We’ve been hearing from a lot of Cosmo readers lately who say they’re spinning their wheels in a life situation. They’re not totally miserable—just, well, stuck and unsure how to get moving. To quote some of them: “My life is in a serious rut right now.” “I have no idea what my first step will be.” “How do I put my dreams into action?” If you’ve found your thoughts echoing theirs, you’re in a growing club. Part of this “stuckness” can be blamed on a struggling economy, experts say. Even though it’s picking up, it’s slow-moving. So when people you know are still struggling to find a job and financial security is a foreign concept, it’s normal to cling to the same-old, rather than figure out—and then go for—what can make you more fulfilled.
But, being stuck is also the result of having so many choices in terms of the kind of life you desire: It’s tough to narrow down what you truly want to pursue, not to mention pull it all off. “If the wide array of options doesn’t stop you in your tracks, the desire for perfection certainly will, ” says Barry Schwartz, PhD, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice.
The encouraging news is that getting a handle on it all doesn’t really have to be that daunting. It’s a matter of identifying the goal or goals you’re after, and then generating the energy and inspiration to get the ball rolling. Our plan maps out each step.
STEP 1: List What You Love
Don’t panic—we’re not saying you have to figure out every detail concerning the next five years of your life or commit yourself to a single, firm objective you can never alter. It’s more about setting your sights on an aspiration that really makes your pulse pound.While making a list of what you want in life seems obvious and clichéd, this twist will truly help enlighten you. “Every day for a week, work on a things-I-love list—a stream-of-consciousness take on things you see that excite you,” says Catherine Cardinal, PhD, author of Men to Run From.When you’re done, read it and see if you spot a pattern, she says. For example, if artistic activities (say, sketching or playing stylist to friends) come up a lot, then it stands to reason that you’re looking for a creative outlet.
Next, clue in to your envy. “Whenever you feel envious of someone, zero in on what’s causing it,” suggests Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a psychologist in Los Angeles. Think about it: Does it kill you to see a former coworker because she’s started her own business from home, and you continue to be stuck in a cube slaving away for someone else? Or, does your jealousy well up whenever you go to dinner parties at fabulous houses your friends own, while you and your husband are still renting a teeny apartment?
Envy is a strong emotion, and it points us in the direction of our true desires, says Thomas. Another tactic to crystallize your dreams: playing what-if? Part of what prevents us from figuring out what we want is that when we start to think about it, our fear of failing slams on the brakes. “Ask yourself what you would do to change your life if failing weren’t an option,” says life coach Susan Biali, MD, author of Live A Life You Love. Quit your people-person job and devote yourself to a pet-care profession, like as a veterinarian, since you love animals? Enter and start training for a 10K? Whatever comes to mind is your end goal.
Since your subconscious is a useful guide to what you covet in life, consider decoding your daydreams. When your mind drifts off in a meeting or while you’re caught in traffic, pay attention to where it goes, suggests Thomas. Those fleeting thoughts are signs of what you really pine for.
STEP 2: Create A Doable Action Plan
Okay, so now you have a sense of what to go for. But, how do you turn it into reality when you’ve been paralyzed in one place for so long? The trick is to make small waves that sidestep your fears and kick yourself out of your comfort zone. Those little pushes will get you going. It can be as simple as hitting the road.
Getting out of your usual environment—whether it’s a week in an exotic country or a day trip to another town—lets you escape your usual routine and see new things, which jump-starts your drive, says Dr. Biali. “There’s something about the change of scenery and pace that is inspiring and energizing,” she says.
Harness that to send out a ton of resumes to people in an industry you want to be part of, or delve into listings for the new house you long for. And just as new places can inspire you to act, so can new faces.
Widening your social circle exposes you to different types of ideas and opportunities than you normally encounter. So, accept invites to outings that introduce you to people (who can also turn out to be mentors and networking buddies). Or, think of doers and achievers you know, Cardinal says, and make the first move by maybe inviting them out for coffee and asking how they got to where they are right
Another way to hit launch is to sign up for a class that’s related to your goal. It’s a first step that exposes you to other people in the field and shows you what options are available. “You’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, and their enthusiasm and energy will rub off on you, as will the practical information you need to switch careers,” says Thomas.
Finally, make another crucial list—this time, one of steps you need to take to achieve your goal. We don’t expect you to follow every one of them to the letter, “but there’s something about writing down these steps that makes them feel concrete and within reach,” says Cardinal. And when you read over your list, it jacks up your excitement, which is a springboard to taking action.