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Go UnStuck Yourself

Feeling stuck at Work? Here are three simple steps you can take to get your magic back.

Photo credit: Jerome Hart Photography

We all feel stuck from time to time. As human beings, we possess a primal drive towards evolution and dynamism, but that instinct often works in opposition to our desire for stability and familiarity. Our professional lives are a major theater for this conflict, and that “stuck” feeling can creep in when we feel the forces of change and stasis reach a stalemate. The good news is we don’t have to settle for an endless inner war, and there are steps we can take, today, to get out of limbo and get things back on track.

There are plenty of reasons people feel stuck at work, but the big ones often boil down to a few common categories:

Whether it’s with a colleague, client, or superior, one of the most common roadblocks we hit is in workplace communication. Poor communication can lead to feelings of distrust, discord, and disappointment, and failure to address it can create bigger problems down the line. Many people hold out hope that moving to a new position or company will change things, but these issues are so common that it’s likely they’ll be right there waiting for you at your new job.

Another common workplace rut is burnout, or what I might call, ‘the thrill is gone.” People experiencing burnout feel overly tired, under energized, or demotivated. Sometimes the work suffers under burnout, but burnt out people often double-down, working twice as hard to produce a quality product. However, if you fail to deeply engage in your work, your peers, subordinates, or bosses will eventually notice, and you may find yourself looking for a new job.

Our last, but certainly not least, common stuck place is simply feeling like you are a failure. The interesting thing about this particular version of being stuck is that there is a distinction between feeling like a failure and actually being one. We all experience imposter syndrome from time to time, but belief is powerful, and these occasional lizard-brain whispers can form a more permanent, often catastrophic mindset.

Photo credit: Jerome Hart Photography

Okay, so we know it sucks to be stuck. The real question is…how do you get unstuck?

Stuck now does not have to be stuck forever, and noticing that you’re stuck is the first step in fixing it! When I’m feeling stuck, or coaching someone who is, I follow a three-step game-plan.

Step 1: Rewrite Your Story

Your mindset matters when it comes to feeling stuck. Because we like being right so much, we will look for evidence to support whatever we believe in. For example, if you think that your colleague Jim is a heel, then when you interact with Jim, your subconscious will kick into gear and you will treat him like he’s a heel. Then, when Jim says or does whatever Jim says and does, you’ll tuck that into your evidence folder as proof that Jim is a heel.

The same goes for the stories we tell ourselves about our capabilities.

A few years back, one of my clients was having trouble getting hired at a time when there were a lot of jobs available in her field. Her breakthrough moment came when in one of her interviews, the man across the desk from her gave her the unsolicited feedback “your story sucks.”

He was referring to how she explained a gap in her resume. The story she was telling painted her as a sad, un-resourceful person who was at the mercy of the unkind tides of life. Meanwhile, if one were to just look at facts, the opposite was true. She was completely deserving and a real catch! She had overcome all kinds of obstacles to get to where she was in both expertise and conviction.

She needed to be the hero in her own story. And so do you.

You don’t have to fabricate anything to write an awesome story in which you are the hero. You simply need to remove your own negative self-talk long enough to look at the facts, and then see if you can come up with a better, more compelling narrative that brings those facts together.

Our personal narrative has a massive impact on our ability to seek out and fulfill positive change. Finding your heroic traits and pouring your energy into them is like a core workout for your professional psyche.

Step 2: Ask Questions

Remember, belief leads to behavior, leads to experience. If you don’t like what’s happening, a pause can help you examine the validity of your own assumptions. A great way to use that time is to ask yourself some key questions. Turning our inquisitive energy inwards, without judgment, can illuminate solutions we may not find elsewhere.

When I’m feeling stuck, I have a list of quick-fire questions I always ask myself:

What do you want from you? Assuming all things remain the same, what do you want from you? How do you want to feel? What would it take for you to get what you want? You cannot control what other people do and say. You can only change those things for yourself. I’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of energy focusing on my colleagues’ behavior, or feeling jealous of their success, when I should really be focused on my own opportunities. We are in control of how we show up for our own challenges.

What’s the pattern? If you can identify patterns, you can predict outcomes. When you can predict outcomes, you can change patterns to get new results. A good clue that it’s time to notice the pattern is when you find yourself talking about a situation using absolutes. “They always listen to his ideas over mine,” or “They never say hi back to me,” or “Every time I pitch an idea, it gets slammed before I even finish the pitch.” Once you figure out the pattern, it’s time to start getting creative by trying new things to break the pattern.

What if? The value of a what-if is two-fold. First, it’s a great way to unlock your own resourcefulness and creativity. Second, it will help you identify possible actions you might actually take. What if I made chicken noises every time someone interrupted me? What if I walked out into the hallway and stomped my feet? What if I moved all my internal team meetings to Wednesdays? What if I told my supervisor that they should listen to my ideas? No need to evaluate these until you have several, and I always suggest starting with the ridiculous; most reasonable people find reasonable solutions once they’ve exhausted all of the foolish ideas. Plus, every once in a while, there’s a gem of a ridiculous idea waiting to be discovered.

Step 3: Build Momentum, Start Small

Change is a muscle. Resisting change can feel like a massive undertaking, and it doesn’t strengthen our skills, it atrophies them. Working towards radical positive change takes practice, mindfulness, and most importantly, time. When someone runs a marathon, they train for months, and they start with a short run, sometimes even just a walk around the block to get things going. The good news is that getting unstuck doesn’t have to be that intense. It really can be as simple as identifying what needs to shift, trying something small, noticing what’s different and then building on that. Sometimes just noticing what is working (instead of what isn’t) and simply doing more of that can be all it takes to move you onto a path, or into a people dynamic that feels energizing and rewarding.

This kind of open-ended introspection comes naturally to some people, but you’d be surprised how often we avoid it because of fear or self-judgement. It can be really helpful to work with a coach who can guide you through these steps, but with the smallest amount of patience, anyone can, and should, do this for themselves. Simply shake it out, don’t worry about being wrong or silly, and open up a dialog with yourself. Because you are the most familiar with your circumstances, you might just find you’re your own best resource.

As my father used to say to me often, “If you don’t like how something is going… try something else.”

Our greatest tool in moving toward positive change is recognizing that getting stuck is normal, healthy, and just another step in our growth process. By reframing our self-judgement, practicing proactive introspection, and building our confidence with achievable short term goals and tactics, we can get unstuck and stay that way.

Aden Nepom is president of The Art of Change Skills for Life and host of The Changed Podcast. She’s a pragmatic and playful advisor on communication and change.

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