Life is not a videogame with a list of achievements to be unlocked. Nor is it a movie, where everyone needs to have a nice neat character arc wrapped up in three acts.
Real life is messy, chaotic, and often involves as many backward steps as forward ones.
At the same time, life is, in many ways, a journey.
And some people never really seem to get started.
We all have different goals and dreams of what we want to achieve, and I’m not here to tell you that you need to be a CEO, innovator, athlete, or billionaire to be happy.
But living a happy life comes from a sense of purpose. And it’s hard to pursue any kind of purpose if you stay stuck in the same spot.
I’m not talking geographically, either. Instead, I’m talking about people who stay stuck in a life that doesn’t necessarily suit them and certainly doesn’t fill them with a sense of purpose.
You can spot people like this by the way they behave. Here are some behaviors that can show you someone who is unlikely to move forward in life.
Hopefully, you’re not one of them.
1) They romanticize the past
“A happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life.”
I’m still a little bit mad at the people who told me when I was a kid that I was living the best days of my life. Because I believed them.
And since I wasn’t a particularly happy child, I felt that life would only get more and more miserable once I grew up.
Actually, the opposite happened. I love being an adult, and all of the happiest years of my life have happened long after I grew up.
But for some people, childhood, with its security and lack of responsibilities, really does feel like a golden age. And this can result in people being trapped in nostalgia for the past.
It’s not just childhood, either. Sometimes, people get hung up on a particular chapter of their life when they were at their happiest and become unable to move on.
Maybe they had a great job back then. Maybe they were with someone that they have since lost. Maybe they were healthier than they are now.
Whatever the reason, it’s easy to get stuck with a romantic vision of how the past was. And sometimes, it’s true that things really were better in the past than they are now.
But whether it’s true or not, the past is gone forever. Clinging onto it will only poison your future, making you incapable of looking forward and building a new life that suits you.
2) They procrastinate
Procrastination can be a hugely damaging habit.
Putting things off until later is something we all do from time to time. Especially when confronted with something we don’t particularly want to do.
But in the long run, procrastination can cause major damage to your career, your relationships, and your life.
“Despite its apologists and its short-term benefits, procrastination cannot be regarded as either adaptive or innocuous,” wrote researchers Diane Tice and Roy Baumeister in one of the first serious studies of procrastination back in 1997. “Procrastinators end up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”
Putting off what you know you need to do is a good way to make sure you never progress in life. Instead, you’ll stay stuck just as long as you refuse to do what you need to do.
3) They fear change
Often, people who stay stuck do so because they are afraid of change.
That’s understandable. After all, change can be scary. And the more we have to lose, the more tempting it is to become afraid of things changing and taking away what we have.
People who are afraid of change may be afraid of failure. They may lack the confidence in themselves to navigate the changes life brings them. They may feel it is safer to stay where they are and not risk anything.
But change is coming, no matter how much we try to avoid it. Paradoxically, the only way to be secure in the world is to embrace change and the new opportunities it brings.
4) They lack a clear vision
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life. Not everyone is blessed that way.
And if you don’t have a clear vision of the future that you want, it’s a lot harder to progress in life.
After all, it’s a big world full of different options for how to live.
Do you want to become an artist? Do you want to make lots of money? Do you want to travel the world and experience life to the fullest? Do you want to have a quiet family life?
If you’re lucky in life, you’ll have to make these decisions for yourself. If you’re unlucky, many of them will be made for you.
But whatever your life circumstances, it’s important to have a clear vision of what you want and how to get there. Because people who don’t have that often end up stuck in situations that aren’t the best for them.
5) They are indecisive
This can often be a more subtle sign of someone who is stuck in life.
After all, indecisiveness may be part of their personality. They may have just as much trouble choosing what to eat or what to watch on TV as they do deciding what they want to do for living.
Unfortunately, being indecisive often ends in not making a decision at all. And while that can sometimes seem safe, it usually ends with you being stuck with what you have and never progressing.
6) They avoid risks
Of course, sometimes being indecisive comes from a fear of making the wrong choice.
“People with anxiety disorders distinctively confront risks”, writes therapist and philosopher John T Maier. “They tend to avoid potential bad outcomes and [show] a willingness to surrender possible good results.”
Sometimes, then, an inability to progress in life may stem from an anxiety disorder.
7) They play the victim
Seeing yourself as a victim is one of the most damaging mindsets you can have.
That’s because it leads to feeling sorry for yourself and what psychologists call an external locus of control.
Psychologist Kendra Cherry writes that people with an external locus of control:
- blame others for their circumstances
- attribute any success to luck
- don’t believe they can change their situation through their own efforts
- often feel hopeless
As you can probably imagine, this means they rarely make any efforts to improve the situation.
Seeing themselves as the victim of fate or of other people, they tend to stay stuck where they are, unable to believe that they can make things better for themselves.
8) They have a negative outlook
Often, people who don’t progress in life have a very negative view.
In many ways, this can be a vicious circle. Because they don’t believe there’s any point in trying, they don’t. And therefore their life stagnates and they miss out on opportunities for growth and happiness.
This makes them even more unhappy, which confirms their negative view of the world.
9) They value comfort above everything else
On the other hand, sometimes people who are stuck in life where they are because they are too in love with their comfort zone.
We all want to be comfortable. We are all tempted to stay with what we know instead of risking the unknown.
But it’s in the unknown that life can really expand and grow. After all, your bed may be comfortable, but you’re not going to change the world or improve your life by hiding under the covers all day.
10) They are afraid of criticism
One of the more common reasons that people tend to avoid trying something new is because they are afraid of criticism.
The truth is, whatever you try to do in life, other people are going to have opinions on it. And those opinions may not always be positive.
In fact, the more you attempt in life, the more you expose yourself to harsh criticism from other people. That’s true whether it’s strangers, friends, or even your own family.
Let that stop you, and you’ll never progress in life. Often, people who get stuck in a rut are where they are because they are too scared to risk the criticism that comes from trying something new.
11) They are undisciplined
Finally, sometimes, getting stuck in life is simply a matter of discipline.
I’m not saying you have to get up at 4 AM every morning and have a cold shower before making your bed. I don’t do any of those things, and I don’t want to.
However, I am saying that if you don’t apply discipline in some areas of your life, you are likely to fall behind.
So often, progress comes from doing the things you don’t necessarily want to do. Whether it’s working on your physical health at the gym or building a business in your spare time, the path to a rewarding life is paved with things that are not fun.
Cultivating the ability to make yourself do those unpleasant things and embrace the challenges is how you avoid getting stuck.
Getting unstuck in life
Watch out for these behaviors, both in yourself and in the people around you. Because while many of them may seem harmless, over time, they have a way of keeping you stuck and stopping you from progressing in life.
If you’re happy where you are, that’s great. But if not, if you want to move forward, work on these negative habits that can keep you from the life you deserve.
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