The best things in life never come easily. And it’s discouraging to work on a personal or career goal for a long time without seeming to get closer to the desired outcome.
My work requires me to stay on top of things 24/7. It seems like I’ve had things figured out since day one, but that is far from the truth. More often than not, I spend my day reading online articles, watching YouTube videos, and doing everything except the things I need to get done.
Sound familiar? Everyone has days like this.
With time, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making progress — losing track of the big picture and your ultimate vision, being busy without meaningful results to show, and feeling overwhelmed and distracted all the time.
After studying a number of research articles and experimenting with a long list of life hacks, here are three ways to get moving again if you’re feeling stuck and not making progress.
Extrinsic Motivation Vs Intrinsic Motivation
First, it’s important to understand motivation as that is often what drives us forward (or what we’re lacking). Most people feel stuck when they lose motivation. When that happens, you start to feel uncertain of your vision and goals. It’s easy to start doubting yourself and wondering if your goals are even achievable. Some might even take it personally and start seeing themselves as less than what they’re capable of.
Without motivation, it’s challenging for you to charge forward, let alone to get moving again when you feel that enormous stress and resistance upon you. But when people talk about motivation, they think about external rewards, like more money and greater pleasures to push themselves forward.
Extrinsic motivation doesn’t last. Instead, you need to cultivate intrinsic motivation if you want to make progress again. The big question is: How do you do that?
How to Start Making Progress
Getting stuck is normal. Some people feel stuck for a day, a week, or months, but we can always start marking progress again with a few tweaks to our routine. Try the following tips to get yourself motivated and moving forward.
1. Reconnect With Your Why
David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL, an extreme endurance athlete, and now a successful author of the book Can’t Hurt Me((David Goggins: Can’t Hurt Me)). He came from a tough background of poverty, domestic violence, learning challenges, and obesity issues. However, he then moved on to complete not one but two Hell Weeks — the toughest military training in the world — and finish multiple ultra marathons and ultra triathlons.
To him, we all have limitless potential, and all of that is in our minds. When asked how he was able to become mentally tough and pull off those unbelievable feats, it came down to a simple question he asks himself: “Why am I doing this?” When the pain was too much to handle during the SEAL Hell Week or the 100-mile ultra marathon where his mind and body were telling him to give up, all he did was ask: “Why am I doing this?”
It wasn’t easy. For most people, the why question might lead to the answer of giving up. But if it’s something that matters to you, there will always be a strong, fundamental reason that makes giving up not an option. Some examples of times when you may need to ask “why” include:
When you’re having trouble getting your client’s work done.
When you’re not making progress at your business.
When things get difficult in your relationship.
You don’t get into these career and personal goals for no reason. You commit yourself to them because there’s something bigger than your needs of instant gratification, your fears, and probably yourself. It’s crucial for you to reconnect with the why when things look less optimistic than you want them to be.
2. Create a Sense of Control
In 1998, Professor Carol Dweck from Columbia University and her student, Claudia Mueller, presented two groups of fifth graders with a simple test to carry out a study on how a compliment affects a student’s performance((The New York Times: Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence, Study Says)).
After the test, both groups of students were told that they had scored well. The variants were what came after that. They acknowledged the first group of students for their intelligence: “You’ve done very well. You must be smart.” They then praised the second group of students for their effort: “You’ve done very well. You must have worked hard on these problems.”
The key difference between intelligence and effort is the locus of control. Intelligence, to most people, comes naturally and falls under something outside of our control. On the flip side, hard work is considered as the internal locus of control because it’s something we choose to do.
After that, they gave both groups of students a different test that was so hard that only a few students were able to solve it. But the interesting finding was not how well the students scored on the test, but how they responded to the challenge. Professor Dweck found that the first group of students who were praised for their intelligence spent less time trying to solve the harder test. The second group of students, who were praised for their effort, were more willing to invest time in solving it.
