My relationship with my lover seems to have ground to a halt. We’re fighting more and having less fun. I’m not ready to leave but a part of me isn’t sure whether making a commitment to work at it is smart either. We’ve been together five years and a part of me thinks that by now, we ought to have figured out how to work things out.

I have wanted to leave my job for years but, then, I remind myself of all the good things about it—like it pays well, is an easy commute, stuff like that. It’s just not what I want to be doing anymore but every time I think about leaving, I worry that I’ll be making a mistake.

For all that the culture encourages us to hang in, the reality is that many of us have much more trouble identifying situations we need to leave and, then, find ourselves unable to make a decision. The truth? Many of us are much more prone to stay long past the expiration date than we are to leave the party early.

Some people are actually more skilled at not just knowing when to leave but also knowing what they need to do to jumpstart their lives after their exit. They actually have a good sense of their own needs and wants, have a clear-headed view of their resilience, and are capable of both setting and attaining goals.

That’s not true of everyone, alas. Those of us who don’t have a clear sense of ourselves because we either underestimate our abilities or overestimate them wildly are much more likely to make the very decisions they worry about and which are likely to end in failure.

That said, there’s a robust body of research on both goal-setting and motivation (this was the subject of my book Quitting—Why You Fear It and Why You Shouldn’t—in Life, Love, and Work) and the following strategies may be useful if you find yourself just running the hamster wheel in your life.

  1. Set an interim goal

If you’re really not sure of the direction you want your life to take, whether that’s in the area of work or relationship, why not start with setting a more manageable and realizable goal for yourself in the interim? That will motivate you, get you out of the realm of thought into action, and will help you feel less unempowered. The interim goal could be broadening the scope of your social activities, and meeting new people, for example, if you’re feeling stuck in the relationship realm. If it’s work, spend time researching industries and specific jobs that you think would make you happy and fulfill your other needs as well. Get your resume in shape and talk to people informally who work at jobs you think you might like.

  1. Stop inventorying your failures

There’s no better way to keep yourself stuck than keeping a running tab on all the ways in which you have somehow failed or disappointed. Yes, I know there are zillions of memes out there that tell you that failure is part of success but a) that’s not actually true and b) how you see a failure or setback makes all the difference. If you recognize that all ventures will have some setbacks, you’re much more likely to recover and regroup than if you think of a success as an all or nothing thing.

  1. Use If/Then Thinking

Prepare yourself by not just having a Plan A but Plan B and Plan C when it comes to setting goals for yourself. There’s very rarely only one avenue to getting something accomplished and the more flexible you are in your thinking, the more likely it is that you will achieve not just your interim goal but be able to work up to making the big changes in your life you’ve been avoiding and that are making you feel stuck.

  1. Anticipate the stress of change

Again, humans are a pretty conservative lot—we tend to prefer the known to unknown, even when the known makes us actively miserable—and many of us will find change highly stressful. Prepare yourself for it. Spend time thinking about what your likely responses to change and decision-making are going to be—are you going to feel empowered or will leaving throw you into a loop of self-doubt? —and plan on how you’re going to deal with it.

  1. Organize support

If the change you’re thinking about it is a significant one—leaving something long-term or that has occupied a place of importance in your life—you will need some help. Enlist people who can help you in the difficult task of managing emotion, on the one hand, but who will be there for you to laugh and toast victory when it comes!

Good Luck!


Photograph by Joshua Reddekopp. Copyright free.