Stuck in a Stall?

Don’t argue about the difficulties. The difficulties will argue for themselves.  —Winston Churchill

Y ou recognize the signs: lack of motivation, low energy, creeping doubt, disinterest, fear. Am I talking about a clinical diagnosis? No – well, at least I’m not aware of a specific diagnosis. I’m talking about those moments in life when we hit The Stall. The basic definition of a stall is to stop or cause to stop progress. We apply the term specifically to motor vehicles when the engine stops running or to an airplane when the speed drops so low that it loses lift and the pilot loses control. A stall also applies when there is insufficient wind power to allow a sailing ship to sustain controlled motion. You get the point: when things stall, motion stops.

The Stall for us as working professionals occurs when we lose momentum. Our sense of progress grinds to a halt and the nagging doubts move in. At first, the Stall may be subtle but it soon builds momentum, or should I say inertia, as it feeds all of the human tendencies that prevent progress and often cause us to slide backward. The Stall is insidious in its ability to undermine our sense of self and possibility. The Stall is a killer of hope.

The Stall is insidious in its ability to undermine our sense of self and possibility. The Stall is a killer of hope.

Fortunately, the formula to address a stall is quite simple: create momentum. In an airplane, the pilot needs to put the nose of the plane downward to build momentum to create lift and control. This is a great metaphor for us: when we feel ourselves in a stall, we need to put our nose “to the grindstone” and dive toward where we’ve lost interest or possibly toward what we fear. As simple as that sounds, we often hesitate and it becomes easy to perpetuate a stall by falling victim to its effects on us mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. Below are some ideas for arresting and pushing through a stall:

  • Focus on your 80/20. Countering a stall is all about movement and action. You need to build momentum and that happens with successes – even small ones. The 80/20 Rule (The Pareto Principle) tells us that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. What are the specific things you can do today to bring you closer to your next win? Small successes are the gateway to bigger wins.
  • Get Active.  Focusing on your 80/20 today is important to jump start movement. The next step is to extend your movement by filling your calendar. For me, I find that good things tend to happen when I’m out in the marketplace interacting with other people. This effect applies internally as well. Human engagement feeds momentum by giving us critical feedback on our ideas, emotional energy, and direction. Even general networking can have a positive effect on our outlook and sense of movement. Tasks remain important but the human element is critical to build and sustain momentum.
  • Get Inspired. What speakers, authors, leaders move you? Do you see a thread here? People. When we stall, we tend to fall inward. The voice in our head repeats the same depressing litany of excuses, why-nots, and fears as it builds to a progress-preventing cacophony. Seth Godin calls this our “lizard brain.” Get beyond the lizard by engaging with what other people offer: their energy, ideas, smile, encouragement, etc. There is so much great material out there to help inspire us to get out of our own head…we just need to reach out and pick it up or click on it to expose ourselves to the benefits.
  • Engage Your Team/Co-Workers. More people! Recruit your team to help you on something or offer to help your team. Isolation feeds a stall. Moving in a group towards a common goal is one of the most fulfilling activities known to human beings. The biggest obstacle is taking the first step. Why? Because that wimpering voice in your head is saying “I don’t wanna…”
  • Pick up the (Video) Phone. For sales people, this seems to be a lost art. For many of us, texting is so much easier. Know this: the sound of another person’s voice has the power to change your day…even if it is unintentional. Call a customer. Call a peer. Call a friend. Call your mom. What is it the Bell’s used to say: “Reach out and touch someone.” A real human to human conversation is great for pulling us outward. Video is a wonderful extension to the phone. I’ve recently began to truly appreciate video calls – a Facetime call is easy and fun for staying connected.
  • Just do it. Quit stalling and take action! Life is too short to spend time fighting with yourself in a stall. Recognize it and act immediately to regain momentum.

You’ve been here before. You’ll be here again. It is a natural ebb and flow. The mistake is to believe that you’re powerless. The mistake is to believe that you’re alone. We all experience it. We all know it well. The Stall is part of life and does not have to end in a crash. Experience teaches us not to fight it but to see it for what it is: part of the ongoing movement of our life. Without the Stall, there can be no recovery; without falling down, there can be no getting up. Without the test, we’ll never know how good we really are.

Before leaving this subject, there are a couple of additional observations that are worth making.

  1. Your stall doesn’t have to be everyone else’s stall. The more you talk about your woes, the more you empower them. Don’t drag your team into it, enable them to drag you out of it.
  2. Even at the bottom, there are opportunities. Challenge yourself to see them in the moments when they are most invisible. It is a game, your game.
  3. Giving of yourself will remind you that you have much to give. It is counter intuitive but also makes perfect sense; giving when we feel that we have nothing to give can help pull us out of a stall.

As we head into Spring, leave your stalls behind! Know that the Stall will return and be ready for it with the right attitude and a strategy for putting your nose down and pulling out of the dive.


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