“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
– Fyodor Dostoyevskey
We’ve all been there, knee-deep in a swamp that’s steadily and slowly enveloping you in near darkness. While you sense the importance of struggling your way to shore, the silhouettes of unknown dangers lurking beyond create a stronger feeling of wariness. It’s the reel of the same old song that goes on and on. It’s the hollowness of fear, the heaviness of despair, the sinking feeling of inaction.
Many of us can relate to some version of stagnancy in our lives—whether it was overstaying in a situation that was no longer fitting, trying to make things the way it used to be or delaying an important decision to the intangible future.
We’re all aware the convenient path of least resistance often leads us down to stagnancy. But it doesn’t mean we’re immune. I’ve certainly succumbed many times, falling for the alluring comfort and slow suffocation in spite of being someone who strives for personal growth in my life.
In reflecting upon the reasons why we succumb to stagnancy, it really comes down to the thoughts in your head.
The thoughts are in the form of fear and limiting beliefs, likely evolving from life-saving human behaviors when more decisions were a matter of life or death. For the most part, such precarious situations are relatively uncommon now in developed areas of the world. But for many, our minds don’t know the difference.
1) We have a fear of the unknown
It’s understandable. After all, it’s nearly impossible to foresee what isn’t known. There are thousands of possibilities when it comes to difficulties or failures. There are limited ways to prepare for all of them and a dearth of information that you’d probably really like to know.
There’s a greater element of unknown when we think about ending a relationship that’s no longer working, starting a new career, trying something new or making any significant change in your life. All the unknowns combined can feel too big, scary and overwhelming.
Yet all the unexpected tragedies that strike aren’t ever possible to foresee. You’ll spend your life in unnecessary angst trying to prevent them all. Even when you play it safe, disaster shows up in ironic ways. It’s better to take some basic precautions and venture out to make those scary but meaningful changes in your life.
The brave ones who do this are in the minority. Instead, many of us try to reduce risk by clinging to what’s certain and known.
2) We have a love of certainty to offset the unknown
Because at least we know what to expect. There’s a sense of stability, order and reason. We can anticipate what’s going to happen and strategize more effectively.
But the truth is, there’s risk already in the water that you’re in right now. The only difference is the risk feels familiar because you’ve accepted it to be just the way things are. These familiar risks can be more dangerous simply because you may have accepted them as part of your fate when they may be outdated and unnecessary.
Certainty is the enemy of growth. We need to be willing to be wrong, willing to take a risk, willing to not know what’s going to happen and proceed forward anyway. That’s how you learn, develop and evolve throughout your life.
For many of us, we spend less time thinking about the good that may happen as a result of embracing the unknown. The opportunities, coincidences and moments of serendipity are just as possible. But we seem to focus on the negatives for doing anything outside of certainty, while making our current situation seem more positive and less sucky than it really is.
3) We make the best of what we believe to be inevitable
Sometimes, we become so invested in defending our supposed plight and reality that we cling to it even more strongly.
We make light of the bad and emphasize the good. We tell ourselves it’s not really as bad as it seems, that anything better is simply a fantasy. We think of the less fortunate as a reminder that we should feel fortunate to be in the situation we’re in now; we misuse gratitude as a form of bondage. We have ways in which we distract ourselves and hide from change. We say that things will get better, maybe you’ll have a change of heart, or the other person will come around.
We’re masters at making ourselves feel better and masking the misery, even when the status quo really sucks. And sometimes we do it all too well to our own detriment. We reinforce our thinking that it’s just the way life is supposed to be.
4) We tend to do nothing in response to what’s perceived as inevitable
Because what’s the point if we believe it to be inevitable? In situations like these, we do very little to try to prepare, make our circumstances better, or search for another way. Instead, we try to not even think about it. While more comforting in the short term, this tendency keeps us from taking the steps we need to take to overcome stagnancy. Over time, we become more and more entrenched in hopelessness.
Sometimes we simply don’t know how else to think, act or be. This is where meeting different people, observing diverse lifestyles and trying different things become important in rekindling hope for another way. What is endured when things seem inevitable becomes intolerable once there’s the possibility of escape. But the work doesn’t stop with the realization.
5) We sometimes have difficulty letting go even once we realize our mistaken beliefs
Some of us blame ourselves and ask ourselves angrily why we didn’t know better. We ask why we didn’t make a change sooner. We bemoan how we could’ve started years ago, and how it’s so late to start now. We rationalize that we’ve made it this far, so why not a little longer. We slip into denial as we struggle with the conflicting beliefs. It can be difficult to let go, as described in this article on reasons why we don’t let go even when it’s for the best.
All these reflections illustrate that what we believe to be true can be very dangerous. Our belief system needs to shift along with us if we want to continue growing throughout our entire lives. We don’t manage and tend to our beliefs on a regular basis, they can and will stunt our growth.
We need to question our beliefs on a regular basis throughout our lives in order to avoid stagnancy.
The power to question is the basis of all human progress. — Indira Gandhi
Ask yourself if your beliefs are limiting the possibilities that you’re willing to consider. It’s important to realize that a limiting belief that you currently have likely served its purpose in the past. At some point, a belief may have helped protect us as we gathered up more strength or focused on another area of our lives. When we’ve grown enough to move on to another phase, certain beliefs become outdated and inhibit us instead of helping. When it comes time to let go, we must do so before we can move out of stagnancy.
Remember, it’s never too late to change. Everyone has his or her own timing and sequence of events in life. While marching to the beat of our own drum, we need to stretch and explore beyond the realms of our comfort zone and continuously challenge what’s possible.
In my next article, I’ll share some thoughts on what can help us combat the allure of stagnancy and take the steps toward change. Embracing the Reassess stage of the REEBO process is where it begins.