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6 Questions To Ask Yourself To See If You're Stagnant (Or Not)

"Stagnation is self-abdication."—Ryan Talbot

Inspiration

Let's talk about stagnation for a moment, shall we? When it comes to a cool place to begin the discussion, how about let's start with water. Do you remember hearing in elementary-level science class that stagnant water stinks? Well, it wasn't too long ago that this theory was brought back to my remembrance after leaving a cup of water sitting on the side of my sink for a couple of days. When I went to rinse it out—Lord, have mercy! How could a simple coffee mug, with nothing but water in it, smell all foul like that? I did a little research and rediscovered that when water has a limited dissolved oxygen in it, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. As the organisms in the bacteria start to die, that's what makes stagnant (still) water smell as crappy as it does.

In walks, the definition of stagnant. One definition is "to cease to run or flow, as water, air, etc." Another is "to be or become stale or foul from standing, as a pool of water". Both of those apply to water really well (and are a good reminder of why you should open up your house windows to let some fresh air in, every once in a while, too). Well, two other definitions for stagnant are "to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing" and "to be or become sluggish and dull". Hmph. When the author Vince Flynn once said, "If you're not busy living, you're dying", this pretty much sums up why stagnation is so problematic. All of us have a limited amount of time on this planet and to fall into a rut of being stagnant is about the worst use of yours that you could ever do.

So, how can you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are stagnant when it comes to how you are currently living your life? I suggest that you start by asking yourself the following six questions and then pay attention to what your mind, body and spirit tell you about your answers.

1. Are You Using Your Gifts and Talents on the Regular?

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Every single one of us was born with gifts and talents. To me, gifts are things that come extremely natural to you that appear close to supernatural to others. Talents are things that you are good at, yet you might need a little help with fine-tuning. For instance, I know that one of my gifts is writing. A talent of mine is singing. A friend of mine (shout-out to award-winning producer SHANNON SANDERS) says that a mistake that a lot of us make is we spend more time trying to master our talents than cultivate our gifts; if we did the opposite, there's no telling what doors would open up for us (which is exactly why I went the writing route).

Anyway, sometimes we're so consumed with making ends meet, that more time, effort and energy is put into doing our jobs than fueling our gifts and talents. Yet remember that a wise person once said that, "You weren't born to just pay bills and die" and that really is the God honest truth. If whatever your paying gig is consists of you utilizing your gifts and talents, my only two cents for that would be, if you're working to build someone else's empire, make sure to invest some time into also building one of your own too. However, if you can't even remember the last time you wrote, sang, painted, designed—whatever it is that you do extremely and naturally well, whether you realize it or not, you are actually not living life to its fullest because, again, a part of your purpose is to utilize the gifts and talents that you've been given.

If you know that you haven't been vigilant in this area, there's no time like the present to start. Decide today that you will devote time, daily, to your gifts and talents. Watch how much fuller your life becomes, the very moment that you do.

2. Is Every Day Exactly the Same?

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Boredom sucks. That said, one definition that I think folks need to keep in the forefront of their mind when it comes to being bored is "tedious repetition". Goodness, if there's ever a time when we were pushed to the absolute limit on that, it's 2020. Here's the thing, though. Even in a pandemic (including being locked down in one), there are still things that you can do to keep yourself from living a ho-hum life where you feel like you are doing the same damn thing, day in and day out. Cook different meals. Take different routes to places you need to go. Hit up a site like Skillshare to take a class. If you've got a boo, try some new sex positions. Update a room in your house. Try a different hairstyle. Hell, paint your toes a different color.

While it does require a little bit of forethought and effort, another way to break out of the valley of stagnation is to make the decision to attempt something new or different every day. It doesn't have to be anything huge. It could simply be a new flavor of ice cream or a music genre or era that you've never considered before.

People who live a rich and fulfilling life can often look back on all kinds of memories. They created them by trying out a variety of things. For you, there's no time like the present, sis.

3. Are You Right Where You Were this Time Last Year?

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While actually all of these questions are worthy of pulling out your journal and doing a little writing on, this one really needs a couple of pages. The reason why I say that is because, in order to get to the root of this particular question, it's a good idea to break your life up into categories—professionally, personally, relationally, spiritually, financially, when it comes to your health, your goals and your desires…as it relates to all of these things, are you in the same place that you were, just 12 short months ago? If your answer is basically "yes", in any of these things, that is another clear sign that you're stagnant on some level.

