When people think about being stuck, they often feel like they’re doing the same thing over and over again. They’ve reached a plateau and they’re not seeing what it would take for them to keep up their growth. They feel like they’re missing something. Or maybe they don’t even want to put in the work they think is necessary for the next level.
There was a huge snowstorm not too long ago in my area. When I went to a visit a friend, the parking lot hadn’t been cleared. So parking into spots and getting out was a huge pain.
When you drive against huge piles of snow without being prepared, your car is going get stuck. If you’re unlucky, then you may not even be able to get back out because you drove yourself into a hole. And that is what being stagnant feels like.
When you feel like you’re no longer growing, you lose a lot of motivation over time. This is also true for anyone you manage. If they grow bored and start to lose interest, that will most likely not lead to the result you’re hoping to get from your team.
So what can you do in these situations?
New Is Better
Maybe that isn’t always true but there is a lot of wisdom that you can use here. Depending on how stuck you feel, a small change of pace could be enough. If that isn’t the case, you might have to completely shock your system.
The best way to build new habits is to put yourself in a place where you have to adapt to it.
Uprooting yourself and moving to a new country is one way of doing it. But moving to a new neighborhood could be all you need. How big of a change are you looking to make with your life? When you’re throwing yourself headfirst into a new life, you will find that it’s easier to take on new habits.
As a bonus, putting yourself in an new environment with new challenges can give you a different perspective on a previous issue you struggled with. Sometimes going deeper isn’t always the best thing to do. A more lateral way of thinking might be just what you need.
You can see this happening with athletes who travel to practice with unfamiliar high level players. Musicians who play in a different band or orchestra. Entrepreneurs who are placed in an incubator. This is the case for all of them.
As a caveat, you must thoroughly plan out what it will be like to be in your new environment. There is the risk that your surroundings may work against you. This depends on your level of preparation and mental resilience.
As one example, digital nomads, entrepreneurs who aren’t bound to a single location, often suffer from loneliness. Another example is feeling inferior to the level of competition that you put yourself in, a common situation for athletes and performers. But, as you may have realized, this is where you have the most opportunity for growth.
Your environment has a strong influence on you, whether you realize it or not. Are you going to surround yourself with excellence or stick around with what’s been keeping you stuck?
Create a Map for Yourself
Part of why you can’t climb over the hill might be because you’re stuck in a thought pattern that doesn’t match what a higher level performer in your role would have. Leaders often suffer the most from this when they try to build executive presence.
Why does this even matter? Because your thoughts are the basis for your behaviors and repeated behaviors turn into habits. By the end of that cycle, you may be blind to what is holding you back from your goals since you’re so used to your habits.
Creating a map means understanding where you currently are and where you want to be. As there isn’t a Google Maps equivalent for who you are, we will have to do this the old fashioned way. These are the three steps.
- Investigate what your thought patterns are, what feelings those are leading to and what actions you’re taking as a result. This is who you currently are.
- Determine what thought patterns, emotions and habits a better version of yourself would have. This is your goal, the you who is capable of overcoming the plateau and more.
- Plan out the route you want to take in order to connect the two endpoints.
As simple as listing these steps out, executing them is a whole different story. As a warning, you need a serious amount of self-awareness for this exercise to be effective.
Being completely honest with yourself, in both your strengths and shortcomings, is harder than you think. So much can get in your way. A few reasons right off the bat are your inner critics, your biases and your curse of knowledge.
This is where having a coach, an objective partner who is skilled at helping you generate insights without imposing judgment on you, has value.
By discovering what you need to do, you start to edge yourself out of your plateau. That bottleneck that was stopping you? Now that you see it as clear as day, you can just step over it and be on your merry way.
At one point, you’re going to reach a level where because you’re doing it for work, you’re not going to get any better. You’re constantly in what is called the “performance zone”, where what you do needs to be good enough for your work.
This is great for getting results but not at helping you improve any further. The main reason being that you aren’t allowing yourself to experiment. In other words, you’re afraid to fail.
Failure is where growth happens. Gaining resilience, experience and understanding over time is invaluable to any field that you put yourself in. However there is a difference between failing and simply making mistakes.
This is where deliberate practice comes into play. Out of the infamous 10,000 hours that people now say is required to become a master at a craft, how you spend those 10,000 hours is extremely important. The time spent on deliberate practice is the difference between those who become masters and those who remain mediocre..
This sort of practice looks something like the following:
- Spending focused attention on specific areas of your craft, overcoming challenges of an appropriate level to you.
- Causing your brain to hate you because you’re tackling on problems that are just a little bit beyond you and require you to stretch yourself.
- Going into mind numbing repetitive practice to hone one aspect of a skill and allowing yourself to make mistakes so you can analyze them.
The point of deliberate practice is bring your skills to a new level. And that is often not enjoyable. In fact, I would say the process is usually downright torture.
But seeing the results of what you can do afterwards more than makes up for that. The trick is to learn to enjoy the process.
Instead of looking at your performance as a whole, what is one specific skill that you can improve on? How can you hone that skill outside of your current responsibilities?
As time seems to pass by quicker and quicker, you may not realize that you’re getting complacent. Humans default to being good enough. If that is all you need to be happy, then all the more power to you.
But if you find yourself asking if this is all there is to what you’re doing, then you may want to re-evaluate where you are against where you want to be.
When you’re stuck, don’t imagine fighting an uphill battle. Instead, you’re on a cliff. On the opposite end is the success that you’ve made your goal. But the bridge that connects you to it is long, winding and covered up fog.
The difference between the best and the rest is the resolve to cross that bridge. Because you will be placing yourself in uncertain situations all the time. Because you will have to put in the long hours to develop your skills.
What are you doing to make sure you keep growing?