Feeling ‘stuck’ can mean different things to different people. Feeling stuck can manifest when someone must decide between two choices or situations, causing uncertainty and anxiety. It can stem from unhappiness — you don’t know what you want or how to realise it. It can even be felt after concerted efforts to change or overcome internal/external obstacles with little to no progress.

In general, feeling stuck comes with the frustration or fear of feeling or perceiving yourself as trapped in a particular situation or emotional state for too long. The key to getting ‘unstuck’ begins with self-awareness and self-reflection. This means exploring how your fears, thoughts, actions, words and attitudes are perpetuating the feeling of being stuck and holding you back from reaching your full potential.

“When we hit a roadblock in life, it’s easier to make someone or something else accountable for our unhappiness rather than accepting any degree of responsibility or accountability ourselves,” explains Zeta Yarwood, a certified executive and life coach based in Dubai and the UK. “People can get defensive when they feel ‘stuck', when this is exactly the point where they should become curious.”

Yarwood works with people to encourage introspection and self-awareness to pinpoint what may be holding them back. In some cases, honest self-reflection may be enough to engage in constructive change to move out of a place where you’ve been feeling stuck. However, exploring what’s underneath the behaviour with a professional who has a background in mental health, psychology or human behaviour is also an option to identify any unmet needs driving the behaviour.

“Think of it this way: every behaviour is developed as part of a survival strategy. As children, we learn certain behaviours help us meet our needs of love, attention, connection and safety, and help keep us alive. The brain doesn’t naturally compute that what worked at one point in our life may no longer apply to the more complex situations we navigate as adults.”

Cliff Fernandes, a 45-year-old who works in the IT management field and is based in the UK, reached out to Yarwood through LinkedIn when he struggled with feeling emotionally and mentally stuck. His father had passed away, and he had been made redundant at his job. When he found a new job, he realised that the behaviour patterns that had once served him were no longer working.

“I had a lot of negative energy that was coming across in how I spoke, how I interacted with others, and my work,” Fernandes explains. “My life was moving forward, but my mindset was stuck in this negative place, and it was affecting others, too.”

The father of two credits his self-reflection, guided by Yarwood and her strategies, as the reason behind his positive mindset shift and finding new ways to address various situations in life.

“Zeta encouraged me to self-reflect at the end of each day,” he explained. “I would write down what went well, what went badly, and what I’d do differently the next day.

“Because it was such a short timeframe, I learned that there’s no point in beating myself up about the little things. Instead, I made an effort to do better the next day. Eventually, the small changes each day added up. I didn’t focus so much on the negative, and acknowledged the efforts I was making because I was doing something, instead of just complaining about it.”

Yarwood also encouraged Fernandes to score different aspects of his life – work, health, family, friendships, etc. – and rate them based on where he was and where he’d like to be. From there, he created a roadmap of actions to undertake and habits to form to raise his score. Tracking his progress on his phone gave him a visual representation of his efforts.

“When I looked back at one or two months, it wasn’t all perfect – but it was better. When you see the small shifts over time written in front of you, you see your effort, you realise that you’re happier, and you’re doing okay. One or two bad days or negative moments or missed exercise sessions won’t undo all the progress. Life has ups and downs, and just seeing my efforts tracked in front of me put me in a better place mentally.”

The path to feeling unstuck is never easy and Yarwood notes it can be met with resistance.

“It’s not easy to look inwards and think about the ways you’re holding yourself back,” Yarwood reflects. “And sometimes, our source of suffering is external: our environment or other people will affect us and can cause us significant stress. But we have to be willing to be honest with ourselves about our patterns of behaviour and thoughts that keep us stuck in these situations even when we know they’re not serving us. Fear of the unknown is a prime example of why people stay stuck," she says. “Holding yourself accountable will always be a challenge, but it’s needed to successfully move forward without repeating old patterns in the future.”

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