How to Get Unstuck in Life

– Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Have you ever felt that you are “stuck” or falling behind in life? This feeling might convince you that maybe if you just tried harder, you could propel yourself into a life experience that will bring success and happiness. This feeling might prompt you to search Pinterest for motivation quotes, purchase self-help books and bullet journals, or create vision boards of your ideal life.

The feeling that we’re not “doing our best” can also trigger shame. When we assume that we have ultimate control over our lives, any inability to change our circumstances can lead to self-loathing. From this perspective, the root of the unhappiness is not necessarily about the way things currently are, but rather from the belief that things could and should be different. 

In order to avoid this unnecessary suffering, we must let go of any ideas about the way we wished things could be and instead accept the way that we are in the present moment. Once we accept our reality without judgement, we are better able to see things for what they are. This allows us to shift the behaviors that we control and take steps towards the fulfillment of our goals and values.

How do we get unstuck?

“Creative hopelessness” is tool used to promote acceptance by encouraging people reflect upon what they have been avoiding in their lives in their efforts to avoid distress. The logic behind this focuses on the theory that these avoidance behaviors make pain and suffering worse over time. For instance, not taking part in meaningful activities can trigger depression and anxiety, which makes pain and distress feel more severe. The heightened pain and distress then further decrease motivation to engage in activities. This cycle can be powerful, leading many people to believe that they have to wait until their unpleasant life circumstances go away before taking steps toward fulfillment.

If you have ever been caught this trap, thinking “I’ll start [positive goal] when [unpleasant current circumstance ends]”, creative hopelessness could be useful for you. The important thing to remember is not to conflate feelings like “anxiety” or “sorrow” with “suffering.” Equating uncomfortable emotions with suffering can easily make us feel tortured by those emotions. Consistent anguish and torment will ignite the hopelessness that adds fuel to the cycle of avoidance and misery.

Acceptance encourages acknowledgement of struggles for what they are. It goes a step further by asking the questions: “What you would do if your struggle never goes away? How would you live your life differently?” Chances are, you would find ways to take steps toward whatever bring you joy and purpose, even if you have to bring sadness or anxiety along for the journey.

To practice this yourself, think about your goals (or learn about how to set effective goals). Ask yourself what avoidance behaviors have prevented or slowed down your progress toward these goals, and what that avoidance has cost you. Then, make necessary adjustments to those goals by accepting what you cannot control and identifying what behaviors you do have control over. Although it may not be the path you initially envisioned, getting “creative” with hopelessness can be a powerful tool in helping you decide what path you were meant to travel.


Balance of acceptance and creative hopelessness

Here is what you need to remember: while taking responsibility for self-growth can be empowering and productive, you also need to give yourself permission to let whatever happens, happen. Give yourself permission to forth your best effort and to not be so personally tied to outcomes. Give yourself permission to stop listening and comparing yourself to people who are in different life circumstances and life stages. Ask yourself honestly: is the problem due to a lack motivation toward reaching your goal? Or is the discontentment a result of the shame you are carrying around while trying to reach it? If it is the latter, try to accept these feelings instead of resisting or avoiding them. Participating in a tug of war with your emotions only leads to more needless struggle. 

So once you have identified and accepted these feelings, then what? It is still important to envision what you want out of life and take small steps toward reaching that goal. But keep in mind that you are still just a human being—some days you will have motivation and some days you might not because you are going through something. You may need to experience struggles in order to learn lessons that will enrich your future endeavors. Remember: “you are what you are until you’re not”. In the meantime, give yourself permission to be human. And give yourself permission to trust that. 


Seeking Mental Health Support

Scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center may be the first step in identifying what you have been avoiding and the impact of this avoidance of your well-being. Meet our team to learn more!


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