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Once upon a time, a beautiful fruit tree found itself afflicted with arrested growth and tired, droopy leaves, tested by drought, wind and storms. It asked itself, “Why is this happening to me? I’ve tried very hard to grow and give of my fruit. I guess I must have done something wrong. I should just give up and forget about any fruit I could have grown!“
The tree asked itself over and over how it could return to the state of fruitful and productive growth it once had, because it felt useless and put-upon and shriveled up. But no matter how much it tried, nothing changed. The tree stayed barren.
A time came, however, when the sun shone, the gentle rain fell, and the troubled period of dormancy passed. It turned this tired old tree into a newly-blossoming thing of great beauty. It felt eager to grow again, and it saw itself bear wonderful fruit.
Are you feeling stagnated in your life? Do you feel confused, uncertain about your future and your goals, about how to keep growing, feel more useful, and use your gifts? Nothing can make us more downhearted than to feel useless or as if we’re stuck in a rut. This quickly can lead to depression, so it’s best to deal with feelings of stagnation as soon as they arise.
Here are some practical ways to help you overcome this condition and get you out of that rut:
- Think of your life as the tree in the preceding story, which has no trouble bearing fruit when conditions are right, but which withers under constant heat, or grows too many leaves and not enough fruit when atmospheric conditions are unfavorable. Under adverse conditions, your gifts become dormant and seem to no longer exist. But a time will come when you will feel better, you’ll see your life improve, you will open your mind to Light once again and share that Light with others. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” [Psalms 1:3]
- Make a list of past achievements about which you are justifiably proud. If you’ve had recent failures or setbacks, remembering all the times you succeeded in overcoming obstacles will reassure you that you can do it again! For some tips to help you deal with setbacks, see my prior post, “Changing Setbacks Into Success: Finishing the Race.”
- Keep learning new things. Some people think that once they’re out of school, there is no longer a need to learn anything new. Although this often is a problem with older people, especially after they retire, it can be a problem at any age or stage of life. Never stop striving to acquire knowledge, learn new skills and formulate new goals. This keeps us young, keeps our brains sharps, and makes us more interesting to other people as well.
- Feeling overwhelmed by a task, situation, or trying to assimilate too much information at once can paralyze us. Give your brain some rest while it subconsciously assimilates all the new information you’ve been feeding it. Read a lighthearted novel, watch an entertaining show on Netflix, or enjoy some outdoor activities for a while. If a task is overwhelming, break it down into manageable steps and try to do something every day in relation to the task, no matter how small. Give yourself a little reward for each accomplishment. You will find that you’ll build momentum from even the smallest actions.
- Let go of unreasonable expectations about yourself. Maybe what you’ve been trying to accomplish is out of your skill set right now, or perhaps the time frame you’ve given yourself is too limiting. Re-evaluate your expectations and adjust them to a more reasonable level.
- Evaluate criticism from others to determine whether it’s justified and constructive. If it is, consider utilizing the other person’s advice; if it isn’t, dismiss it and trust your own inner guidance. Remember that many people who accomplished great things did not at first have the approval of other people.
- Give yourself time to adapt to big life changes. Entering a new phase of life, brought on by events such as graduation, marriage, relocation, retirement, etc., even if happy, can be very stressful. Once the initial excitement wears off, we might feel let down and not know what our next step should be. So be patient with yourself. You’ll find that in time, as you adjust to your new situation, your enthusiasm and ambition will return.
- Dealing with recent grief and loss can make us feel stuck in sorrow and inertia. This is a normal part of the grieving process, as we learn to cope with the “new normal.” Remember that although things will never be quite the same, life still can be very good. As you emerge from the worst of the grief, you will begin to regain your vitality. If, however, you find that you are unable to cope with the loss on your own, seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist.
