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Advice for Middle Aged People Who Feel Stuck

Most of us would rather be doing something else some days. Even if you love your life, there are times when you just aren't feeling it.

But if you're experiencing something beyond just an occasional “ho hum” day and you’re finding it more and more difficult to show up at work, for your family or for yourself, you might have found me because you’ve been pulled to search for something. Call it hope, a distraction, advice, direction, inspiration, meaning, purpose…

I’m going to try my best to give you something here and now…something to help you stop searching.

Stop Googling

You may be at a point where you're tired of going around in circles. You feel ready to start taking steps in a more positive direction but which one? You've researched different things but that just made you more confused than ever. After all, simply researching constipation won't make you poop, right? Sorry. (but not sorry?)

You probably need to stop with all of the over thinking and over analyzing also. I know. There are lots of big questions you are pondering. Big, hairy scary questions that feel important.

You feel pretty strongly that something needs to change. Perhaps you have a few ideas about some things you could do to improve your situation but you feel unsure. So, you look for answers by Googling and thinking and thinking and Googling. Your mind feels like it's spinning and you keep going down rabbit holes of information on the Internet which ends up being a big waste of time. Your mind is convinced that it should be able to figure this problem out but you stay stuck.

You may also be plagued by thoughts such as “it’s too late”, “I waited too long”, “I"m too old”, and “it’s not possible”, "change is too risky", "what if I fail", "what will people think". These thoughts keep you feeling unhappy with your job or some aspect of your life and at a loss for what to do about it. None of this is helping your confidence either and it's at an all time low.

Fear and self-doubt

At least part of what is keeping you stuck is your own brain. You can blame it for feeding you all kinds of unhelpful and even terrible, hurtful thoughts. It wants to lead by fear which goes hand-in-hand with self-doubt, and a host of things like perfectionism, procrastination and imposter syndrome which don't serve you. So, start with giving that brain of yours a rest and then work on a way to start thinking some new thoughts--on purpose--so you can feel more confident and take action that serves you.

Your brain is keeping you stuck

It’s just like if you broke your leg. You wouldn’t keep walking on it the same way. You’d elevate it, have people write nice things to you on your cast, watch a little more t.v., read a bit more and maybe take a few more naps. You’d also probably be frustrated that you’d have to ask other people to help you get around, to reach things, and the itching inside would sometimes be unbearable.

Most of our brains are also "broken" in certain ways. Our brain tells us what to believe, what to think and how to act. It wants to protect us from danger so things like risk and discomfort are to be avoided at all cost. This causes us big problems because most meaningful change requires discomfort and risk. So, since our brain is terrible at knowing the difference between a danger that puts our life at risk versus things that just feel uncomfortable, it short-circuits when we contemplate a major change and defaults to thoughts intended to keep us safe (i.e.: stuck). Your brain might also command many of the same physiological reactions in response to a fear of say, public speaking as it would fear of being chased by a bear that wanted to eat you.

So our brain is sending our body danger signals when there is no actual life-threatening "real" danger. This in turn causes us to think thoughts and experience sensations that might not be "true", or at the very least, are not helpful. This then influences how we act. Since our brain controls our thoughts, our thoughts control our feelings and our feelings lead to our actions, it can be very helpful for us to learn how to become the boss of our brain.

We think a lot of thoughts that aren't true and many that are not helpful.

So, the first order of business is to give your brain a bit of a break for awhile. Just like you would a broken leg. Obviously, you'll still have all kinds of thoughts. Pay attention to what you are thinking but take a break from trying to figure out all of your problems. Try just "noticing" what you are thinking for a while.

Do this: Over the course of one week, pay attention to the thoughts that come up related to the specific career or work-related concern you have. Write them down.

Example: I want to find a new job that makes me happier but I am too old.

Become a brain detective for a week. Doing this might feel good or it might feel more like that itchy cast on a broken leg…don't give up if this exercise feels hard. It will, but the more information you can gather, the better.

Changing your thoughts on purpose.

So, you've been paying more attention to your thoughts and spending a little less time trying to find answers to life's big questions. This might come naturally, but I bet it actually felt pretty hard. Keep at it. If doing it for a week isn't long enough, keep recording your thoughts until you've come up with a few that seem most related to your most pressing current concern. When you feel like you are ready for a next step, here's an activity to try:

Review your thought record and choose a thought that came up frequently and that you feel is not serving you. Pick a thought or belief that kept coming up that didn't feel good to think. Perhaps this is something that you think might be keeping you stuck and relates to the "problem"

you are trying to solve.

Original Thought Example: I am unhappy at work but it's too late for me to change my circumstances.

Is this thought or belief keeping you stuck? Is it something you'd like to try to change? If so, here's what to try next.

Try checking the facts. What evidence do you have that supports this thought? Write down whatever you come up with.

Supporting Facts Example: I'm 46 and it's hard to find a job after the age of 40. I've only ever done this and I don't know what else I could do that would make me happier. Employers will prefer to hire someone younger. I need to stay in this crappy job until I can retire.

Next, write down any evidence you have which does not support this thought:

Non-supporting Facts Example: Plenty of people get jobs after the age of 40. Plenty of people also make successful career changes at my age. Some employers will value my experience, strong work ethic, and more mature perspective. I don't need to stay miserable in my job. I'm sure I could figure out something I would like better.

Next come up with a more balanced, neutral or alternate thought you could replace the original thought with:

More Balanced Thought Example: I believe change could be possible for me.

Notice I didn't jump straight into an overly positive thought. I didn't immediately change the thought to something like "I can do anything I put my mind to". The reason for this is I don't think you'd believe it. Hey, if you do or can believe that thought wonderful! BUT I think you might need to work on some neutral thoughts first. This is why someone telling you to just "Think Positive" doesn't work. You have to actually believe the new thought in order for it to be more helpful than the original thought you are trying to replace.

Read this new thought several times each day over the coming weeks--as many times as you can. The goal here is to make room for hope and possibility in the space fear and self-doubt currently occupy. Keep working at it and you will begin to notice a change in the thoughts that continuously run on repeat in your head that aren't serving you.

Your next step once you start believing that change is at least possible, is to continue to work on adding more and more increasingly helpful thoughts. As your confidence builds and you become more open and welcoming of change, you can start brainstorming some small actions to start taking. Once you start seeing the results of your actions, momentum will build and you will feel unstoppable, proud and motivated to keep going. Give it a try!!

Ready to make a move and want some support to make it easier and more successful? I can help!

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