Stuck is not a fun place to be, is it? Routine is one thing, but a feeling of stagnation, of not being able to break through a plateau, can be demoralising.
We instinctively feel the desire – the need, even – to push through and make start making progress again.
When you find yourself in this situation in one or more areas of life, it’s helpful to keep in mind the difference between Motion, Movement and Momentum.
Motion feels like forward movement, but it’s not. It’s like the fast-food version of progress – it satiates us briefly, but isn’t really what we need.
It’s when we insert things into our lives that make us feel like things are happening, when in reality they aren’t producing any meaningful change for the better.
This can come in a few guises.
We can find ourselves seeking change, when we are simply substituting something of no more value to us than what we had before. New purchase, new relationship, new job, new location. If it’s change for the sake of change, then it’s possible it’s just motion, not progress.
Travel can scratch this itch, too. You really feel like you’re going somewhere when you’re, well, going somewhere. Sometimes travel is a genuine means of growth – of journeying, learning and leaning into new doors and opportunities. Sometimes it’s a wonderful, fun means of rest and rejuvenation. And sometimes, it’s an extraordinarily intoxicating faux-achievement.
Busyness too, I hardly need to mention, is an all-too-effective way to turn up the volume of our lives enough to drown out the nagging dissatisfaction of stagnation.
But they are all just motion; ways to keep the carousel wheel turning, but not getting anywhere.
Movement is what we’re really after. Forward steps.
Movement is harder than motion, and usually requires setting goals and investing hard work over extended periods of time in deliberate ways.
When I am working towards a particularly challenging or daunting goal in my own life, I often remind myself – forward motion is its own achievement. I may not be at the finish line, but if I just took concrete steps that moved me closer towards it, that is something to be celebrated. If I’m better today than I was yesterday, that’s a win. You just have to keep. moving. forward.
Can you see growth? Either internally or externally? Then you’re seeing forward movement. Don’t lose heart.
And then, of course, there is momentum. The Holy Grail. The state we all long for when stuck on the seemingly-interminable plateau.
There’s an old saying that it takes a long time to be an overnight success. Momentum is the part where all the preparation and hard work and discipline suddenly starts paying off and you see success breeding success in some part of your life or another.
Momentum can work for us, though, or against us. When something is working, it tends towards it’s own momentum to continue. Which is absolutely great when it’s an endeavour that is core to where you want to go in life.
It can, however, also happen in areas of life or activity that were only meant to be temporary; a means to an end. Which means that momentum in those areas can land us back up in the category of busyness and motion, diverting us from the forward steps we really want to take.
The good kind of momentum is what we’re after, though, and it’s possible. It does, however, require focus.
Think about the metaphor of the snowball effect. The snowball keeps rolling down the mountain, and as it does, it gains mass and speed, generating momentum. But what if every few feet, someone stopped the snowball, and sent it rolling in a different direction? What if it was stopped at various points in its journey and divided up into multiple snowballs instead? Those would be momentum breakers.
But if you know you’re headed in the right direction, and you keep focused and growing, momentum is inevitable.
Sometimes we get stuck because circumstances changed – or didn’t change – and we need to adjust course. Sometimes, it’s just a season, and we need to dig in and keep pushing. Whatever kind of plateau we find ourselves in, however, if we can resist the temptation of motion, and instead discern where we want to be and consistently take forward steps towards it, we will create movement, and, eventually, momentum.