- Realize that you might be on the brink of a big breakthrough. Sometimes a period of inertia and stagnation precedes a great change in our lives and a new goal or direction that we didn’t foresee. This is like planting a seed: You might not see anything happening above the ground, but underneath there is great activity! So keep on praying, and hold on to your dream, but don’t get anxious about it. Relax, and give it some time to emerge.
- Determine what your gifts and strengths are. It’s hard to set goals when we’re not sure of what we’re good at. Figure out what makes you unique, what special gifts you possess that can bring you fulfillment and make the world a brighter place. You can find lots of useful tips in my three-part series, 7 Steps to Sharing Your Talents & Gifts
- Give yourself some downtime. When we have been relentlessly pursuing our dreams and working very hard to accomplish things, it’s inevitable that at some point we just run out of steam, leading to exhaustion and burnout. Take some time to decompress and recharge your batteries!
- Do not neglect your own needs while taking care of others. Remember that you cannot be of much help to other people if you’re not seeing to your own health and mental well-being. My post, “What’s Your Motivation?” may help give you insights into this situation.
- If you’re experiencing a lack of confidence, fear of failure, or fear of new things, the only solution is to power through, and take the plunge of embracing new challenges and pursuing your goals, in spite of these feelings. Turning to God and seeking the support of loving family and friends can be a great help at times like this. In the words of Mark Twain, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
- Is there a lack of challenge or excitement in your life? We all go through times when life just isn’t all that interesting or stimulating. The reasons for these barren periods are numerous, but they can sink us into a state of apathy and boredom that’s hard to shake. Do some soul-searching about what you truly want out of life and what new interests you can pursue. Refer to my post, “Your Ideal Life” for some useful tips. Also think about what you might have once loved to do but gave up for one reason or another. This might be the time to revive that old passion! Consider taking a trip for a change of scenery and some new adventures. You don’t have to go very far or spend a lot of money. Sometimes, just a day trip or a weekend away to someplace nearby but different can lift your spirits and pull you out of your rut.
- Stay connected to God and your inner guidance. Feeling distant at times from Higher Power is part of being human, and it happens to even the greatest saints and spiritual masters. Change things up by finding a new prayer or meditation routine, pick up an inspiring book, listen to a motivating speaker, visit a different church, or go out in nature to seek God in the beauty of His creation. The feeling of disconnection eventually will pass, if you just trust the process and don’t give up trying to stay attuned to Higher Power.
- Take care of yourself. If we’re not healthy physically, not taking proper care of ourselves, we won’t have the energy to feel enthused about anything. Be sure to eat right, get enough rest and exercise, avoid smoking, drugs or excessive alcohol consumption.
- Recognize the importance of the little things you do. You might be frustrated at not being able to accomplish the big things you envision, leading to the feeling that you may as well not do anything at all. Realize that it is not necessarily the size or importance of the things we do that make them worthwhile. In this age of social media, with things going viral and people attaining ridiculously high numbers of followers in ways that sometimes are baffling, we can feel diminished in our own eyes if our efforts go unrecognized by the world’s standards. It helps to realize that sometimes it’s the things we do that we consider trivial that might make the most impact on other lives or be the most valued by God. Be consistent and sincere in your efforts, rather than worry about grandiose deeds or viral success, which often are fleeting and insubstantial, or even harmful to your soul in the long run. In the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
If you’re tired and discouraged right now, stuck in a rut of stagnation, afraid that you will never grow or be productive again, realize that this is just your perception, not truth. You are experiencing a necessary dormancy, just as vital to your continued growth as it was for the tree. Trust in the cycles of life, and know that the breath of God will infuse new energy into you when the time is right.
SOME PAST BLOG POSTS THAT CAN HELP:
- Changing Setbacks Into Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 1
- Changing Setbacks Into Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 2
- Finding God’s Peace
- “Your Ideal Life”
- 7 Steps to Sharing Your Talents & Gifts – Pt. 1
- 7 Steps to Sharing Your Talents & Gifts – Pt. 2
- 7 Steps to Sharing Your Talents & Gifts – Pt. 3
- What’s Your Motivation?