If you answer yes to any of the questions below, you just might be in danger of getting caught in the spokes of your own life. We’ve compiled the best strategies, exercises, tips and tricks from our panel of life and career coaches to help you bury the past in the past, reset the present and forge a fresh future.
Note: If you think you have more serious mental health problems, talk to your doctor about getting treatment and/or therapy.
- Do you dread getting up in the morning?
- Do you feel less valued at work than you used to?
- Do you feel financially insecure?
- Have you been fired, demoted or hit broadside by the digital revolution?
- Has your romantic relationship ended or is it in danger of ending?
- Have you stopped participating in your favourite hobbies and passions?
- Have you lost touch with your closest friends?
- Are the problems of your parents or children or both sucking your time, money, energy and will to live?
- Are you bored, hopeless, lonely or all of the above?
- Are you reticent to leave your home and avoiding social situations because you aren’t proud of where your life is at?
- Are you uninspired, lack motivation and don’t know where to start
to fix it?
- Do you worry about your legacy and the meaning and value of your life?
As life coach John MacKay says, “Eighty per cent of coaching happens between sessions.” The real job of a coach is to keep you accountable, but the tools they employ to get you to do the hard work for yourself are accessible enough to try on your own.
Here, 13 expert strategies to help you get out of a rut and move forward in a positive direction.
1. Start with the positive
Take a success inventory: write down your accomplishments, how they made you feel and what you like about yourself. “Sometimes you need to remind yourself about the good parts of your life,” says life coach Ann Sutton. She says one of her favourite pieces of homework is to ask clients to write out and rank their basic values. “You need to know what is really important to you, and weigh your options within that framework,” she says. If you rank each item out of 10, you start to get a picture of what your priorities, in life and work, are.
She means literally, list all the things that matter to you – from loyalty to love, freedom to family, achievement and accomplishment, orderliness and security, fulfillment, love, friendship and fun, whatever comes to mind – and then rate them with a value between one and 10. The higher the rating, the more that value matters to you.
2. Write your own memoir
Tell your story to yourself, and then rewrite the ending the way you want it to be. This is a two-step process because coaching is about making small adjustments to change your course. It is also about figuring out what your story is and how you can spin it so you are taking advantage of what you have learned the hard way. “Stuck” people ruminate on mistakes and failures; you have to change that bad habit into a healthy one. Writing yourself a new ending is a way of setting goals and then figuring out the steps it takes to get there. Coach Kate Arms adds some tips here: “Get curious about all the facts in the story. What story can you make up about those facts that makes you look smart, competent, in control, wise, etc.? And what feelings were you trying to experience or avoid when you changed directions? What values weren’t being met?”
3. Take charge of the negative
Identify your gremlins. This word is very common in coaching, and it refers to the negative things we say about ourselves. As Sutton says, “It could be that we think we are not smart enough, not attractive enough, not disciplined, not worthy. This comes from the bad (and human) habit of comparing ourselves to others (Anyone got any Insta-perfect friends and celebrities poking at their soul?) Next identify your limiting beliefs (this is another common coaching term, meaning the negative things we have heard about ourselves from people in positions of authority). These are often from family, says Sutton, little offhand comments that assume outsized importance in our psyches. Things such as “she’s the bright one, her sister is the pretty one.” Over time we start to consider these negative thoughts as gospel, and we avoid what we believe or have been told we are not good at. Finally, tally up assumptions you make about yourself, based on experience. Sutton gives an example of this from her work coaching. “One bad interview doesn’t mean you are always going to be bad at interviews. We are dynamic beings and can change.”
4. Next, challenge those gremlins (inner voice), limiting beliefs (others) and assumptions (experience-based) each and every time they come up
This is basic behavioural therapy, known as “reframing.” To wit, says Sutton, first ask yourself what evidence you have for the negative thought: who said it, when did you first believe it. Then look at it from a different light. “Turn it on its head,” she says.
The turnaround methodology is a clever acronym: IFALL. I is for identify the limiting beliefs. F is finding out where they came from. A is asking yourself how true it really is. Then the two Ls: let go and love yourself anyway. We are all flawed. Adds coach Arms, “Use any device that works for you to reframe the thought in the moment. If it works for you to snap an elastic on your wrist every time you call yourself fat or dumb or somehow insufficient, snap your wrist and reframe the thought. It will eventually sink in. That is how we rewrite neural pathways and change habits.” She adds that there is research, found in John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, that it takes five positive statements to counter each negative one – to others and to ourselves.
5. Identify Your Passions
Play a round of Liked It/Loathed It. This is homework Sutton gives her clients. She has them carry a journal for a week and record what you liked and what you didn’t. “This is a great way to help determine your strengths and what you should be doing more and less of in your life,” she says. She notes that you should try to capture the feeling in the moment, as waiting until the end of the day to do this homework means you may miss some of the little things that add up to big insights. When you have a week’s worth of “liked its” compiled, then go through and figure out what the activity you were actually doing was: researching, analyzing, presenting, say. Then, ask yourself “What energizes me?”
6. If you can’t reframe a negative thought, try using metaphor
“I ask my clients to put the bad stuff in a box. Then we go through an exercise where they wrap that box, tie it up and throw it away somehow.” Clients get really into it, she says, taking their elaborately wrapped boxes full of crap and launching them into space.
7. Categorize and prioritize your to-do list and hold yourself accountable by sharing it with a friend or a professional
And more important, make a to-don’t list of things you don’t want to do any longer.
8. Iterate your solution
Like a kid on a computer, keep banging away at options until you find the key that fits the right door. As Arms says, “Get everything out. Treat this like a brainstorming session. Get out all the out-there, crazy, kooky ideas first to make room for some useful ideas.”
9. Get moving
Every small step forward is a way out of the mire. As Sutton says, a haircut can be the start of something great.
10. Get outside
Sunshine and vitamin D are healing, and exercise in the outdoors is motivating. Plus, adds Sutton: “Taking your mind off a problem is a great way to solve it. Haven’t you figured out your speech in the shower or woken at 3 a.m. to realize something?”
11. Take some tests
Personality tests are a great way to find out who you are now. Personality traits aren’t lifelong, says life coach Kate Arms. “Some extroverts become introverts and vice versa. What you used to do may not suit who you are now.”
12. Do a gut check
Write your options down on individual pieces of paper, toss them in the air and open the one you catch. Monitor your gut reaction to that option. Another simple exercise to figure out what you really feel, says Arms, is to choose a friend whom you think will disagree with you on the issue at hand. What comes out of your mouth in your own defence, she says, is a simple way to uncover where your true feelings lie.
13. Start a gratitude practice
This one, says coach MacKay, is “easy as pie.” Take the time to be grateful. Make a list. Keep a journal. “And remind yourself daily what you are thankful for, be it your family, your health or your career.” If you meditate, make the gratitude list part of that. “Re-mind” is a good word. “And if you need a more concrete reminder,” says Sutton, “light a gratitude candle every day.”
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2018 issue with the headline, “Are You Stuck,” p. 57.