Why Some People Get Stuck—and How You Can Get Free
A year after the New York Times published a brutal exposé on Amazon’s 24/7, on-the-job culture, the retail giant announced it was experimenting with a thirty hour workweek for some of its employees.
As far as I’m concerned, this is great news. When I talk with entrepreneurs, executives, and other leaders, I regularly hear they’re working fifty, sixty, even seventy hours a week. This level of overwork imposes huge costs on personal productivity, health, and more.
The truth is, most of us would serve our clients and customers better if we worked just forty hours a week. Even though there are piles of research to back that up, when I make the point I’m surprised at how many people object.
They say they don’t have a choice. Either their boss demands extra-long hours, or the kind of work they do—corporate leadership, retail, or the restaurant business—requires it.
They feel like they’re held hostage. And it’s true. But to what?
No one is holding a gun to their heads, but that’s exactly where the problem is—their heads. They’re almost always being held hostage by limiting beliefs.
There are many reasons people feel stuck in these disempowering situations. But these are the four I see most often.
1. They Forget They Have Agency
We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond. The hard thing is that sometimes we forget we have a choice. We feel like the choice has already been made for us, and we’re stuck with it.
That loss of agency robs us of a chance to improve our circumstances. It’s also rarely true. We have the power to choose differently. How? It starts with reminding yourself that you do have choices.
- Maybe it’s telling your boss or your board that you can’t keep up the current pace.
- Maybe it’s pushing projects downfield until you get the help you need.
- Maybe it’s recommending an Amazon-style pilot program; businesses that have tried it already have seen significant gains.
- Maybe it’s planning an exit.
Our choices might appear limited, but we all have agency if we recognize it.
2. They Don’t Have Any Better Ideas
Another reason people feel trapped is that they’re simply unaware of alternatives. As I’ve said before, an over-busy life is not an economic necessity; it’s a failure of imagination.
Sometimes we’re not creative enough. Other times, we just haven’t thought it through. But there are almost always solutions if we put our minds to it.
What if you can’t imagine any alternatives? If you recognize you have agency, you can start proactively looking for new options. We can ask colleagues or friends for new ideas or fresh approaches. Conversations are always good for getting new ideas on the board. Same with books, blogs, and other resources.
If you have agency—and you do—you can always get better ideas.
3. They’re Depleted
This one is big. We might know there are solutions out there—we might even know what could work for us—but we’re just too worn out to think and act. Working too many hours a week will do that to us.
We only have 168 hours in a week, but if we’re not using enough of them to rejuvenate, we’re sure to underutilize the rest. “Sleep-deprived people come up with fewer original ideas and also tend to stick with old strategies that may not continue to be effective,” says neuroscientist Penelope A. Lewis.
Creative problem solving requires rest and rejuvenation. Begin by prioritizing sleep and self-care.
With ample energy, we’ll have more creativity, feel more empowered, and have the confidence we need to choose a better path and take it.
4. They Have No Plans
One reason we feel stuck is that we haven’t charted a course. We’re just drifting. Goals are a godsend. Maybe your choices are limited right now, but we can make plans and set goals for getting past our current circumstances.
Life planning and goal-setting are two of the best tools I know for flexing our agency. They empower us to envision a better life and then help us map the steps to get there.
Whether it’s transitioning in your current role, getting new training or education, hunting for a new job in a fresh field, growing a side business to supplement—or even replace—your current income, there are options. And there are steps you can take to make the most of them.
Turn those steps into goals and get moving. A plan is power.
When I speak about limiting beliefs, I usually tell people to flip the paradigm and replace them with empowering truths. Here’s one to get you started: If your life is out of balance because of overwork—or you feel stuck in any way at all—you can choose a better outcome.
No one runs your life unless you let them. And you have far more power than you think.
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