Consider life as a series of steps from birth to death. Success is progressing up the steps with a sense of fulfillment and balance. Regardless of our desire to be successful, we can find ourselves stuck on a step. We overstay our time on a particular step because of fear. We wish we were moving up, but we don’t. It becomes the fodder for our daydreams. We run the next step by our committee of fears to see if it’s a good idea and surprise, surprise, it’s not. Our reasons become paramount. Too busy – too tired – getting ready – too hard – too much money – too much rejection, etc.

I used to facilitate a therapy for people in grief to move through it very rapidly. The method works. Despite widespread advertising, very few people were willing to learn it. Many people called to inquire but elected instead to stay in their grief. Why? Because they know what grief feels like – and not having that to cling to could be precarious. Being stuck in grief may not be joyful, but at least it’s familiar and easy. Much like staying in a job you hate. Therefore, the first and most important question is: do you genuinely want to get unstuck?

Because if you’re satisfied with the step you’re on, there’s no reason to move. There’s plenty of life and learning you can do where you are. The reason to take the next step up is when you lose that feeling of being energetically alive. What was once fulfilling and exciting begins to feel like an invisible, albeit comfortable prison – in which we entrap ourselves.

Jim tells how he served on a river gunboat in Viet Nam for one- and one-half years longer than he needed to. He stayed because the casualness of the gunboat was more comfortable for him than the starched control of a navy base back in the states or a ship at sea. In addition, he’d been promoted several times and feared being incompetent at that rank in a different environment. Jim chose the familiarity of living in a war zone over change – for him, a war zone was “normal.”

As you can see, normal isn’t always healthy or satisfying. But if we’re afraid to move up, unconsciously we surround ourselves with people who live on the same step and don’t want to move either. You’ll know you’ve overstayed your time on a step by a lack of passion, boredom or the absence of challenge and growth. Your friends and family will notice complaining, stress and lack of motivation. Maybe you’ll start picking fights, leave a relationship or job, move – do something drastic or destructive – just to get a feeling of aliveness. Or you’ll invest your time in distractions — Movies, TV, professional sports, computer games, alcohol, and drugs – whatever. That’s why we pay our distraction suppliers so well. A movie star or sports figure will make more in a year than we pay a schoolteacher, fireman or nurse in a lifetime! They help us to keep from noticing the lack of fulfillment and passion in our lives. And a critical component of getting unstuck is being conscious of when you are. Jim says that he recognizes being stuck when he’s suddenly watching a lot of television and hoping there’s something on that’s not too bad. I know I’m stuck when I find myself playing tennis for hours every day.

It’s scary to move up because it’s guaranteed you will make mistakes and face failure. In fact, unless you’re doing some failing, you haven’t left the step you’re on – and we’ve been well trained to avoid failure, haven’t we? If we worry about looking foolish and have a fear of failure, it will keep us on the same step for a long time. That is unless we find something more powerful to lure us into taking the risk of progressing up. Therein lies another problem. If we dream of what might be at the top of the stairs – but don’t believe it’s there – or that we can attain that dream – we’re not visualizing, we’re fantasizing. And who wants to get uncomfortable for a fairy tale?

Again, we all get stuck – at least most of us do. We suspect there are some perfect people who never do; we just don’t know any of them. We’ve heard about them – but for the rest of us, we need some tools. Here’s how to get unstuck:

1. Assess your current reality:

Are you excited about where you are – the step you’re on? Do you find there’s excitement and passion in your voice when you talk about what you’re doing now? Ask your friends how they view you. What role are distractions playing in your life? Get conscious of what you do to avoid risk taking.

As a result, if you’re feeling stuck, where are you stuck? Be precise. Sometimes when we’re stuck in one arena, it impacts everything in our life. But it’s important to be specific about where you’re stuck. For example, you may feel stuck in your business and it’s carrying into your relationships with family – but it’s really the business that is impacting how you’re feeling. That’s where you’ll need to focus.

2. Acknowledge and Honor where you are now:

Many times, we think that the way to get unstuck is to castigate ourselves for it. If we can just beat ourselves into submission, then we’ll jump up and take on the world. Unlikely. Your willingness to move up will be adversely impacted if you make yourself wrong for where you are. Have at least as much empathy for yourself as you would for someone you love. If you were to tell someone else that his or her feelings weren’t valid, how would they respond? It’s hard when you’re feeling stuck – and you have the right to feel what you are feeling.

3. Own it – stay out of victim

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m stuck in my job,” or “I’m stuck in this relationship”? That attitude of victim points to the solution being outside of him or her. With that attitude, you have no power to change it. Adopt an attitude of, “this is mine.” So often we position the power outside of ourselves. Owning the reality means being accountable for your present results – and more importantly reclaims the power for you to solve your dilemma.

4. Vision

Vision is crucial to getting unstuck. For openers, without a vision, it’s difficult to know which direction is “up” – and most importantly, it is the source of our willingness to take the next risk step. Think of a time when you were positively compelled to have something you wanted or wanted to do. I’ll bet you had no trouble getting up in the morning and going to work on it. In fact, you probably couldn’t have stopped yourself if you tried. When we think about our next steps, we run them by a committee of our fears. Unless we have a compelling vision that is more powerful, our committee will always win the argument. Vision keeps us focused on the positive portion of our beliefs. It’s about creating a fulfilling lifestyle – a blueprint for your life. You check in with it daily to support the life you’re building and the steps you’re taking. Keep in mind the old saying: “aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.”

5. Take Action and Use Support

A vision without action is just a daydream. And action is the catalyst to get unstuck. W. Edwards Deming used to say, “Excellence is achieved one incremental step at a time.” Sometimes what holds us back is looking to the future and becoming overwhelmed with the distance from here to there. That can be intimidating – inertia sets in – inaction and shutdown, which is synonymous with “stuck.” Getting unstuck requires focused action. We take action when the journey becomes its own reward. When each step is rewarding, we stay motivated.

The most difficult thing is to get started. Here are the steps to get into action:

  • Decide on the next incremental action step to be taken on course with your vision.
  • Set a deadline for completion of the action step.
  • Gather support. Put a dream team of people in your corner – people who will not buy your excuses and reasons for being stuck. Tell them your next action step and the deadline. Sometimes people want to support you to do it their way. Instruct them in what works best for you.
  • Do it quickly. If it’s worth doing, then do it now. Henry Miller wrote, “Life, as it is called, is for most of us one long postponement.” As we are taking the next step up and hit our doubt, worry, frustration and difficulty, the temptation is to quit.

Most people spend their lives getting ready to do something. Edward Young wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time.” When you have vision as your guide, when you are taking steps to achieve it; and when you have unyielding support – you will get unstuck.

  • Win or lose, celebrate that you took the step up. When you take the next step and win, take some time to acknowledge yourself. Even if you take the risk and fail, there is cause for celebration. Taking the risk is indeed its own reward. When you detach from the results and attach to the process, you are being successful – and the rewards are sure to come.

William James said, “About ten percent of the people will take the risks necessary to have a rich and fulfilling life. The other ninety percent will spend their lives finding the reasons, excuses and justifiers for why their lives aren’t working out very well.” Reasons are what we see when we lose sight of our vision and staying stuck is the result.

Jim Rohn wraps it nicely when he states: “Success lies in the opposite direction of the normal pull. Average people look for ways of getting away with it; successful people look for ways of getting on with it.”

~ Mardig Sheridan & Jim Sorensen, Program Leaders