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Feeling Low, Indifferent, or Stuck? Do This to Get Back on Track.

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Discussing career satisfaction is one of the most common topics raised in leadership coaching. So much of our time and energy is spent working or thinking about work that considering how satisfied we are with it is an important exercise. I often ask clients:

“How are you? Describe how you feel about your job right now?”

Here is what one client, we'll call her Nicole, recently said:

“I feel flat. I’m struggling to show up in a helpful and positive way for my team. I’m questioning my career and avoiding my work. My performance is mediocre at best, but I also don’t seem to care either.

All that said, I want something different, but I haven’t a clue how to find it.”

The candor in Nicole's answer, and how lost she felt, is one that almost everyone can relate to. She's certainly not alone.

Often leaders who approach coaches for guidance and support are in a similar state. This is a feeling of being stuck, knowing their funk is bigger than just a bad day. They want something different but feel lost in how to pursue it.

When someone feels stuck, it is often a reflection of their current state of well-being. Which means, the first step is to take stock of well-being in a specific and tangible way.

To be clear, well-being isn’t about feeling happy or sad or whether you’re detoxing or meditating. It’s more in depth than those moods and activities.

I recommend everyone conduct (what I call) a PERMA Check. It is a quick scan to evaluate your well-being in an evidence-based way. Here’s how.

Conduct a PERMA Check

PERMA is the acronym for the five building blocks of well-being. This stems from the study of “living the good life”, or human flourishing, and published by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania.

These five elements are the core of what makes humans thrive, prosper, and develop well.

  • Positive emotion – Beyond being happy. Optimism, viewing life productively, appreciation, and gratitude.

  • Engagement – “Flow”, losing yourself in something with satisfaction and ease, “the zone”

  • Relationships - Being with, relating to, caring for, and being cared for by others.

  • Meaning - Having a connection to something bigger than ourselves, sense of purpose.

  • Achievement – Feelings of accomplishment and mastery, recognition.

When these five elements are in play, we are healthy, happy, and pursuing what we want in work and life.

The PERMA Check is to score yourself on those elements of PERMA to gather insight and provide direction out of feeling stuck. You can try it now. Assess yourself on the following:

After scoring yourself, answer the following questions:

  1. What score is the highest and why?

  2. What score is the lowest and why?

  3. What three things can I do to improve my well-being or any of the scores in my PERMA Check?

Examples of How to Take Action

After completing the PERMA Check, you have some direction on where to go next. Maybe after some thought and discussion (with a coach or trusted colleague) you identify one or two actions to take. Sometimes, more insight is needed and the actions won't be clear right away.

Here are two examples.

Example #1

Jamal (not his real name) completed the PERMA Check and noticed his lowest score was in Engagement. After asking him a few questions about what was behind that score, he identified a big obstacle: Email.

Jamal’s email is open all day, distracting him from any opportunity for reflective thought or deep work. We discussed what it would be like if email distractions were reduced by 25%. “What could happen if your email was closed ¼ of your day?”

He generally works a 10 hour day. This would mean his email is closed for 2.5 hours of that. I asked, “What impact would that have on you, closing your email for 2.5hrs/day?”

His eyes lit up, but he didn’t believe it was possible. We spent the rest of his session developing a plan to start making it happen.

In this example, Jamal was able to focus his actions to improve one area of his well-being, his engagement. It took time, but by reducing email distractions, he was able dive deeper into his work which increased his satisfaction.

Example #2

Nicole (the leader referenced at the start of the article) scored herself a 2 on each component - right down the middle, not high and not low. She showed me her scores,

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

This is a common result when there is an overall feeling of being stalled. When not one component stands out from the rest, the next step is to engage in some of the evidenced-based strategies that Dr. Seligman has studied.

Descriptions of this research can be found in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.

Nicole was asked to pick one of the options below and to practice it routinely for 2 weeks:

  1. Write about positive experiences. Relive them, describe them in detail, and savor the positive impact they had on you.

  2. Perform “random acts of kindness”. Do nice things for other people.

  3. Write personalized thank-you notes.

  4. Before bed write three things that went well that day and why they did. They can be simple or complex but recognize and write down three good things each day for two weeks.

Nicole opted for number 1. After two weeks she said this,

“At first, it felt forced and fake to write about positive experiences but after some time, I got into it. It triggered memories of people and experiences I hadn’t thought about in ages. It reminded me of what I enjoy doing, what I’m good at, and sparked ideas to try something new.

I used to swim competitively. I joined a masters, like for old people, swim team. I’ve only gone to practice once, but it was the best. I’m so excited to go back.”

The action Nicole took didn’t have to do with correcting her job. Rather, it was finding an activity that nourished her. Swimming created positive emotion, engaged her, fostered meaningful relationships, and gave her a sense of achievement. This boosted her well-being so that she felt renewed for her job.

Consistently evaluating our well-being in a specific and measurable way not only supports our career satisfaction, but even enhances it. Conducting a routine PERMA Check can help anyone get out of a funk and get back on track.

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Until next time!

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

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