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What to Do When You’re Struggling to Make Progress

I’m certain you’ve achieved challenging goals. Yes, that’s plural.

The kinds of goals that stretched you out of your comfort zone, required new physical, emotional, and mental muscles, and / or called for changes in your normal routines.

I’ll pause while you think of just one. 🙂

I don’t have special knowing-things-about-other-people powers, but what’s true for everyone I know who’s pursued challenging goals (including me) is:

  • There were plenty of moments, days, or even weeks that were hard, uncomfortable, or both.
  • Slowly but surely you built momentum.
  • Progress looked like a loop-the-loop, not a straight line. 
  • And it feels great to know you navigated a challenging path, stayed the course, and (bonus!) grew in the process.

It would be lovely if all our goal stories shared that happy ending. Except that wouldn’t be real life. 😉

Because in addition to the goals we achieve, most of us have also had a second kind of experience. We start working towards something we want, but never gain traction. There’s no loop-the-loop of progress, just a sense of pushing a boulder up a hill.

My client Amelia was in this situation when we started working together.

Amelia’s a Human Resources leader, and for the past year she’s wanted to develop a new leadership program for mid-level employees. Her goal was to flesh out the idea, present it to her boss, and get the green light to run with it.

Problem was, she’d made virtually no progress. And she was equal parts frustrated and baffled: frustrated by feeling like she was all talk but no action, and baffled because she’s used to making things happen, in both the professional and personal parts of her life. She commented, “I feel like I’m pushing a boulder up a hill, except I’ve barely even touched the boulder. And I can’t figure out why.”

It didn’t take long to figure out the first reason why she was stuck.

She hadn’t shared her idea, so there was no external pressure for her to deliver. Which meant that if she abandoned it tomorrow, no one would care, because no one would know.

She had a super-secret goal.

And that made it hard to make it a priority. There was always something more pressing.

That wasn’t the only obstacle in her way, which wasn’t a surprise. More often than not there are multiple factors at play.

If you’re in the midst of a going-nowhere goal, here are the six questions that helped Amelia get unstuck and moving with her goal:

  1. Are you doing what you need to be doing?

    In Amelia’s case, the first thing she needed to do was get on her boss’s calendar. That simple task transformed her “secret” into a commitment. Knowing that she now had just two months to flesh out her idea gave her the structure and accountability she needed.

    What actions do you need to take to move your goal forward?

  2. Are you showing up the way you need to show up?

    Your energy and attitude impact everything.

  3. Are you clear on what you want?

    If what you want is murky, it’s really hard to make headway. Ditto for when you’re driven by a should, rather than an actual desire.

  4. Are you stuck in patterns that aren’t helping you get where you want to be?

    Most of us have habits, behaviors, and patterns that get in our way. The more awareness you have about yours, the better able you’ll be to create new ones.

  5. Are you stretching out of your comfort zone?

    Most of us can’t create what we want without getting uncomfortable!

  6. Are you climbing the wrong hill?

    When you can’t get traction no matter what you do and things never get easier no matter how long you try, it’s time to consider whether you need a new hill.

You have plenty of successful goals under your belt. These six questions will help you create even more of what you want!

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”  ~ Anatole France

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Sherry Essig