feeling meh
Wellness

Can’t Move Forward? Try This When You’re Stuck Feeling Meh

You should stay away from your potential! You don’t want to find out that the most you could possibly achieve if you gave it your all and devoted yourself to improving yourself… would be maybe eating less cheesy snacks. – Dylan Moran

feeling meh

You will not find ‘stuckness’ in any clinical psychology book, but it is very much a real part of our psychological experience. At some point in our lives, we have all felt like we just can’t make progress. We know there is something we can do to change our current situation and make our lives better. It’s just there, beyond the stuckness, but for whatever reason, we’re stuck feeling “Meh.”

What is the “Meh”?

feeling meh

Sometimes there is no looming deadline to fire us up and get us moving. Our situation is not intolerable and we’re not miserable enough to change, but we are not happy or fulfilled either. We feel, Meh…’ In terms of motivation, feeling Meh can be the most dangerous place to be. Often our Meh feelings are masking more difficult emotions such as self-doubt or anxiety. We distract ourselves with work, others, and the everyday routine to avoid the unsettling prospect of change.

Signs you are stuck feeling Meh

Ambivalence

Health psychologists often use a tidy process map to describe the stages of behaviour toward change. According to this model, we start to think about changing; then we commit to changing, make a start, fall off track, only to dust ourselves off in order to start again. In reality, thought and behavioural change is not tidy; change can be a messy affair.

Stages of Change Model:

feeling meh

Stages of Change (Reality):

feeling meh

We may think about change, decide to do it, don’t do it, then try somewhat to do it, think about it some more, go on a holiday, see a TED Talk and get inspired! Then jump into it without thinking. And then feel stuck and frustrated that it’s not working the way we thought it would and decide we need time to think about it some more… later.

Life gets in the way of our plans and we are not always logical and linear thinkers. Feeling ambivalent is normal but when ambivalence lingers too long, it may feel like we are on a merry-go-round; we are moving but we aren’t actually going anywhere.

Procrastination

Ever set out to accomplish something only to find yourself engulfed in closet re-organisation or Facebook? Persistent procrastination is actually a form of avoidance. Change can make us feel anxious so we do something more pleasurable or less scary to make us feel better. Blogger Tim Urban has an excellent blog about needing a ‘panic monster’ to actually get him moving. But more on that in the next blog.

Lethargy, Numbness, Irritability, Helplessness, Frustration

Often we become stuck while we aren’t paying attention. Our work, finances, and our relationships consume our mental energy and we land in a funk before we even realise it. We may just feel numb. We are sleeping in separate rooms from our spouse, or we are miserable at work, or we have crippling debt. But we try to convince ourselves that, “It’s Fine.”

Or we think about the situation in which we are stuck way too often. We think about it in the same unproductive ways and come to the same conclusions.

Over time, we create a mental groove, a habitual way of thinking that actually demotivates us and becomes progressively harder to change.

If we stay too long in the Meh, we end up feeling irritable, defensive, or withdrawn, with an increasing feeling that dealing with everything and everyone seems too difficult.

Our impulses toward fight or flight increase.

We want to hide away or blame other people or situations for our frustration. Our work and relationships suffer. If unaddressed, feelings can escalate to anger, depression, self-loathing, or anxiety. If we don’t want to wait for intolerable misery to motivate us to change, we need to address what is causing our stuckness.

What is causing your stuckness?

In the simplest terms, all stuckness, hesitation, resistance, or inability to change can be traced back to the emotion of fear. Sometimes this fear is well founded and easy to name, but sometimes it is outside of our awareness. A good question to ask yourself is…

Is your stuckness psychological, situational, or both?

Situational

No matter how motivated we are, practicalities can make moving forward difficult. You may fear that going back to work will be difficult, which may be founded on a very real lack of available jobs.

Psychological

We may blame our stuckness on our situation or our lack of motivation. However, if we really want to change but can’t, then emotional roadblocks may be to blame. Emotional roadblocks include a bullying inner critic, negative self-beliefs, or self-defeating behaviour patterns. Our resultant anxiety and low moods make us far more prone to procrastinate.

Stuckness may be an indicator of more severe psychological issues such as clinical depression, anxiety, or overactive guilt or shame.

Both

Situational stuckness may have strong emotional underpinnings. Fear of going back to work may be a job availability issue that is underpinned by a fear that we won’t be able to cope. Job availability would make finding work more difficult but our fears about coping are what stop us from looking at all.

Loss of our job, our home, or someone we love can make us feel so heavy that we just can’t move forward. In such instances, we may need to allow ourselves time to heal. 

Consider what internal forces are working against you.

Fear may be stopping us from moving forward but what is triggering the fear? Is it our ability to reach the goal? Or the uncertainty of change? Or the inevitable stress that change will cause? Or is it the goal itself? If you are unclear, try the ‘downward arrow’ technique. Ask yourself the same question three times.

What is triggering my hesitance?

I fear there are no jobs available.

If that is true, what does that mean to (or about) me?

…that there won’t be jobs available for me, given my skill set.

If that is true, what does that mean to (or about) me?

…that I don’t have the skills to get back in the workforce.

If that is true, what does that mean to (or about) me?

…that I won’t be able to cope in the current work environment.

Uncovering underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that cause our stuckness is the first step towards becoming unstuck. In the next article, read about further steps you can take to escape feeling Meh and start moving towards a happier, more fulfilled you.

References:

  1. Illustrations by Dr Jena Field at themonkeytherapist.com
  2.  JO Prochaska, JC Norcross & CC DiClemente. (1994). Changing for Good.
  3. Tim Urban. (2016). Wait But Why Blog: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate. http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html
  4. Mel Robbins. (2011). Stop Saying You’re Fine: Discover a More Powerful You.
  5. Kelly McGonigal. (2015). The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.
  6. Wendy Dryden. (2014). Shame and the Motivation to Change the Self. Emotion.
  7. Paul Gilbert. (2010). The Compassionate Mind.
  8. Todd Kashdan. (2015). The Power of Negative Emotion: How Anger, Guilt, and Self Doubt are Essential to Success and Fulfillment.
  9. Joseph LeDoux. (2015). Feelings: What are they and how does the brain make them? Daedalus.
  10. Karla McLaren. (2010). The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You.
  11. Gershen Kaufman. (1993). Shame: The Power of Caring.

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