The research demonstrates how different types of praise affects our performance, but more importantly, how having the external or internal locus of control affects our motivation to keep going when things get tough. In simpler terms, in order to get motivated, you need to feel that you’re in control of your current situation.
Instead of staying in the state of helplessness when you feel stuck, do something — anything, however small it is — to regain the sense of control. It could be:
Feeling stuck with your fitness goal and don’t feel like working out? Stop overthinking and go do one single push-up.
Too many emails to reply to and not sure where to start? Type a five-word sentence to every reply you need to make, save it, and go back to them later.
Not getting new clients or sales for your business? Reach out to help someone with tips for free.
Remember, one small obstacle is never the thing that ruins your life. It’s the inaction that lets obstacles and setbacks stack on top of each other. Making progress isn’t about doing something perfectly, it’s about taking back the control and moving forward one step at a time.
3. Focus on Tiny Actions
Four years ago, I attended a Tony Robbins event. He said, “In order to change your life, you need to take massive action, massive action, massive action!” Yes, Tony repeated “massive action” three times. I disagreed with that.
You see, every action we take requires effort and energy. Talking about massive action might make you sound smarter in conversations, but it’s not as practical as it seems in real life. The bigger the action is, the higher the resistance pulling us away from getting started, staying focused, and being consistent. Instead of focusing on massive action, try starting small if you want to start making progress again. Here’s why:
Tiny action takes less willpower — most of the time, it takes little to no effort and energy. It means you can get started and stay consistent easily.
Tiny tilt in degrees (in any area: mindset, habits, vocabulary, etc.) can lead to monumental differences in trajectory.
The compounding effect of consistent, small action will eventually get you where you want to be.
We can also see massive action as a combination of many small actions — often, it means nothing without unpacking it. For example, big goals like “I want to lose weight,” “I want to become an author,” or “I want to start a successful business,” don’t mean much without the steps to get there.
Clearly, these goals are massive plans made up one step at a time. The solution is to break them down into smaller, manageable chunks of tiny actions. It may seem insignificant at first until they add up into something so big that it changes your life completely.
How I Did It
To give you a real-life example, I got stuck writing this guest post. I received an email from LifeHack about the topic, spent hours researching and outlining it, and then got stuck at making it flow. Weeks passed, and I was far from making any meaningful progress.
One day I spent the time going through my personal blog — full of articles on motivation, psychology, and productivity — as an escape to writing this blog post. And then it struck me that I’ve learned how to get out from the rut all along. So here’s what I did:
Reconnect with my why. Why am I writing this guest post? Or better yet, why am I even writing? My vision is to build a successful blog and become an author — and writing is what I do.
Create a sense of control. To regain the sense of control, I scrapped the original outline and started dumping words onto the Google Doc. With words on the paper, my confidence and motivation to complete this guest post increased significantly.
Focus on tiny action. Instead of thinking about completing the entire article at one-go, I commited to 30 minutes of writing per day. I spent these daily sessions to edit and re-edit what I had from my brain-dumping session.
And that’s how I got what you’ve been reading here..
In fact, this doesn’t only apply to smaller projects like writing a blog post. You can implement the same principles on improving your health, career, and relationships whenever you feel stuck.
Often, it’s not that you’re not making progress. We’re wired for instant gratification, so it’s usually hard for us to see things over the long run. That’s also why investors fail to invest for the long-term and people don’t give themselves enough time to succeed.
If you’ve been focusing on becoming better every day, it’s inevitable that you’re making some kind of progress in one way or another. Unfortunately, you just don’t realize it. The solution is simple: keep track of every small win and celebrate it.
The best way to do this is to keep a daily journal and review what you’ve done and accomplished at the end of a day. Ask yourself what have you accomplished today and how you can do better tomorrow. If you got something meaningful done for the day, don’t forget to celebrate it, however small it is.
More Tips on Making Progress
10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck
Feeling So Stuck in Life That You’re About to Give Up? Help is Here!
How to Dodge Motivation Drain and Keep Making Progress