(Listen to the audio version of this article here.)
Toward the end of one of our sessions together, my life coach tasked me with an unusual piece of homework: “I want you to write your own obituary and read it to me during our next session. What did loved ones say about you? What kind of life did you lead? What was your impact? Put it all in there and let yourself go wild with it.”
This particular session had centered around my feelings of being stuck regarding a new venture; I was desperate to get back to my “why” and remember what it was I was originally after. “It’s like my feet are glued to the ground and everything around me is moving forward. I feel like a passive participant in my own life,” I told her.
The truth is, I’m a self-proclaimed dreamer with countless goals and intentions for my life. Despite my craving for upward movement, growth, and lasting transformation, I am also very well-acquainted with stagnation. The more I listen to others share their stories, the more I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who experiences the paralyzing fear of being stuck in a rut. Stagnation is normal and happens to all of us at one time or another.
And yet, the hard reality for us dreamers is this: some of those heartfelt aspirations we aim for may never come to fruition if we don’t recognize when we’re shrinking in stagnation. I came across a quote years ago that read: “Change is hard. Stagnation is fatal.” These words, along with those penned by poet Mary Oliver, “[…] Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?,” serve as reminders that growth requires deliberate and intentional effort on our parts.
Stagnation shows up in practically all areas of our lives. Historically, I wasn’t self-aware enough to get below the surface and ask myself the deeper questions vying for exploration. Yet in order to get to where we want to be, we have to become aware of where we are today.
If you’re stagnating internally, relationally, or professionally, here are several questions along with suggested steps that will propel you forward:
Am I experiencing stagnation in my mind, body, soul, spirit, or all of the above?
- Are there limiting beliefs or negative words I frequently think or say about myself?
- Do I place unrealistic demands on myself, expecting perfection?
- Do I live in a state of excessive productivity without any downtime?
- Do I live on autopilot, merely going through the motions each day?
- Have my spiritual life and faith practices grown cold and uninspiring?
- In what ways am I imbalanced or neglecting myself physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually?
Steps toward growth:
- Identifying any destructive habits and self-limiting, debasing words you carry provide the springboard to rewriting your internal script (for more on this, read here, here, and here). Awareness is a foundational step toward making changes, so celebrate this win!
- Stagnation can be a catalyst for seeking outside guidance. Working in tandem with a spiritual mentor, life coach, or therapist is hard work but worth the effort.
- Learn more about your unique gifts and strengths, and then start living out of them. Personality typologies like the VIA Strengths Survey, StrengthFinders, the Enneagram, or Myers-Briggs are great resources for anyone on a self-discovery journey.
- Schedule your annual physical exam and ask your doctors to run blood work, check hormone and nutrient levels to ensure nothing has gone awry. Altering lifestyle behaviors such as movement, nutrition, sleep, self-care, and hydration can work wonders on your entire well-being.
Am I experiencing stagnation relationally?
- Which of my relationships is growing distant or stale?
- Am I remaining in toxic relationships or allowing the people in my life to get away with bad behavior at the expense of my well-being?
- Do I possess the ability to comfortably say no?
- How often do I welcome new people into my life? Do I seek to know and understand people who look, behave, and believe differently than I do?
- How are my relationships affecting my overall well-being?
- Taking ownership over ways you’ve contributed to relational discord is a tangible step toward closing gaps and making amends.
- When we push outside of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be known by others, we grow. And when we truly listen to others’ stories and seek to understand, we expand our worldviews, compassion levels, and grow further.
- Surround yourself with positive people who challenge, inspire, and stretch you—growth is contagious!
- Construct healthy boundaries where they are needed in your relationships.
Am I experiencing stagnation professionally?
- Am I learning new skills, tasks, and ideas that motivate me?
- Am I meeting my goals and am I contributing to others achieving their goals?
- Where am I procrastinating?
- Does my environment inspire creativity?
- How happy and fulfilled am I by my work?
Steps toward growth:
- An honest assessment of whether it’s time to switch jobs, in addition to finding a mentor or someone who can give you objective professional advice, may be in order.
- Shift around what you can control and make tiny changes in your environment, habits, workspace, or the people you surround yourself with. Even switching up your typical driving routes, meals, workouts, or music selection can propel you forward out of the rut.
- Schedule devoted you-time so that you can reassess, reflect, vision cast, and realign your goals and aspirations with ones that inspire and ignite you. This is the perfect place to make it happen!
Even with the fair amount of work I’ve done around stagnation, it still makes an appearance from time-to-time. Yet, I’ve come to embrace the reality that real growth is often a slow, grit-filled process, and we often won’t notice we’re moving from point A to B in the moment. It’s only after time has passed that we can look back and see it. So celebrate every small, intentional step you take along the way—it may make great content for your own obituary homework!
“Change is hard. Stagnation is fatal.” These words serve as a bold reminder that growth (or lack thereof) demands work and effort.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: You Have a Sparkle, Here’s How to Find It (With Former Miss USA Kristen Dalton Wolfe) – 061!