8 Phrases To Motivate Yourself When You're Feeling Stuck, According to Psychologists

Woman feeling stuck and needing motivation

We all face moments in life when we feel stuck or demotivated. Whether you're in a career rut, struggling with a relationship, or just feeling like you lack purpose, that sense of being stuck can be paralyzing. The good news is that with some simple mindset shifts and go-to mantras, you can motivate yourself to take action and get unstuck. 

According to psychologists and mental health experts, there are research-backed ways to spark motivation during those immobilizing moments. By leaning on positive self-talk, practicing self-compassion and taking small actions, you can begin to shift negative thought patterns and reinvigorate yourself from within.

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How Do You Motivate Yourself When You're Feeling Stuck?

When feeling stuck, it's vital to remember that action precedes motivation, says Dr. Andrew Cuthbert, psychologist at Timber Creek Counseling. Rather than over-analyzing why you feel stuck, shift your focus to taking small actions and discoveries. As he explains, "Discovering helps me to notice my physical surroundings and get out of my head, which is motivating; discovering helps me activate my body and then allow my thoughts and feelings to be formed by action first, which is motivating."

Psychologist Dr. Scott Lyons shares that tapping into any small sense of power and agency you have and consciously sending that feeling to where you feel stuck can help motivate action to get unstuck. Even small physical practices like this can kickstart motivation.

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"One thing I always recommend is try to notice where you feel stuck or frozen in your body; put your hand there," says Lyons. "Next, identify where you have some sense of agency and power in your life... even if it's just to be able to do this practice. Notice your body's sensation of power, agency and choice, and send that sensation to the area beneath your hands. Notice the impulse for a moment as that area begins to thaw, and allow for that impulse to turn into action."

Similarly, therapist Andrea Dindinger recommends starting with physical movement like dancing to favorite music. She says, "The music calms your nervous system, and the act of dancing is physical movement, which is the opposite of stuck."

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8 Phrases To Motivate Yourself When You're Feeling Stuck, According to Psychologists

1. "I can't."

As counterintuitive as it sounds, for some people, telling themselves "I can't" sparks motivation to prove themselves wrong. As Cuthbert explains, "I'm just contrarian enough that if I say a phrase like 'I can't' then it actually activates me enough to want to fight back." The key is that behavior and actions motivate better than phrases alone.

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2. "It's okay."

Practicing self-compassion with phrases like "It's okay" can provide needed motivation, says Cuthbert. He explains, "When we're genuinely self-compassionate, it motivates us more to live." His partner developed self-compassion reminder cards placed around their home for this purpose.

3. "Shake it out."

Remind yourself of this helpful trick. Rather than saying motivating phrases when stuck, Lyons often recommends physical movement to release pent-up energy contributing to feeling stuck. As he explains, "Feeling stuck can often be a result of pent-up energy and emotions. I often recommend physically shaking and moving your body to release some of that pent-up energy."

4. "I made it here."

As Lyons explains, acknowledging how far you've already come in life can help spark motivation. As he says, "Take power in your life and where you’ve gotten."

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5. "I can’t go back and change it but I can move forward and change from it."

As Lyons explains, "If you’re feeling stuck as you reflect on something from the past, usually the reality is we were too enmeshed in the moment to have had the space and perspective needed to see the past with the level of awareness and knowledge we have now. Be kind to yourself."

6. "All I have to do is get out the front door."

Breaking big tasks down into smaller steps can boost motivation, says Dindinger. As she explains, "Even putting on your shoes can help create a feeling of accomplishment."

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7. "Let me give you a hug."

Self-hugging releases the calming hormone oxytocin, reducing stress when stuck, Dindinger explains.

8. “This is fear, and fear is in my head. Fear is not the boss of me. I’m the boss of me."

As Dindinger says, this phrase empowers you to take back agency when stuck. It reminds us, "Just because you are afraid, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe."

So whether speaking compassionately to yourself, proving your inner critic wrong or literally shaking off negative energy, psychologists agree that small actions can motivate big change when you're feeling stuck. By leaning on expert-backed tips, you can get unstuck and move forward again.

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