There are a few things I know for certain. One is that at some point in our lives, just about each one of us will feel stuck. I also know that it is more likely we will feel stuck as we mature rather than as we start out. And finally, I know there is one reason we feel trapped or stuck.
Feeling stuck in life is not something that happens all at once. It is a slow process, building over time. It is like a wheel caught in the mud. We try to move forward, but all we can do is dig ourselves deeper into a rut. It can be exhausting and demotivating. We want to change but are powerless to figure out just how that should happen. Ultimately, feeling stuck will lead to resignation and resentment.
So how does this happen? Why do people who have so much going for them feel powerless to improve their own circumstances? After all, most people who feel this way have already achieved so much in their lives. They have created homes, families, and careers. Why are they unable to move forward when they feel the need?
The answer is actually very simple. People feel stuck because they are afraid.
As I’ve said before, fear is one of our basic self-preservation techniques. Our brains use fear to keep us out of unusual or unknown situations where danger could be lurking. Think of the caveman who decides to explore the sabre-tooth tiger’s den without any forethought or weapons. It usually didn’t work out well for him. Although the type of danger has changed through the centuries and most of us won’t be entering a tiger’s den anytime soon, our brains still try to keep us safe from harm. Any time we think of venturing out of our comfort zones, warning lights go off in our brain and a healthy dose of fear kicks in.
If you really want to change something about your life but feel powerless to do it, don’t resign yourself to helplessness. Once you understand that fear is holding you back you can be on your way to making that change.
The next step involves realizing what type of fear is holding you hostage. There are three types of fear. The first– and perhaps the most common–is fear of loss. We are afraid of losing what we have already accumulated or created, even if is something that no longer serves us.
For many of us, there comes a point when our careers no longer fulfill us. So why not just change jobs? Find a new one that excites and satisfies us. It’s because we are afraid of losing what we have. It could be status. It could be security. It could be the way we define ourselves. Oftentimes it is the money–fear of losing that paycheck. So we stay where we are, unhappy with the prospect of going to work everyday, but feeling powerless to make any changes. It is easier to stay with the familiar than face the possibility of the unknown. Even if that unknown could hold an amazing future.
Another reason we stay where we are is fear of the process. Change is never easy. In fact, it is damned hard. Change takes time, and it takes work and many of us are afraid of what we would have to do to make it happen. Why do so many people fail on their attempts to lose weight? They are frightened of the work they will have to do. Not only is their current health status familiar, they are comfortable with the habits that got them where they are. I’ve seen people implode after the first day on a new health program. It can seem overwhelming, and the effort is going to be more than they can handle. Is that true? No, not really, but the brain does a great job of convincing us our current situation is not so bad, and it would be much safer and easier to stay where we are.
The third type of fear can be the most difficult to deal with because it deals with negative outcomes. It is the fear of “what if”. What if I do all this work and it doesn’t work out? What if my new job isn’t what I thought it would be. What if I’m still miserable even after I starve myself and sweat through all those exercises to lose weight? What if it is all for nothing? Although we may see ourselves as optimists, our brains try to protect us and keep us where we are by focusing on the negative. It’s a very subtle tool, but an incredibly powerful one as well. Once we recognize the behavior, we can moderate the fear by shifting to a positive outcome. By visualizing what we could achieve rather than what we would lose, we can allow ourselves to take the first steps to getting unstuck.
Changing is never easy. But knowing what you are afraid of is one of the best ways to break through the barrier that keeps your life in a holding pattern. There are specific ways to address each type of fear and work through them. Unfortunately, few of us ever take the time to reflect on what is really holding us back from creating a happier lifestyle.
If you take that first step–if you recognize what you are really afraid of–you may just find those changes are easier than you thought.
The Charge, by Brendon Burchard, Simon and Schuster, 2012