One of the best things about time is it helps us to evaluate, process and hopefully heal and move forward. When it comes to certain people, places, things and especially ideas, I can clearly pinpoint how I'm in a much different head and heart space now than I was this time last year. In every area of your life, you should be seeing progress. If you can't say that about something or someone, it's a clear indication that it's time to do some serious re-evaluating and, where need me, some much needed shifting as well. Again, everything should be showing signs of growth, on some level. If they're not, there is a level of stagnation going on.

4. When’s the Last Time You Took a (Real) Risk?

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Back when I wrote the article, "Are You A 'Comfort Zone Addict'?", a point that I brought up in it is, if the word "risk" is basically like a cuss word to you, that's a pretty telling sign that you probably are an addict in this area. Contrary to popular belief, "risk" isn't a bad word. It's all about calculating your risks beforehand. What I mean by that is, for example, having sex with a new partner without using a condom? That's a pretty dumb and dangerous risk. Being open to going on a date with someone who isn't your traditional type, at the recommendation of a friend that you know and trust, that is a risk worth trying out.

Most of the best things that have ever happened to me, they came as the direct result of stepping out on faith and attempting something that I was a little afraid to do and seemed a little crazy on the surface. Matter of fact, I'm actually celebrating my 20th year of not working in an office and making most of my money from writing as we speak.

Stagnant people don't do risks. Successful people take them often. The kind of person you ultimately want to be will help you to decide if you should take more risks in your own life—or not.

5. Do You Live Your Life for Others?

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Y'all, don't even get me started on where I would be right now if I had taken the unsolicited/borderline controlling advice of my parents, teachers or a lot of the church folks who were once in my life. I can tell you for sure that I'd be working a job that I hate, married to a man who I settled for and spiritually stagnant like a big mug. Man, if I could forewarn every high school senior, I would alert them to the fact that it can be quite the bumpy road to transition out of doing what adults in your life tell you to do vs. learning to listen to your own voice, gut instinct and conscience so that you can do what is best for you—whether they think so or not.

Hear me when I say that one of the ways you will DEFINITELY end up stagnant is if your life consists of doing what others expect of you or making others happy at the expense of your own joy, self-fulfillment and peace of mind. In fact, one of the worst things that any of us could ever do is allow others to manipulate us into thinking that only living our life the way they see fit is the route to go. NOPE. 9.6 times outta 10, that's what will have you feeling all kinds of lost while ending up being all types of resentful. You can't grow and progress by being or doing what others expect of you. They've got their own life and, real talk, if they were trying to live theirs to the fullest, they wouldn't have time to be all up on your business anyway.

Wisdom, maturity and even humility teaches that yes, advice can be good. But you don't owe ANYONE the right for them to determine the paths you should take or the choices you need to make. It's selfish AF for them to try and make you believe otherwise. If you want to thrive, you've gotta cut the training wheels off from others and walk this thing out on your own. Are you doing that? If you're not—when will you start?

6. Do You LOVE or Just “Like” Your Life?

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Let me just say, off top, that loving your life doesn't mean that everything is easy breezy or that there aren't challenges. In order to do this writing thing, basically full-time, there are many financial sacrifices that I've had to make. MANY. But man—to be able to work from home, set my own hours, write exactly what I want to without compromising my values, principles or myself? And then when I'm not writing on relationships, to be able to help people with theirs, and then turn around and help other folks birth their children (because I'm also a doula)? I promise you that there isn't one night when I don't sleep in perfect peace, when it comes to the life path that I am on. There really isn't.

This is why I vehemently say that another sign that you're stagnant is if you can't reflect on the current state of your own life and be able to say the same thing—that you LOVE it! Not just that it's "cool" or "OK" but you are really enjoying what you're currently doing (including how you're doing it) and that you're super excited about what's to come (because you're constantly coming up with ways to top yourself).

If you can't look at yourself in the mirror and smile, each and every morning about your world, there is some stagnation going on because remember—stagnation is a lack of advancement and feeling like things are dull and sluggish for you.

The good news is you have the power to change all of this. Sure, you might not be able to quit your job now, get into the kind of relationship that you desire now or cultivate the type of world that you've always dreamed of…right now. What you can do, though, is start planning. You can stop just letting life happen to you and start putting your energy into creating the one that you want.

I was just telling someone recently that I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the turn of this century. That was 20 years ago and, in the grand scheme of things, it all went by pretty damn fast. My point? Life is too short and you've got too much within you to settle for stagnation. Decide, TODAY, that it's time to invest in what will grow and develop every facet of your life. Because, as any abandoned cup of water can attest to—stagnation stinks. Period.

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Amira Unplugged / MTV

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A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

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