Are you feeling stuck in life? Are you going through the motions but never making progress? If so, you’re not alone!
Stagnation affects many of us, creating a constant feeling of unfulfillment and uncertainty. It can negatively impact our mental health, lower our self-esteem, and even affect our relationships.
But fear not; there is a way out!
In this article, we dive deep into what causes stagnation and the behaviors that keep us trapped. I’ll also share the actionable strategies I’ve used to break free from stagnation in the past.
So get ready to rewrite your story and find momentum in life again!
What Is Stagnation?
According to rtor.org (Resources to Recovery), stagnation is a state of feeling stuck in life with no forward direction. When we are stagnating, we are not moving forward or making progress. As a result, we don’t feel like our life is improving.
Still, stagnating does not mean inactivity. We can appear very busy in our daily lives despite not moving forwards toward our goals. Instead, we are trapped in a repetitive and predictable daily routine. A typical example of this is working a job we dislike with no opportunity for progression.
What’s more, we can feel stagnated in specific areas of our life, or it can be a more general feeling.
If you feel your life is stagnating, you will likely feel the following:
- Unfulfilled with no sense of purpose
- Lacking motivation and energy
- Resistant to or fearful of change and new things
Stagnation can also affect our relationships. We may become less close to our loved ones or notice a decline in our connection with our partners.
The psychological and emotional impact of stagnation can worsen if you see others making progress while you feel stuck. This can negatively affect your mental health, leading to self-criticism and low self-esteem.
In 2018, Chinese doctors Siu-Man Ng and Ling-Li Leng, who have a wealth of expertise in holistic medicine like TCM and mindfulness, conducted a research study monitoring the symptoms of 117 patients diagnosed with Stagnation Syndrome. They found more than one quarter (26.5%) of the patients suffered from severe depression, while over half (53%) had moderate-to-severe depression.
Understanding Stagnation: Why Do You Feel Stuck In Life?
Stagnation can be due to various internal and external factors. Internal factors include a fear of failure, complacency, lack of motivation, or unresolved trauma. External circumstances include an unsupportive environment, economic challenges, and socioeconomic background.
Breaking free from stagnation starts with recognizing its cause. Let’s look deeper at the most common psychological reasons behind stagnation.
You’ve Outgrown Your Current Situation
As human beings, we don’t stay the same forever. Our likes and dislikes, beliefs, desires, goals, and values are all bound to change eventually. When this happens, we may outgrow our current situation, whether that’s our job, relationship, or friendship circle.
Stagnation occurs when we outgrow our current life and don’t embrace the change and move forward. This is often due to fear of the unknown or attachment to familiarity.
You Fear External Judgment
Many people avoid taking the necessary action to change their life because they worry about what others think.
For example, you might have a high-paying corporate job and appear successful to others, even though you feel miserable and stuck. Perhaps you dream of packing it all in and booking a one-way flight to the other side of the world. However, you worry that people would say you are foolish for giving up a good job, so you let that fear of judgment stop you from moving forward.
You’ve Lost Hope For The Future
As already mentioned, stagnation and depression have a close link. Research shows that depression can severely impact our ability to feel optimistic about the future, even after we have emerged from a depressive episode.
A 2013 study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Tromsø compared levels of optimism among people who were clinically depressed, previously depressed, and never depressed.
As expected, those who were clinically depressed estimated a very low probability of experiencing positive events in their lives. However, those with depression in the past also struggled to find hope for the future.
You’re Overwhelmed Or Burnt Out
Burnout is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in modern-day society. According to recent statistics from Zippia, a shocking 89% of Americans have experienced burnout in the workplace within the past year.
Burnout is best described as physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, typically caused by prolonged stress and overwork. When you burn out, doing even the simplest tasks feels like too much effort. Thus, people dealing with burnout expel all their energy on just getting through the day, so they cannot think about how to move forward.
You Make Excuses
One common reason we stagnate is that we make excuses not to follow our dreams. We often know what we want, but for various reasons, such as fear, we talk ourselves out of it. Maybe we want to move to another city or country, but we tell ourselves we can’t afford it or will not find a job there.
