Have you ever reflected back on something in your life and felt like you’ve gotten nowhere? Like you are standing still, just spinning your wheels? As if more time has gone by than should have considering what you have to show for it? Maybe it was related to something smaller like a specific project you were working on or maybe it was related to something much bigger like your career. Regardless, I’d imagine most of us have had that experience at least once in our lives.
I don’t know about you, but I have found that it can be a pretty overwhelming experience…one that can elicit a variety of emotional responses (most of which we would consider to be unhealthy for us). The idea of not making progress, of not achieving a goal we set, of spending time on something and having little or nothing to show for it can be quite daunting, stressful, and overwhelming. It can bring about feelings of anger, frustration, defeat, unworthiness, helplessness, etc., none of which are healthy or very helpful things for you to dwell in.
So how can we respond to that “road to nowhere” feeling when it crops up in our lives in such a way that we experience positive emotions and forward progress in our lives? There are many suggestions I could offer, but for the sake of brevity I will stick to three main ones that I have found to be the most positively impactful for me.
- Keep your perspective – One of the most important things you can do at time like this is to keep the things in perspective. When we allow emotions and stress to take over, something that is relatively small in the grand scheme of life can suddenly seem overwhelming and insurmountable. Rather, focusing on the situation in such a way as to keep it in realistic perspective can help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as eliminate unnecessary worry. While sometimes the things that happen are truly big, most of the time we are “sweating the small stuff”, thus creating undue frustration, stress, and angst. More often than not we allow our attachment to a very specific outcome to control our reaction when things don’t turn out that way. So the best thing we can do is step back, slow down, take a deep breath, and keep things in perspective – such a simple, yet powerful tool.
- Examine the circumstances – In addition to, or instead of, keeping your perspective on the situation, you can choose to examine your circumstances. This involves stepping back and taking a neutral yet critical look at the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the situation. It also involves asking some very important, and sometimes difficult, questions of yourself. Are you doing something to self-sabotage the situation? Are you working on/toward something that you are not passionate about/don’t care about? Are you too attached to a specific outcome? The answers to these questions, and others like them, can be quite illuminating. They can point out areas for you to work on or they may point you in a completely different direction than you had been previously heading. Either way, looking at your circumstances can be very telling when you find yourself on the road to nowhere.
- Realign your process – The third and final suggestion I would share, that I have found useful, is realigning your process. In essence, look at what you have been doing (or not doing), what’s working (or not working), and look for ways to improve your process. In other words, whatever is not working, change it. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results is truly the definition of insanity. The only way to get different results is to make changes to what isn’t working. And I would argue that an important part of this technique is to make those changes without judgment. The fact that you ended up on the road to nowhere is neither good or bad…it doesn’t mean you are hopeless, stupid, lacking talent, or anything else our internal voices might like to try and tell us. It is simply what it is…what we were doing didn’t work out the way we wanted so we move on to another way and see how that goes.
Above all, keeping calm when things don’t work out as planned goes a long way toward not creating any additional stress and frustration in our lives. I think we’d all agree that we have enough stress as it is without adding to it. You will have days when you feel like you are traveling the road to nowhere…that much seems almost inevitable…perhaps we could even declare it a universal truth. But how you respond when you have those days will make all the difference for you. Everything happens for a reason, so even when you find yourself on the road to nowhere, take comfort in the fact that there’s a reason for you to be in that place, in that moment…there’s some kind of a lesson to be learned. Lean into it…embrace it…and see where that road to nowhere actually takes you. You might be surprised where you end up.
“Your journey never ends. Life has a way of changing things in incredible ways.” – Alexander Volkov