Feeling stuck is a common feeling for young adults.
If you are feeling stuck in the direction of your life, you are not alone. A recent study done by Oracle Workplace Intelligence found that more than 75 percent of people feel stuck personally and professionally.
Being stuck can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, hopeless or discouraged. With a quick online search, you will find many self-help books or programs that promise to help you get unstuck. While these are most likely very helpful and informative, they can also be overwhelming.
Daily at Skyterra Embrace, we work with overwhelmed women, ages 18-28. Most students who enroll in our program are feeling stuck in some area of their life.
One of our program’s main goals is to disconnect these students from the outside world and reconnect them with themselves. Part of our group therapy curriculum focuses on identifying and strengthening each student’s personal goals and values. That way they can take small, actionable steps each day to move toward the life they want to live.
We want to share one simple change that our clinical team uses in therapy groups and individual sessions that can help you become unstuck. We know being stuck can be a hard place to be and we want to offer you some immediate relief.
Become Unstuck: First Understand the Reasons Why
The first step to becoming unstuck is to understand why you feel stuck. At Skyterra Embrace, we work with students struggling with the transition to adulthood. They are stuck in a phase of life we like to call adultolescence.
These students want the safety and comfort of adolescence and living at home with the freedom of adulthood, but they aren’t able to make that final leap into adulthood and independence. There are many factors that affect these young adults such as the increasing cost of living, highly competitive college enrollments, perfectionistic mindset and social anxiety.
The transition to adulthood can be difficult and scary. These students can get stuck in fear, self-doubt, financial distress and comparison, which keeps them from taking this leap. The students (and their parents!) come to Skyterra Embrace seeking assistance.
At Skyterra Embrace, one of our guiding theories on understanding how we get stuck and how to become unstuck is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a mindfulness-based therapeutic approach to help people move toward a more fulfilled life. Often when we get stuck, we have unwanted inner experiences such as thoughts or feelings that make us uncomfortable. Our initial response is to move away from those emotions.
Unfortunately, we can’t get away, and when we try, we get stuck. When we are stuck in our emotions, we lose track of what is important to us. We focus more on the unwanted inner experience and less on our values.
Humans Feel More Fulfilled When They Move Toward Their Values
Humans are biologically wired to move forward. Moving forward, especially toward the things that matter to us, leads us to feel successful and fulfilled. Scientists have even discovered that humans’ desire to move towards what they want is stronger than their desire to move away from what they don’t want. Growth feels good.
The Oracle study found that 75 percent of participants feel stuck professionally because they didn’t have growth opportunities to progress in their careers. Tony Robbins backs this up with his quote, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” All of this shows us that we have a very strong natural desire to move forward.
So what happens when we aren’t moving forward toward what is important? We feel stuck. Young adults stop moving forward in any domain of life for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are struggling with the effects of trauma, depression, or other mental health conditions. Maybe they have decided to take a gap year and are struggling with direction in life.
Circumstances like these bring on a variety of uncomfortable inner experiences such as thoughts, feelings, or stories in our minds. Some examples of this would be a fear of failing, guilt, shame, or our mind telling us we are not good enough. None of this feels good. Our natural instinct is to move away from these unwanted inner experiences by distracting ourselves or avoiding emotions. That actually keeps us stuck.
Kevin Polk, the author of The Essential Guide to the ACT Matrix, explains that “values are so appetitive, and unwanted inner experiences are so aversive when we find ourselves living a life that largely consists of ‘moving away,’ wherein the focus is on retreating from unwanted experience, life itself starts to feel constrained and stuck and can even become aversive.”
When we are focused on moving away from unwanted inner experiences we feel stuck because we are not moving forward. We are stuck in a game of avoidance. We move away from unwanted inner experiences with avoidance behavior. Avoidance behaviors are behaviors that we engage in to escape or distract us from uncomfortable emotions. Some common avoidance behaviors are:
- Emotional eating
- Drug use
Avoidance behaviors work. They relieve us from the pain or discomfort that we are experiencing at that moment. However, they only provide short-term relief. The thoughts, emotions, or stories we are trying to avoid will ultimately return, which can then lead us to more avoidance. With that, the cycle continues. We get stuck in this cycle because we are focused on moving away from what we don’t want, not moving towards what we do want.
A very common example of the pattern we see in our students at Embrace is the students having an inner experience of feeling overwhelmed with pressures and tasks of independent living (work or school obligations, paying rent, cooking, cleaning, organizing, etc). When students feel overwhelmed, they pull back and isolate themselves as an avoidance behavior. They often find themselves in bed, scrolling through social media, watching TV, or sleeping.
This avoidance behavior serves them by providing immediate relief from the inner experience of feeling overwhelmed. This immediate relief is shortly followed up with more feelings of being overwhelmed due to not addressing the tasks. This is often coupled with feelings of guilt and low self-worth due to not addressing the tasks as well. This is an even more uncomfortable inner experience, which then leads to more avoidance behaviors, and the cycle continues.
These students are stuck in trying to move away from the unwanted inner experience which in turn keeps them from moving towards the life they actually want to live.
Sometimes we have to accept and feel the unwanted inner experience in order to move toward the life we desire. It becomes less about trying to change the things we don’t want, and more about accepting that they will be there, while moving toward what we want.
One Simple Change To Get Unstuck: Move Toward What is Important to You
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy offers a mindful perspective. It invites us to notice our actions and whether or not they move us toward or away from who or what is important. It suggests that aligning our actions with our values, regardless of the uncomfortable emotions, will help us become unstuck and move us toward a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Identifying What is Most Important to You
Before we decide to move toward who or what is important, first we have to identify who or what is important. This is a time to think about the person you want to be, how you want to show up in relationships and your values. Here are a few guiding prompts to help you gain clarity on this:
- Write down who is important to you
- Write down what is important to you
- Look up a list of values to see if there are any that you want to add to your list of what is important
- Identify the person, friend, spouse, parent, coworker, etc you want to show up as. Name the characteristics that person needs to have.
There you have it. You now have clarity on your values and have identified who and what is important to you.
Now comes the hard part. Take notice of your actions and whether or not they move you toward who or what is important. Then chose to move towards who or what is important even if it is uncomfortable. This will help you move forward and not get stuck.
When you do feel stuck, take note of your actions to see if you are more focused on moving away from unwanted inner experience, or toward who or what is important.
Live a Towards-Focused Life
At Skyterra Embrace, we have a specific group process that our clinical team uses to guide our students to create insight on getting unstuck and living a values-based life:
- First, we use a process called the Values Card Sort to help students gain clarity on their values
- Then we teach the ACT Matrix, a technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that creates clarity on values, getting unstuck, and moving toward what is important. Through this process, students are able to see that avoiding unwanted thoughts and emotions keeps them stuck, and prevents them from moving forward.
Moving toward who or what is important to you is one simple change to help you become unstuck as a young adult. When students leave Embrace, they are equipped with the insight and awareness to live a towards-focused life. It does not have to be difficult: just a commitment to make small changes and take small steps daily to move toward the life that you want.