Assess where you regularly get stuck
"I think that people get stuck in any number of areas: They get stuck in their jobs, they get stuck in relationships, they get stuck in their own bodies,” says Rothman. “That doesn't necessarily mean that the relationships are bad or that the jobs are bad, but people get stuck in a certain area, and they don't want to change it. Instead, we tell ourselves stories that are often far too dramatic: We think any attempt to make our work life better by talking to our boss will result in being fired.”
Tap into your self-care
One of the most common places people get stuck in a rut is within their own bodies, says Rothman. We tend to ignore self-care in favor of all of our other obligations, even though being in a healthy body would help us improve in other domains of our lives. “We get stuck in the story that we’re not worth taking care of, and so we don’t make an effort to actually improve our health,” he explains. This might seem like a minor thing — not taking time to go to the gym when you have a dozen other high-priority projects that you’re behind on may seem insignificant — but, over time, it takes a huge toll on your body, your productivity and even your ability to make a change in other areas.
Understand what you’re trying to prove
One way to assess stories you’ve told yourself is by looking for things that you are constantly trying to ‘prove’ to yourself or to others. For example, if you tend to be obsessive about responding to emails, even at the cost of being late to dinners with a spouse, you may realize that you’re trying to prove your value to your employer, even when you’re off the clock. Or maybe, you’re concerned that if you aren’t constantly responding to emails, people will be annoyed with you, and you’re always struggling to prove how likable you are as a person. Often, the thing that we’re trying to prove is the thing that we’re most afraid of. And that can be enlightening because understanding what you’re trying to prove allows you to step back, assess, and shift your actions to better match your true values.
Consider the reasons you haven’t changed
Another way to spot places you’re stuck is to ask yourself why you haven’t changed yet. You likely know, roughly, where you would like to be in your career, relationships, or health. What are the reasons you’ve been giving around why you haven’t changed? These can be incredibly useful. “You may find a reason like, ‘If I quit my job, my spouse will be disappointed in me if I can’t find something better immediately.’ And changing anything often does mean risking someone's disapproval,” says Rothman. "We don't want to push the envelope because if we do, someone might be unhappy with us. And that belief is keeping us stuck."
Check your blind spots
“We all love our blind spots because they keep us safe, and allow us to avoid changing. We don't have to kind of break out of our comfort zone,” says Rothman. If you’re feeling stuck, but you can’t seem to pinpoint the reason you’re in a rut, you may want to ask a trusted friend or advisor for their honest opinion about if there’s something holding you back. This is why many people elect to work with a coach or join support groups that allow them to open up to people who have no pre-judgments about them.
If you’re reading this and wondering how to start making change, Rothman recommends getting out a notebook and doing some old-fashioned journaling. “Journaling is incredibly powerful: A lot of times, writing out the story that you're telling yourself really awakens you to how you’ve been thinking subconsciously. I call it taking out the garbage. Letting yourself write down all of these feelings and thoughts that are keeping us stuck can help you clear out that garbage that’s been blocking you, and leave you open to make change.”
Identify what needs to change
You may have a large-scale change looming, like the need to break out of a bad relationship or find an entirely new career. Or you may realize that your problem areas are less dramatic. Either way, use that journal or spend time talking with a friend or coach about the things in your life that need to change and start to think through how to make that change happen.
Uncover habit loops
Most of the time, the things we want to change are based on habits that have become ingrained in us. If you’re someone who’s always 10 minutes late to pretty much everything, from date nights to meetings, look at your past week and think about what exactly you’re doing ahead of those events. Are you often assuming that you can drive from point A to point B faster than Google Maps suggests? Or are you ready to go, but then do that one final check of Slack or your email and get sucked into answering ‘just one more message’? Becoming aware of those habit loops makes it easier to create new ones: Instead of assuming you can out-drive Google, give yourself an extra five minutes of drive time. Before you start to get ready for the meeting or date night, shut down your computer or put your phone into airplane mode so that you can’t get sidetracked.
We often think of getting out of a rut as a movie montage-worthy process. But the reality is that it’s a series of small, steady changes, says Rothman. Say you want to leave your old job: You know you can’t quit before lining up a new gig, but you don’t know anyone who’s hiring. You might start to panic thinking about all the steps (the job hunt, the resume, the interviews, the secondary interviews…) that you’ll need to do. But for today, Rothman says, “You don't have to finish the race. But it helps if you make it to the starting line.” So today, open a new document and start typing out that resume. Good news: “As a rule, I've seen that the resume is probably the biggest obstacle anyone deals with,” Rothman says. Overcome that, and you’re doing great.
Take care of you
Back to the initial point Rothman made about our health being the most common rut to get stuck in, remember that if we don’t have that, we don’t have much. “If we don't take care of ourselves, we're not going to be able to perform at our best levels,” he says. “When you start really focusing on that side of the equation, I see my clients making the biggest changes in the other areas of their life almost effortlessly.”
Connect to a community
Lastly, if you want to change your life, you won’t be able to do it alone. “Being in a community, having a coach or a friend who can hold you accountable or help when you’re in trouble is so important,” Rothman says. “Having people in your corner, having those connections, makes everything easier."