How to Be Productive Even When You Feel Stuck: An unusual perspective on goals, motivation and how to get out of traffic jams. by Elizabeth Reagan
I want to start by saying that even though this is post about goals and goal setting, it’s not your typical post on the topic.
There are loads of blog posts, podcasts and books on the subject and I am not going to get into the technical side of it.
Happy to recommend resources if you’d like, just leave a comment and I’ll let you know where I’ve found superb instruction and information on the topic.
This is more about the unexpected and unexplainable challenges we face when working towards our goals.
So these last few weeks I have been in what I refer to as a “munk” or mini-funk.
You know the feeling… Just not feeling motivated because it felt like all of my effort and work were going nowhere.
We’ve all been there.
And this got me thinking about goals.
I have them.
They are clear.
They are measurable.
They are written down.
I am doing all the things the podcasts, books, and experts say to do around goal setting.
So why do I feel like I am going nowhere?
Why do I feel stuck?
I love what I do so why am I unmotivated?
Despite feeling like I was in a huge fog or spinning my wheels, I still showed up.
Every. Single. Day.
I was working my way through my endless to-do lists for the endless project lists I have; writing a blog post being one of them.
To me, there is nothing more frustrating than showing up, giving your all despite the curious lack of clarity and still getting no where.
I say curious lack of clarity because, like I said, I have crafted beautiful, award-winning, bright shiny goal lists.
I have them broken down into steps that promised to keep me focused, clear and productive.
After all, this IS the main selling point of specific, measurable goal lists.
(As well as the main selling point for the beautiful, award winning, bright shiny journals where I have written them down.)
They help you get to where you want to go in the least amount of time by offering the map.
They are the GPS system to help us achieve our dreams.
They let us know how we are progressing, what we’ve done and what still needs to be done.
You know, they give us clarity.
So you could see why I was confused as to why I felt lost.
I had completed the assignment and done it well.
I was sticking to it.
I was logging, 12-14 hour days of steady work yet feeling like I got nothing done.
This is exactly what setting goals was supposed to help me avoid.
Talk about injustice.
I have heard it said a million times to expect setbacks, challenges and that perseverance wins.
And I understood this implicitly.
What I didn’t understand was that those setbacks and challenges sometimes come out of nowhere with no explanation.
I always thought I would be able to quickly and accurately identify a setback, challenge or the cause of it.
I not only design my pieces but also the patterns I use.
To test my designs and order small quantities for samples, I order from Spoonflower.
I have a prototype of a shirt in one of my patterns that I love and get many compliments on.
I was even on a marketing Zoom call one day when the lady I was speaking with saw it in the background and asked if it was one of my pieces.
I said it was.
She said “Wow, that’s gorgeous. My brother works for Gucci at the corporate level and this totally looks like something he brings home from work.”
I want SO badly to produce this shirt but I can’t find a US supplier of the wholesale material that I need to offer this shirt to customers.
This situation is easily identifiable as a temporary setback or challenge.
I know EXACTLY why I am frustrated… I can’t find the wholesale material to product this piece in quantity.
But waking up and not knowing what was causing this frustrated feeling?
This drove me nuts.
Was it burn out?
Did I not believe in myself enough?
Did I really think I could do this?
I thought I believed in myself so my lack of motivation was doubly frustrating.
Because in my “over-active-0-60-mph-in-1.9-seconds” mind maybe this was a sign that I really didn’t believe in myself.
Everyone knows belief in yourself is a must-have, non-negotiable element in achieving your dreams.
What if my sub-conscious was punking out on me now that I am closer than ever to my goals?
(Encouraging Quotable quote here- Every single day that you get up and work towards your goals makes you the closest you’ve ever been. And that is why we keep showing up, we didn’t come this far to only come this far. What was all the hard work and sacrifice for if we quit now? We ARE closer than ever. )
Then it hit me- I was in a traffic jam.
As someone who has taken countless road trips, I know that you can map out your route, estimate how long the trip will take and even know every turn along the way.
What you can’t know, are the conditions along the way.
And just like my “munk,” sitting in traffic is SO frustrating because you are in the car, you’re on the right route, you know all the turns BUT YOU ARE NOT MOVING.
But you don’t pull over, shut the car off and refuse to drive.
You don’t turn around and say “Well, guess that means I can’t finish the trip, I”ll head back home now.”
You don’t refuse to drive until traffic breaks.
Sure, you may feel some immediate relief and gratification by choosing one of these approaches, but you’d lose so much ground.
You’d have made your current effort a total waste.
You’d be so far behind the people who stuck it out, you’d likely never catch up to them.
Or worse, if you quit and went home, you’d never get to the destination.
Even though it feels like you aren’t moving, all those inches count.
And before you know it, the traffic breaks.
Same situation here.
I kept showing up.
I kept inching along.
Then all of sudden…
One day I showed up and I had a clear and productive day.
One of the best I can remember ever having.
When reaching for goals, you are going to encounter traffic jams.
You can’t predict when, where and as I’ve recently discovered, even WHY they will come but you have to keep inching along if you expect to get out of it.
And THAT, my friends, is what I wanted to say today.
To offer encouragement to anyone who is feeling like they are sitting in a traffic jam, getting no results despite showing up and taking all the right steps.
Stick with it.
It does get easier.
You got this.
Elizabeth Reagan, sits on the Advisory Board for Black Society for Economic and Social Transformation, but also a fast rising entrepreneur clothing designer.
Read more of Elizabeth's blogs at: https://www.elizabethreagan.com