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Feeling Paralyzed and How to Overcome Inaction

Tell me, have you felt this way before? All the feelings of being stuck and you can’t get past it.

Yea, that is a thing.

This morning, I was stopped in my tracks while scrolling through Instagram. It was an image that read:

We repeat what we don’t repair.

random Instagram post

Uh, I feel personally attacked right now…

I have been stuck and struggling to figure out what to do. Even though I have a mile long list of things to do. I just can’t seem to bring myself to do anything.

In a word, I’ve been feeling… Paralyzed.

What is Causing this Paralyzed Feeling?

One reason might be: There is so much to do!! You know when your to-do list grows faster than you can scratch things off of it. Where do you even start? It is almost like having so many things to do it becomes difficult to pick just one to run with.

This leads can lead you to other negative thoughts, such as:

  • Why can’t I actually do anything?
  • What is wrong with me?
  • What is holding me back?

Correction, WHO is holding me back from taking action?

If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is pretty shocking upsetting.

You. You are holding yourself back.

Why do I say this? Well, honestly, I know I am holding myself back. But, why?

For myself, I have so many goals, dreams, and ideas… Yet, I feel as though I am stuck in a perpetual state of inaction.

That said, if you are experiencing the same thing, you are not alone in this struggle, fear, or state of paralysis.

While having a list of goals, dreams, and ideas may feel helpful, that is not always the case.

If those goals feel too lofty, they can end up being de-motivating. And can certainly lead to a of feeling of paralysis.

Other times, big dreams that are not broken down into small steps or goals can make it difficult to see the path to those dreams.

As an example, I’ve always known I wanted to be a business owner… but, didn’t always know exactly what steps needed to be taken or what it would look like. As a result, it caused me to feel stuck.

Sometimes, the problem is much deeper. Keep reading to learn what I mean by that.

So, how do you overcome inaction? How do you move forward when you feel stuck? What do you need to do to get out of this state?

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Overcome Inaction with this Actionable List

Here are some ideas to help you get started in overcoming a perpetual state of inaction and break the negative thought loop that often occurs with it:

1. Find or create a support or accountability system.

You can call it friendship, mastermind, therapy, whatever you’d like. But, there needs to be a safe place to talk about these things and someone (or multiple people) to hold you accountable to implementing action.

When you reach out to discuss what is happening with a friend, make sure to be upfront in what you are looking to get out of the conversation. If you just want someone to listen to you as you process why you are feeling stuck, tell them. If you want them to offer solutions or ideas on how to become unstuck, make that known.

Whatever you do, make sure to communicate your needs upfront. This way your support system can help in the way that you need in that moment.

A quick word about your support system—It needs to be a safe place. Seriously!

This means, no one is telling you to ignore your feelings and “just get it done.” That may help for a short period of time, but will not be a long-term solution for this recurring issue.

If this is the type of approach your support system has, it might be best to discuss your business, thoughts, and/or feelings with a therapist or someone who has personally struggled with what you are going through.

2. Ditch the judgment.

Stop judging yourself for not getting done what you think should be done in a defined period of time (you know, getting everything on your to-do list done in a single day).

Contrary to popular belief, judging yourself does not motivate you to get things done. Instead, offer yourself compassion for what is happening in your life is a better approach.

If you struggle with compassion, you might want to check out Kristin Neff’s website. It is completely dedicated to self-compassion and is an invaluable resource.

Ok, real talk. I’m raising my hand in guilt. The only reason I’m sharing this right now is so you know you’re not alone. I have a long history of pushing myself to be a “productivity superstar.” And, while there are days I can work 12 or 14+ hours straight, there are also times I have a hard time getting out of bed and dressed for the day. It doesn’t stop there, I shame myself for not wanting to do anything but stay in my pajamas. And, this happens even though I basically did a month’s worth of work the week before.

This is exactly the type of thought process we need to move away from. It is time to ditch the judgment and learn to embrace the ebb and flows of life (and productivity). Accepting that that life is full of highs/low, ups/down, and isn’t always go go go all the time is a critical life lesson. Practicing compassion is certainly a way to help with this.

3. Dig deep – within yourself.

Ask yourself: What is happening under the surface that is making me feel stuck? When you think you’ve found the answer—keep digging.

