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7 Simple Things to Do When You’re Feeling Stuck

If your finances, career or relationship have hit a rut, here’s help getting out of the breakdown lane and back on the road to bliss.

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When I found myself deeply in debt years ago and unable to pay my bills on time or buy groceries without using credit cards, I knew something was seriously wrong. Well, I had known for awhile that my family’s financial situation was heading nowhere good, but something prevented me from doing anything about it.

In hindsight, I realize it was hopelessness that held me back. In fact, I was trapped in a cycle of hopelessness. I didn't see a path out of my current situation or the possibility of change, so I didn't do anything to improve my circumstances. The more I did nothing, the more hopeless I felt. And around and around that went. I was stuck.

Here are some things I learned and did that took me from hopelessness to paying off $74,000 of debt in two years.

Maybe you can relate. If you're facing a challenging situation, whether in your finances, a relationship, your career or some other area of your life, it can be difficult to break through those feelings of being stuck. Fortunately, you don't have to remain where you are. I was eventually able to break out of my financial funk, and you can push through your situation, too.

Here are some things I learned and did that took me from hopelessness to paying off $74,000 of debt in two years.

1. Recognize signs of burnout

Another word for burnout? Hopelessness. One of the definitions of hope is "to desire with expectation." Another is to "expect with confidence."  During the time I was struggling financially, I truly believed that there was no possible way I could get out from under my financial burden. My expectations were lower than low and that affected my ability to move forward.

Once I shifted my expectations and started believing my situation could change, I was able to move from doing nothing to taking action. This doesn't mean that if you change your beliefs, you instantly change your life — no, there's still lots of work to do — but what you expect and what you anticipate holds weight. What are your expectations for the situation you're facing now? Do you need to alter them?

[Note: Hopelessness can be a sign of depression. Find mental health resources here.]

2. Pay attention to your words

Not only did I have low expectations for my situation, but I would also express them, out loud, over and over again. "I'm never going to be able to pay off this debt. The only way we can get out of this mess is if we win the lottery." I would think and say those statements repeatedly.

I didn't realize it, but the words I was saying to myself dictated my progress. When I would sit down to work on my bills, it was as if I had a choir singing songs in my head like "It's No Use," "Don't Even Try It, Boo" and other “motivational” hits.

So, consider your thoughts and your words. If you’re saying negative things about your situation, it's time to change your tune, sis. Replace defeating statements with ones that reflect where you are and where you're going. For example, instead of "I'm so behind on retirement, it will take a miracle to catch up," try "I'm actively working my plan to save as much as I can toward retirement. I may not be where I want to be, but each month that I save puts me closer to my goal." Reading the "Real Talk From A Sister" inspirational quotes is a great way to shift toward positive thinking.

3. Identify your next step, even if it's small

Martin Luther King Jr. is credited as saying, "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." Taking action is critical, even if it's a small move or you’re unclear whether it will get you to where you want to be.

For me, that small step was sitting down and adding up the exact amount my family was overspending every month. While it was scary to face reality, knowing what I was up against empowered me. Plus, action and progress are bedfellows. One usually leads to the other.

What's one small step you can take in your situation? It could be something as simple as reading a book on a topic or making an appointment with a professional that can help you. Whatever it is, identify it and take it.

4. Commit to seeing your journey through

Depending on what situation you're focusing on, you may encounter setbacks or hurdles as you move forward. So you'll need to decide that you won't give up. Making this commitment to yourself upfront will help you to keep putting one foot in front of the other — no matter what.

5. Share your journey with people that matter to you

We all need support. Whether you're trying to pay off debt, start a business or meet a savings goal, you need someone in your corner, cheering you on and holding you accountable. So identify your own cheerleading squad to help you along your journey.

6. Track your progress

When you're working on something big and challenging, it’s helpful to measure your progress. Doing this will motivate you to keep going. If possible, use a visual of some sort. When I was cleaning up my finances, I kept a list of the debts I was paying off on my fridge. Each time I paid one, I crossed it off with a red marker. Getting to do that was liberating, and I looked forward to when I could cross off the next one.

7. Celebrate your wins

One way to keep you from staying stuck is to identify milestones for what you're working on and to celebrate when you reach them. Each time my family and I paid off a particular type of debt — like our credit cards or car loan, for instance — we celebrated. Identifying a milestone and planning a celebration when you hit that goal will give you something to look forward to.