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Do you ever feel stagnant, as if there’s no forward progress in your life? Sometimes it’s a relationship, life in general, elusive goals, a stale testimony— many of us hit such snags when we realize we’re just not going anywhere. We just suddenly realize we don’t enjoy our job. Or we’ve lost the motivation to work on our marriage. We feel flat when it comes to spirituality. Maybe the future looks dismal. We’re in a rut.
Usually we look around for the cause—it is our upbringing? Is this someone else’s fault? Is it bad luck? Circumstances? Just the way life goes?
Surprisingly, it’s often us. Though it’s hard to admit, sometimes the reason is because we’ve become our own worst enemy. Without even realizing it, we get in our own way. And it can happen without our awareness.
We pray for God to intervene and create miracles, but then we engage in behavior that actually blocks him, that perpetuates our problems. Granted, life also hands us trials not of our own making, but this article is about the ones we can control—and I have a hunch it’s most of them.
Here are just a few ways we get in our own way:
We engage in self-defeating behavior every time we allow ourselves to “catastrophize” and worry about what ifs—what if the hotel loses our reservation? What if the kids don’t do well in life? What if this job gets phased out in a year? What if the roof leaks this winter? What if, what if, what if. We create artificial obstacles that paralyze us with anxiety.
Another way we sabotage ourselves is when we compare ourselves to others, then we sigh and feel dejected because we don’t measure up to so-and-so. That guy’s dad didn’t leave the family. That woman’s husband makes a great living. That family has easy children to raise. That woman’s mom was supportive and loving. That dad isn’t an addict.
We get in our own way when we refuse to forgive. It doesn’t take much rationalization to nurse old resentments and remember every hurt and slight. We ruminate about each one until we identify as a victim through and through. Our tough life becomes our identity, and we can’t relinquish it by forgiving, or then who would we be?
Sometimes we allow our emotions to run wild as we give in to anger, fear, disappointment, and every other negative emotion we can muster. There’s plenty of justification for it, and we certainly don’t want to swallow down emotions, right? So we cave in to every appealing emotion Satan can trot across the stage of our minds. Self -Pity is usually the main character, followed by Blaming Others.
We also over-analyze. We take our emotional pulse constantly, notice every critical inner voice, and stir up all past events for another examination. We gather baggage, we rehash conversations, we replay events, and allow our day to be consumed with self-focus. We spend more time seeking pop culture solutions than seeking counsel from church leaders and scriptures. It’s good to be self-aware, but many don’t realize when they’ve crossed the line into self-obsessed.
Blocking love from others is another method of getting in our own way. Sometimes we refuse to let down our guard, risk vulnerability, or trust. We deprive ourselves of so much joy and fulfillment because we allow fear and doubt to get in the way.
Spiritually we probably get in our way most of all. Too many people think they have to be perfect to attend church. Or to pray. Or to be “part of it all.” Or to sit in the Gospel Doctrine class with such deep thinkers. And the adversary is happy to throw in those roadblocks. Last week I met a man who was baptized long ago, but now felt he wouldn’t be welcome because he has Word of Wisdom issues. I told him he is absolutely welcome, that all of us struggle to keep various commandments, and that he needs Christ in his life now more than ever. My husband urged him to come again, and to sit with us. He actually looked surprised that he would be that welcome.
Those new to Mormonism also get in their own way when they think they have to know everything to get baptized. It’s as if they feel they need a Ph.D. in Religious Studies before they can be ready, and it simply isn’t true. We baptize eight-year-olds, right? All you need is a witness from the Holy Ghost that it’s true; you can fill in the scholarly blanks later.
But we can get out of our own way and feel the thrill (and relief!) of making progress again. Here are ten ways to do it:
1. Stop comparing yourself. Pull the plug on that trait and drain it away. Catch yourself making comparisons and, instead, review the great things about yourself, and about your life. Keep a record of compliments you’ve been given and pat yourself on the back. Literally “count your blessings” and read your Patriarchal Blessing. I always told my kids that happiness and gratitude are the same thing, and the more you practice gratitude, the happier you’ll be.
2. Forget about perfection; see failures as opportunities to learn. Failing is part of the process and without it, you’re not pushing or learning new things. Expect to have setbacks on that upward climb. They’re normal. They just mean you’re human. Embrace the fact that nobody becomes perfect in this lifetime, and enjoy every inch of progress you make to improve.
3. Meditate. Breathe. Relax. Ponder scriptures. Take time to pray. Slow down and allow quiet thoughts and inspiration to come to you. Make your testimony more important than earning money, looking good, or impressing others.
4. Help others. Service is the fast track to self-esteem, and that inner conviction that you have innate value. If you feel mired in self-pity, reach out to assist someone else. It’s almost a miracle drug.
5. Remember the purpose of life. Measure all the angst, all the to-do lists, against your main objective. Do all these concerns have eternal implications or could you set them aside and pursue more meaningful activities?
6. Jump in. If you need to take action in some area, and you simply haven’t, go bold. Don’t wait for the right moment or the “someday when we graduate, when we get that raise, when the kids are grown” stuff. Just plunge in and then keep your momentum going.
7. Listen to inspiring music. This can influence us more than many people realize. Use it to get yourself back on the right track, and to help you move forward.
8. Forgive others and forgive yourself. Don’t allow past incidents to occupy your present or your future. Move on.
9. Choose friends wisely. In fact, read the entire For the Strength of Youth booklet and notice how much of it applies to happy adult living. Make sure your friends treat you with respect, hold you to high standards, and motivate you to be your best self. Be that same kind of friend to others, as well.
10. Send Satan packing. Be wise to his tactics and don’t allow him to parade every dark and depressing thought into your life. When he attacks your weakest point, be ready for him and deflect his temptations. You wouldn’t let him take over the remote control to the TV, so don’t let him have the one to your mind, either.
Getting out of our own way is like many aspects of self-improvement—it takes tremendous dedication. And it’s always easier said than done, right? The road is rocky and there will be setbacks. But when you determine to feel happy and content again, you’re willing to do whatever it takes. And each of these steps can help you clear the way.