When I say keep digging, I mean the first answer you come up with is probably not the underlying issue.

You need to figure out where the issue stemmed from. As in, where did your belief of this issue originate?

To elaborate on what I mean here, let’s go back in time. My first memory of struggling with perfectionism was as a sixth grader. The teacher said we needed to write an essay entirely in pen. We could use white out, but I didn’t like how it magnified my mistake on the paper. So, I tried to write the whole thing without making a single mistake. In this case, I held myself to a higher (unrealistic) standard which only made things worse. Let’s just say, a lot of tears were shed.

While perfectionism has been a source of my personal struggles with feeling stuck and inaction, it is not the whole picture. To demonstrate how striving for perfection can cause struggles, here are some examples of the type of negative thoughts it creates. In other words, perfectionism may sound like:

  • If I cannot perfectly clean the entire house, there is no point in bothering with picking up the papers off the counter in the kitchen.
  • There are too many things to do to launch my new product line, what is the purpose in getting just this piece of it done?
  • I would like to redecorate the living room, but I don’t have the money to do everything I want. So, it is better to just leave it and do nothing.

In all these examples, they demonstrate the judgmental thought pattern of black and white thinking, a component of perfectionism.

The problem is, while perfectionism can be a hinderance, it is not the whole picture.

In the example above, why is there a need to be perfect? When continuing to dig deeper, the reason starts to unravel…

To be completely open and honest, this recurring theme of perfectionism stems from early childhood.

As a kid, I had a constant feeling that everything I did was not good enough. And, when you feel that way, it almost seems as though the better option is to not even try… that way you don’t disappoint someone with a less than perfect outcome.

What may seem like I just don’t have enough grit or willpower to others, is really a struggle with perfectionism that stems from a lifelong story I’ve told myself: I am not enough; so, it is better to not even try.

In order to “fix” the issue of feeling stuck, it means addressing that underlying (false) story of not being enough.

Decision Making Fatigue?

Now, these list of things to do above might help you overcome your feelings of being paralyzed. However, if part of what you need is to create systems to help you with decision making. Then, you might want to check out this blog post — Are you Sick and Tired of Making Decisions? And How to Fix It.

After writing about being paralyzed by inaction, I had to write this blog post about to create a decision management system. Hopefully it helps you too. Heads up, it is just starting to scratch the surface of this matter. So, keep that in mind.

Relating the Story Back to You

Perhaps you can relate to the story above. Or, you’ve had similar feelings and/or struggles with perfectionism?

Then again, you are your own person and it is entirely possible your struggles are the result of other issues.

Regardless, it is time for you to dig deeper and figure out what is happening under the surface. What are you actually struggling with and how is it manifesting as inaction?

Wait, one more example.

Another quick example, to really hit home what I am trying to tell you: In my former nutrition private practice, I regularly had people come to me saying, “My life is (generally) perfect with the exception of my diet and physical appearance. I just can’t seem to control what I eat.”

While the presenting problem was expressed as a nutrition-related issue, as we worked together, it became apparent that there was really a greater problem under the surface. Here are a few of the deeper reasons/issues we uncovered:

(1) a history of food scarcity or being hungry and not having enough food when needed as a kid,

(2) a pattern of dieting (or restricting foods) which started when a parent figure told them they were “too fat” or needed to “stop eating so much”, and

(3) trauma either from childhood or an event had taken place within the past few years.

As we dug deep into the origination of the problem, they weren’t food-related issues. So, what is really the problem plaguing you? The short answer:

You’re not lazy. Just as you are not lacking willpower. There is a great struggle causing you to feel paralyzed by inaction. Take this as your sign to uncover the deeper issue.

Ok, That’s a Wrap

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully you have a better idea of what you can do to take steps to overcome the recurring theme of feeling stuck.

Just talking about it (or reading about someone else going through the same thing) can be helpful too.

Maybe after reading this—and knowing you are not alone in this feeling—you will start to feel a little better.

Most importantly, keep moving forward. Even if you aren’t sure what to do, it is better to make some progress instead of doing nothing.

Start by talking with a trusted friend, ditch the self-judgment, and dig deeper into the problem. You never know what might come up.

Sending lots of love your way.


Last Updated on July 31, 2022 by Kristi Coughlin

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