can be painful when we rigidly focus too much on the reality gaps—everything that’s missing, what we haven’t achieved, the way life ‘should’ be, etc. It tends to lead us away from living fully in the present, and we get caught up in regrets of the past and worries about the future. And that's when the our brain starts spewing old, painful narratives at us. Then we tend to stall or stop striving forward, often out of fear or anxiety

Here's how you can use A.C.E. to break through and start thriving again:

  • Acknowledge Your Reality.

Acknowledge where you're at in your life right now, along with the thoughts and feelings about where you're at. Allow yourself to feel those emotions for insight and release. As you acknowledge your current place in life and make room for any feelings that accompany that reality, come from a place of acceptance and non-judgement. It’s natural to feel disappointment, shame, sorrow, anxiety, and even anger when life is not giving you what you want. Remember that creating the life you want is a life-long process that takes time, conscious decision making, directed effort, and commitment. Reflect on everything you’ve been through in your life to get to where you are now. Be proud of how far you’ve come so far. So be patient and compassionate with yourself.

  • Connect with Self.

Oftentimes when we feel like we’re aimlessly wandering or drifting in life, it’s because we’ve lost touch with our sense of Self – we’ve lost sight of our vision, our values, and personal goals. With our busy and hectic schedules, it’s easy to lose touch with the most important person in your life—YOU. And when you begin to lose touch with yourself, you begin to feel lost. 

There are a number of ways of reconnecting with our true sense of Self. Personally I like to spend some quiet alone time around 5 AM in my home office, mindfully noticing my thoughts, sensations, emotions. When you pay attention, these inner experiences often reveal insight into a personal situation or about you. They may tell you unresolved issues or problems that need to be addressed, questions you’ve been struggling with, fears and insecurities that have been holding you back. Most importantly, these quiet moments of mindfulness make clear what you truly want, what you need, and what actually matters. They help you recenter around your vision, values, and goals. Once you are clear on your vision, values, or goals, it’s much easier to identify the actions needed to move in the direction you want. Whether it’s through mindful meditation on your couch or a retreat to some tropical beach, make a habit of intentionally spending time alone in order to hear your quiet inner voice. 

Connecting with Self also involves reconnecting on a regular basis. A simple way to reconnect with Self: write it down and read it daily. As you’re regaining clarity on your vision, values, and goals, write them down in a journal or the notes app on your phone so that you can come back to them and re-orient yourself as needed.  Writing down your vision, values, and goals enables you to reconnect with them anytime and remind yourself of the direction you want to work toward. And when you add to them specific action steps, they become the Google Map directions of your life.

  • Engage in Action.

Take action. Nothing comes to fruition without taking action. If you want a better job or to advance in your career, what are the specific action steps you need to take to get there? If you want a healthy, romantic relationship, what are the things you need to do to develop that? Whatever your vision and goals might be, attaining them will likely require an ongoing process of specific actions over time. But for right now, take the next step. Do the thing. Do what matters now. Recruit a mentor, life coach, or therapist if you need help determining what the next steps are or how to move forward. 

As you engage in action, focus on the process goals, not the outcomes. The process goals are the specific, regular actions and activities needed to achieve the goal. If you commit to working out five times a week and eating healthy most days (process), you will eventually get in great shape (outcome). Furthermore, you have more control over the process than you do the outcome. The outcome is not guaranteed. But if you engage in an effective process, you have a much better chance of achieving the desired outcome. Most importantly, choose a process that you actually enjoy or can learn to enjoy. A process that’s you. You’re more likely to be consistent and stick with it if you enjoy the process. 

There’s a saying in recreational mountain climbing: It’s not really about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s about the climb itself. Focus on your process. You’ll discover the best, happiest version of you in the process.

Final Thought… 

Are you actively pursuing your purpose? Are you engaging in what you’re passionate about? Are you building the life that you desire? Or are you settling for the life that others want for you? Or settling into complacency? If you’re choosing to live the life that others want for you or that society tells you to, then it makes sense why you might feel out of place, stuck, or lost. In the biblical story of Jonah, the character Jonah was swallowed up by a whale after he ran from his purpose, his calling. After confronting his own vulnerabilities and recommitting to his purpose, Jonah broke free from his abyss and lived out his purpose. You can only run from your purpose or calling for so long. It will haunt you. 

Remember, there are people who care about you. Things can get better. Reach out to me. I’d love to hear your story.

 Jerry Ochoa, LPCC, BICBT-CC