When you feel trapped and you want nothing more than change, the sound of yet another door being slammed in your face can be deafening. The disillusionment and frustration that follow keep your vision locked on all the factors outside of yourself that are impeding your progress. Yet what may be pushing you further and further away from what you desire could be the tangle of ruminative thoughts and unrealistic expectations that you continually set for yourself.
If you are guilty of indulging in some of these negative and often mistaken thoughts, understanding how they are inhibiting you could help you challenge them.
1. Thinking things will always be the same
If things haven’t changed in a while, and you find yourself stuck in what seems to be a never-ending loop of disappointment, it’s natural to feel utterly deflated. This sense of defeat can cloud your vision, and make you believe that change is not even possible. Over time, you stop seeing the value in making the slightest effort to change your condition. Yet this thought alone can repel action and take the place of those motivating thoughts that will mobilize you.
You don’t need to be a positive-thinking powerhouse, but constantly telling yourself that the result you desire is possible can be enough to help you fight the obstacles standing between you and your goal.
2. Burdening your future self with action
We are all guilty of procrastinating, some of us more than others, and the cure is hardly around the corner. But recognizing how we subconsciously justify our procrastination to ourselves may just help us beat it.
What we are essentially doing when we put off doing a task is delegating it to our future selves. Why? Because we subconsciously perceive our future selves to be better prepared, more disciplined, and more in the “mood” to execute that task. Once we realize that our future self is only as good as our present one, and that the passage of time alone won’t equip us with a magical boost in energy and inspiration to do what needs to be done, we are able to tackle the work head on. Accepting responsibility for our own condition, and admitting that we are the only ones capable of inspiring ourselves, helps close the gap between who we see ourselves to be today and in the future.
More importantly, who guaranteed you a future self anyway?
3. Expecting too much too soon
If you have been stuck for a long time, you may feel the pressure and the hunger for change intensifying more and more each day. This can make you feel like your next step ought to be a big one. Yet this self-imposed pressure to perform–and in a grand way–is only helping to keep you stuck. Sometimes all you need to set off your journey is to take simple, yet determined steps toward your goal. Your slow–but steady–progress will help you reach your destination faster than stagnating for a long time and then sprinting to the finish line. You are also much more likely to develop stamina, and good habits, when you commit to doing a small amount of work each day.
No matter how long the journey is, it always starts with that first step–even if it’s a small, tentative one.
4. Judging your work
If you have a tendency to be overly critical and perfectionistic, it is likely you judge your work too harshly. If you are quick to label any idea that germinates in your mind as “not good enough”, you limit its potential to turn into a great one. Perfectionism of this kind does not support the easy flow of ideas that is at the heart of creativity.
Setting your expectations aside and withholding judgement as you begin to work toward your goal can help you move forward. You may need to train yourself to remain open, accepting any experience or perceived setback as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than adopting an all or nothing approach that will, more often than not, leave you with nothing.
5. Comparing yourself to others
Just as you ought to refrain from judging your work, it is equally important to not judge yourself, and especially not by using other people’s progress as a benchmark.
When all you see is your own failures, it can seem to you like you are the only one not enjoying any success. Everywhere you look is an example of what you don’t have but so desperately covet. Yet what your biased mind is overlooking is its own tendency to overemphasize your limitations, and underemphasize those of other people.
It helps to remind yourself that the reality your brain construes is not always accurate. We are all on our individual life journeys, experiencing success and failure and everything in between at different stages of our lives. Comparing yourself to others even though we each face a completely different set of circumstances and opportunities, is not only unfair, but accomplishes nothing.
It is certainly okay and even healthy to look up to people who inspire you and lead the kind of life you desire to have. But it is only motivating when you do not use the example as a way to further emphasize your own shortcomings. Asking yourself “what are they doing that I have the capacity to do but am not currently doing” instead of saying “I will never manage to accomplish what they have” is a healthier way of approaching the comparison.
Appreciate the journey, not the result
No matter what you are after, if you are too focused on the end result, you may miss the rewarding journey that will ultimately get you there. Your achieved goal is the cumulative sum of the small decisions that you make along the way to steer you in the right direction and push you forward. So appreciate your progress, constantly refine your process, and embrace all the struggles that you encounter because overcoming them can endow you with the confidence you need to keep going.