We also tend to blame our responsibilities for not being able to move forward in life. Sure, you may have children to care for, which puts heavy financial pressure on you, but that doesn’t mean you can never change your job or environment.
Unconscious Self-Limitation And Self-Sabotage
The people we are around as we grow up significantly influence how we think and feel as adults. This is because the beliefs of those people become our beliefs. However, we are often unconscious of these beliefs and how they hold us back in life.
For example, let’s say your parents believe you can only earn money by working for a company. If you have absorbed that belief, you will face many internal challenges if you try to start a business or even become self-employed.
This is known as a self-limiting belief – consciously, you want to escape the corporate life and work for yourself, but unconsciously you don’t believe it is possible. You may try to move towards this goal, but that self-limiting belief will try to sabotage your efforts at any chance it gets unless you can catch it and break free from it.
We are presented with so many choices in all areas of life. For example, thanks to the internet age, there are now so many ways we can make money, many of which we can do from the comfort of our homes. Therefore, when choosing a career path, we may struggle with indecision.
When we cannot make a decision, we become stuck where we are. For example, you may be working a dead-end job and want to start your own business. The problem is you have many different business ideas running through your mind and don’t know which one to choose. So you don’t make a decision and stay where you are instead.
You’re Comparing Yourself To Others
With the rise of social media, we are now more aware of what is happening in our peers’ lives. The problem is most people only post about the good things in their lives – they show off their achievements but hide their failures. This creates a false impression that everyone is doing well and getting ahead, which can make you feel inferior.
However, how people represent their lives on social media is not reflective of their reality, so comparing yourself to others is not only dangerous to your mental health but also pointless. What’s more, the more you focus on the lives of others, the less effort you put into your own life.
You Lack Of A Deeper Sense Of Meaning Or Purpose
If you have been stuck in a rut for a while, it’s likely you are unclear or unsure of your purpose in life. Perhaps you have a successful career, but it does not fulfill you, and you constantly wonder, ‘There must be more to life than this.’
Leading a life of purpose means you wake up every morning with a clear understanding of your role in the world. You strongly believe that you are here for a reason, and you create goals around that purpose. This becomes your driving force, and as you know where you are heading, you consciously take steps each day to move closer to it.
However, if you lack purpose or meaning in life, you will wake up each morning questioning the point of it all. You will aimlessly go through life, never feeling like your presence is making a difference to the world.
If this is how you feel, don’t despair. We all have a purpose for being here; we just have to uncover it. The strategies in the following section will help you find your purpose and overcome your current state of stagnation.
Strategies To Address Stagnation: How To Get Unstuck
Once you understand what is causing stagnation in your life, you can take proactive steps to break free from it. This can include seeking new opportunities, setting goals, seeking support from others, and doing inner work to address the underlying issues causing it.
Here are some actionable steps you can commit to right now.
Identify What You Truly Want
When we know what we want in life, we have a clear direction. However, when we are unsure of our purpose, we feel confused about what to do, and thus, we do nothing.
Identifying what we truly want in life requires self-reflection and introspection. You can try many strategies, such as reflecting on and writing down your values, passions, strengths, and interests.
Dr. John Demartini, a world-renowned human behavior expert, has a free values determinator test on his website that I have personally used. It helped me better understand what is important to me and what I need to focus more on in life.
Take Action To Avoid “Analysis Paralysis”
Have you ever thought about something so much that you got totally overwhelmed and confused by the situation? This is analysis paralysis, a state of overthinking that paralyzes from taking action.
Often overthinking occurs when we are scared we will make a mistake or believe we are not yet ready. Our mind tells us that we cannot take action until we have thought it through more or collected more data to ensure it is a sound decision.
One example is if you want to start a new business but never feel ready. The more you think about it, the more things you will discover you need to do, knowledge you need to gain, and skills you need to acquire before you do it.
Of course, we should not make decisions without thinking things through at all. But we should be careful not to overthink too. Overthinking leads to inaction and procrastination. What’s more, in most cases, we will never be fully ready anyway; sometimes we have to just bite the bullet and take the leap, even if we don’t feel 100% prepared.
