How to Make Progress When You Feel Stuck
We make it harder than it is
We all set goals to achieve something worthwhile.
Getting fit. Getting a degree. Moving up the corporate ladder. Learning a new skill. Creating something useful.
We dream of how achieving our goals will feel. The satisfaction, the appreciation from people, the pride of having “done it.”
We begin pursuit of the goal brimming with vigor. At some point, we get stuck when we hit an inevitable roadblock.
Sometimes we find our way out. But sometimes, we don’t know how to move forward. And we remain in that condition for a long time.
Why We Get Stuck
Human beings get stuck for the same reason why a deer freezes in a car’s headlight. The deer doesn’t know what to do because it cannot see anything. So it does nothing.
Likewise, humans get paralyzed by fear. Of uncertainty (we don’t know what to do), and failure (we assume we don’t have what it takes). So we do nothing.
Well, that’s not completely true. We do something… we wait. For the fog to clear, for the opportunity to reveal itself like a virgin waterfall, for the excitement that erupts when we know the exact path to follow.
But rarely does a path or solution present itself on a platter when we mope around. When we do nothing, we remain stuck — for days, weeks, months… even years. The feeling of stuck-ness becomes our new comfort zone.
The First Step to Getting Unstuck
Get over the fear of failure. Simple, but not easy.
More than failure, we fear being judged. People’s snide comments and judgment hurt us more than failure itself.
Evolution has imbibed the desire to be “normal”, to be accepted by society, in us. This deep, innate desire dominates our subconscious mind even though we celebrate misfits on the surface. When we fail, people look at us like we’re misfits. They treat us like we’re criminals — our crime being challenging the status quo. So most of us give up and revert to the status quo so that we can fit in once again.
Society’s outlook towards failure has compromised the usefulness of the occurrence. We fail to learn lessons that no book, university, or course can teach.
Failure keeps us grounded and teaches us to reflect on what we didn’t get right. It also makes us work harder, appreciate small wins, and take nothing for granted.
All this is essential to keep stepping outside our comfort zone, evolve constantly, and become better versions of ourselves.
Getting Past the Fear of Failure
Here are three simple steps you can take to overcome the fear of failure and keep making progress despite feeling stuck.
1. Stop worrying about your personal image.
A major reason why we feel afraid to pursue something that didn’t work is that our image matters more than our achievements.
When we don’t succeed at a task, we waste precious energy trying to justify ourselves in the hope that our image doesn’t take a beating.
Eventually, we drink our own kool-aid and believe our excuses. We give “valid” reasons to ourselves and anyone who’ll listen for not taking action. When someone suggests a way out, we say, “You’re right, but I cannot do it.”
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. — Richard Feynman
Worrying about your image is as futile as trying to herd cats. Because when you succeed, the people who berated you for failing will tell everyone how they always believed in you.
2. Ask yourself a simple question.
Your reputation gets built on what you do. Taking action is more effective than proving your worth.
When MS Dhoni feels stuck, he doesn’t worry about the outcomes or what people think of him. Instead, he asks himself, “What should I do next?”
Ask yourself the same question. Answers could include reaching out to people who’ve achieved what you’re pursuing, breaking your problem down, looking for answers to specific questions online, and so on.
If what you tried works, great! If it doesn’t, ask yourself again, “What should I do next?” Follow this cycle until you come across a useful action.
Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep on moving. — Albert Einstein
An inert object stays right where it is. An object gains momentum when it stays in motion. Procrastinating keeps you stuck. Action keeps you in motion.
3. Take a break.
If neither of the above steps works, take a break. Meet friends, take a power nap, have sex, connect with nature, hit the gym, or cook.
Research states taking a break is good for health, prevents decision fatigue, restores motivation, improves learning, and increases productivity and creativity. Avoid social media and Netflix during this break because content consumption will exhaust you further.
A break either will give you an “Aha moment”. (Imagine having one during sex.) If not, it will rejuvenate you enough to look at the problem with fresh eyes at the least.
Hell exists right here. It’s when you come across the person you could’ve been.
Your life is the sum of your achievements. If you keep leaving tasks incomplete, you’ll live a life filled with regret which is worse than a life filled with failure. But if you stick with tasks long enough to give them meaningful ends, the life that currently looks like a dream will turn into a reality.
All you need to get to your destination is take one step at a time. Not so tough, is it?