Emotionally Stuck? 8 Steps to Get Unstuck

Our mind is an incredible force that we are still working on understanding to this day. Sometimes we feel great and ready to tackle the world. But over time, as we grow and develop, new behaviors may begin to manifest in our lives.

Some are very helpful and give our lives structure while others will drive us to a point where we feel stuck. Emotionally stuck. It can be sparked from all kinds of things, and it’s challenging to overcome.

However, it is possible to overcome it. To get started, try considering the following.

Why Do I Feel Emotionally Stuck?

Before becoming emotionally unstuck, you need to know why you are in this position in the first place. John Amodeo Ph.D., MFT wrote about why people are feeling stuck in life .

It’s all to do with one particular emotion: shame.

Several of us are quietly plagued with thoughts that we’re flawed or that we’re defective. Deep down, you may think that you’re a failure.

This level of shame is not something that can be easily spotted despite it being a painful emotion. Amodeo states that you may be numb to the pain due to just how painful it is.

Fortunately, Amodeo has observed this behavior time and time again and knows what to look for. From his observations, people who are emotionally stuck express at least one of these characteristics:

Defensiveness

Shame is an emotion you don’t want to experience, so your body mentally responds by protecting you. This comes in many forms, but the most common is blaming others or shifting the argument so you’re taking less responsibility for your actions.

Perfectionism

This is putting up the appearance that you are without flaws, and you spend a lot of time ensuring everything is meticulously done. It gets to the point that you won’t allow human error, which is bound to happen and stresses you out.

Apologizing

Shame prompts us to apologize or to be compliant. In some cases, shame can also prevent us from apologizing to avoid the risk of embarrassment.

Procrastination

While procrastination reasons can be endless, shame is one of those reasons. It comes from the shame of the potential failure if we commit to a task or project.

All of this makes sense as shame clearly leads to some form of paralysis, no matter how you look at it. You’re stuck because you:

  • Don’t want to admit you’re wrong about something and change.
  • Are too strung up about keeping an appearance and never making mistakes.
  • Apologize so much that you allow people to steer you in various directions.
  • Put off various tasks that’ll help you and heal your shame.

How Can I Get Emotionally Unstuck?

Now that you have a deeper understanding of why you’re emotionally stuck, you need to work on getting unstuck. There are several ways to overcome it, but it all requires a great deal of mental work. Fortunately, there are methods you can do at home.

1. Find a Quiet Place

Or at least an area where you won’t be distracted. Once you have that spot, make a point of going there on a regular basis. Schedule some time on your calendar if you have to.

The purpose of this quiet place is to begin developing your inner voice. From there, you’ll be able to listen to it and begin to identify elements and emotions. By the end, you’ll be able to identify your emotions and know the root cause for them.

2. Dig Emotionally Deep

As you explore your inner voice, you’ll find that one emotion masks many others. For example, you may get angry about something, but it often masks deeper emotions like fear or pain. This step entails digging in and knowing what triggers what.

If you can’t identify your emotion properly or there are too many, observe yourself over the coming week and sit down again for another exploration session.

3. Identify the Root

You start by asking a question: “Have I found the root of this emotion, or am I still on the surface?” For example, if you’re depressed, you’ll likely find frustration and sadness along with it. You want to make sure you are uncovering and identifying as many emotions as you can.

4. Work to Name All Your Emotions

The idea of repeating steps one through three is to ensure that all your emotions are exposed. Again, you want to have a good understanding for why you react in a certain way and what is triggering it.

Emotions all create pathways in our minds, and we often go through the same sequence if we’re not conscious about our emotions.

5. Ponder One Emotion at a Time

Once you know your emotions, you need to dig deeper and know the precise triggers. For example, people experience depression because of a deep sense of loneliness. This could be triggered by past events or even upbringing.

With this step, you want to make sure your emotions are laid out. You don’t want to be covering them up, even though you may want to. The only way you’ll be able to overcome being emotionally stuck is to handle the emotion rather than burying it again.

6. Take Breaks When Needed

You’re not going to be able to handle one emotion in each session. These things take time and, depending on the emotion you’re handling, it could be a painful experience.

Remind yourself that you can take a break and save other emotions for other sessions. If you’re making a habit of visiting your quiet place often, you’ll overcome this.

You should also avoid people who will drag you down or judge you. Since you’ll have a firmer understanding of your emotions, you’ll know what’ll trigger what.

This is an important time to take breaks for sessions, as well as from certain people or activities.

7. Begin Healing

Being emotionally stuck is about knowing what is triggering certain emotions and actions. Getting unstuck is about realizing this, accepting it, finding the causes, and then making changes.

The time to get to this point varies from person to person. You might need a few sessions while others could take a few months. Either way, you want to make sure you have a grasp of your emotions and begin formulating a plan to start healing.

How to do this is to begin making changes in your life, surroundings, and habits. For example, if you feel that many of your friends’ actions are holding you back and making you act this way, begin finding new friends and branching out in that area.

Some other common examples are using affirmations or even making bigger decisions that throw you way out of your comfort zone. There are many approaches to take with this, but do what you think is best for you.

8. Stay Emotionally Unstuck

That’s easier said than done as people can relapse. The trick is to set boundaries and expectations for yourself. If you don’t want to be around specific people, tell them you are doing something necessary for your health and well being.

Some other things are to keep yourself in check by looking at your emotions from time to time. Ensure you are going down a path you want to go down and that you’re happy with it. This can include meditation or journaling to identify and work with your emotions on a regular basis.

Being emotionally unstuck comes down to taking action and holding yourself more responsible for what you do. At the same time, you can handle it in a way where you can keep moving forward and be comfortable with your decisions.

Get Unstuck and Live Your Life

When you feel emotionally stuck, it’s fair to chalk it up to the shame of an event that you are refusing to acknowledge. This shame has lead you down this path where you feel paralyzed and, well, stuck.

By uncovering that shame and coming to terms with it, you’ll be able to formulate a plan and begin to change your life. It’s that simple, but as you can tell, this requires mental fortitude and being able to handle painful emotions that you have naturally suppressed.

Take all the time you need to get unstuck. This is all part of your journey for more growth and freedom.

More Tips on Handling Emotions

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money.

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation.

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point.

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do.

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills.

Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

“I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

Inspirational, isn’t it?

Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism.

When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically.

The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

Final Thoughts

Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:

“If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

More Tips to Boost Motivation

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