In the Groove… or Stuck in a Rut? Avoiding Stagnation

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation… even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The english language intrigues me… perhaps never more so when two idioms that strictly speaking say the same thing, mean the exact opposite.

Stagnation da Vinci

In a recent poll on this site, a few of you told me that one of your greatest fears is stagnation… and this paradoxically opposed pair of phrases sprang to mind.  Mainly because there is such a profoundly fine line between then two… but the difference in how you feel – whether you’re in the groove or stuck in a rut – is the difference between energy and engagement on the one hand, and gloomily feeling trapped on the other.

So in this article we’ll discuss a couple of ways to help you figure out whether you’re in the zone or sliding towards a rut… and what to do if you are actually in a full-blown state of stagnation.

Stagnation… or a momentary plateau?

Every job has ups and downs. Every career has highs and lows. And unless you’re Jon Kabat-Zinn, it can be hard to tell the difference between a momentary low and a genuine rut.

Progress towards your goals?

On a daily basis, ask yourself whether or not you feel this role is helping you to make progress towards your goals.

This progress could be direct (I want to be CE of the organisation I’m already working at, so doing a good job in my current role is helping me progress) or indirect (I want to be an entrepreneur, and this role is helping me pay the bills while I build my business empire)…

But the test here is that you should be answering yes more often than you’re answering no.

Progress within the role?

On a daily basis, ask yourself whether or not you are better at the job today than you were yesterday… and can you see ways that you can be even better again tomorrow?


Feeling like you are no longer growing and developing is a good indicator that stagnation may have set in.

Providing a sense of accomplishment?

On a daily basis, ask yourself whether you feel like you accomplished something today.

Some roles are better for this than others, so it needs to be a relative judgment, rather than an absolute one. But can you see evidence for your toil? Is there a sense that you’ve moved some things on a bit?

If not, figure out if you care. Some roles require you to manage the same types of issues on a daily or weekly basis – you should have known that coming into the role, but if its now starting to grate… you need to do something.

Curing stagnation… getting back in your groove

So if you answered no to a few too many of those questions, you are probably wondering what to do about it!

Set goals and take immediate action

Part of the problem may be that you don’t have clear goals – or they no longer make your socks roll up and down. So take some time out to really think about what you want to achieve in the medium to long term. Get really clear, and take some kind of immediate action. Every day. Even if it’s creating a new habit that you practice daily (like going to the gym).



Learn new skills

Purposefully seek out additional skills and competencies that you can learn on the job. If your employer doesn’t offer much by way of professional development, do it yourself! Webinars, podcasts, books, articles, Facebook groups… all offer ways that you can improve you skills – often for free. Personal development doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg for you to gain something useful from it!

Gamify it…

If your job really is pretty repetitive, find ways to turn that to your advantage.

I spent a couple of years working for the Australian Commonwealth Government where, among other things, my team had to write Budget measures. Literally a one paragraph description of a new government initiative for the annual Budget documents. To assist with the tedium (often under ridiculously tight time pressures and high work-loads) we created a a game of Budget Bingo, with a list of fairly obscure words that people got points for finding a credible way to include in an initiative. The number of points you got increased the further up the hierarchy the word got before it was edited out… And obviously huge kudos to anybody who managed to get one all the way through to the published documents!

I’m sure you can think of a creative way to do something like this to bring the fun back!

Move on…

And if all of the above fails, you seriously should start thinking about changing jobs. Life is too short to spend a third or more of it in a state of stagnation.

So get out there and get your groove back!

In addition, the following articles may also help:

What are you Waiting for? Time to get Motivated

The Perils of Perfectionism – A Pragmatist’s Guide

“We Will Prevail”: The Power of Persistence


i3 Leadership Insiders

I want to help you to lead.  Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.

So I’m writing a book specifically for you.  It’ll be out early next year (28 February 2018 to be precise).

If you’d like to know more, please sign up for i3 Insiders (I don’t spam, just a weekly newsletter) where I’ll keep you up to date on progress, test some ideas, and even share a preview or two as we get closer to launch-day.

Let’s do this!

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