Change Your Perspective
Stagnation often arises when we dwell on limitations and obstacles. We believe we cannot move forward because of these rather than looking for ways to get past them.
However, by changing your perspective, your mind starts to look for opportunities and possibilities amidst the challenges. Instead of thinking, “That didn’t go to plan, so now, it is possible,” you think, “That way didn’t work; what can I try next?”
To change your perspective, you must switch from a negative mindset to a positive one.
There is much research linking the practice of gratitude and positivity, including a 2019 study by the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile. Researchers found concrete evidence that people who practice gratitude possess a more positive outlook on life AND experience more life satisfaction than those who don’t.
So, starting a daily gratitude practice may be an effective way to change your perspective.
Focus On Self Improvement
One of the most effective strategies for avoiding stagnation is to prioritize personal growth. And nowadays, it is easy to do as there are many self-development tools, from meditation apps to podcasts to Youtube videos.
I suggest bringing “sprinkles of personal development” into your daily life. For example, I love to listen to self-improvement podcasts while working out or doing household chores.
The more you focus on personal growth, the more self-awareness you will gain. You’ll soon uncover what is holding you back and learn how to release those blocks.
Exercise can help you overcome stagnation in many ways. It is well known for its mood-boosting benefits as it releases endorphins (the happy hormone) which lift your mood and keep depression and stress at bay. Moreover, exercise can remove energy blocks that may be causing your mental stagnation and clear the mind, improving mental clarity.
Learn To Manage Your Time
Time management is one area of self-improvement you should focus on. Poor time management skills make you more likely to procrastinate and feel like life is out of your control. Thus, learning to manage your time better will make you feel more in control and less stressed. Plus, you’ll no longer be able to use the excuse that you cannot do what you want because you are too busy!
Take Some Time For Yourself
Taking time out for yourself is another powerful anti-stagnation strategy I have used. Spending time with yourself can help you get clear on what you want from life and help you find your purpose. Taking time out also boosts mental health and prevents burnout.
As mentioned, self-awareness helps us discover what keeps us stuck in a rut and what we should do to overcome it. Cultivating presence through mindfulness activities like meditation and breathwork can help you become more self-aware as it gets you out of your head and into your heart.
When we’re present, we can look honestly at our stagnation problem without avoiding or denying it. This is essential as acknowledgment is the first step to finding a solution and taking action.
Overcoming stagnation is not easy, especially if you have been stuck in a rut for a long time. Therefore, I recommend seeking support from a mentor, life coach, or someone in your life who is a positive influence.
Speaking with someone who has been in your position will help you realize there is nothing wrong with you and that there is a way out. If you do not have anyone to speak to and cannot afford a life coach, you can find virtual mentors in personal development authority figures, such as Jay Shetty, Mel Robbins, and Tom Bilyeu, to name a few.
How Our Behaviors Contribute To Stagnation
While external circumstances can provoke stagnation, our behaviors are commonly to blame. Therefore, to get out of this rut, you must look at your behaviors and determine which ones are hindering your progress.
Take some time to reflect and journal on this. Be honest with yourself as you answer the following questions.
- Do I regularly procrastinate on tasks or hold back from making decisions?
- What fears or doubts are holding me back from taking necessary risks and exploring new opportunities?
- Am I staying within my comfort zone and avoiding changes that could lead to a more fulfilling life?
- Do I engage in negative self-talk?
- Do I have any limiting beliefs preventing me from pursuing my goals?
- Have I clearly defined my goals and objectives, or do I lack direction and purpose?
Once you uncover what behaviors are keeping you stuck, consider what new behaviors you need to adopt to change your outcome and find momentum. Here are some examples:
- Embracing change or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
- Prioritizing learning and development
- Looking for the positive in any situation
- Being grateful
- Celebrating your small wins
Final Thoughts: Overcoming Stagnation
Feeling stuck in life may seem discouraging, but remember, it’s not permanent. Spend time reflecting on what you truly want, determine your values, and prioritize learning and personal growth. And don’t be afraid to seek support in your journey of creating a more fulfilling and purpose-driven life.
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