From the outside, it looked as though Adam Alter was gliding along.

At 28, he had earned a doctorate in psychology from Princeton and soon afterward landed a job as a tenure-track professor at the N.Y.U. Stern School of Business.

But he felt stuck. Preparing to teach while simultaneously doing research became overwhelming, especially after having just emerged from five intense years of graduate school. And although he was often surrounded by people in New York City, he missed having a close network of friends.

He likened it to being trapped on a conveyor belt. “I was making a career for myself,” he said, “but I wasn’t sure if those were the ways I wanted to succeed.”

Dr. Alter, who has now been a professor for 15 years, has devoted much of his career to researching the notion of feeling stuck. In 2020, he surveyed hundreds of people on the topic, and every respondent said they felt stalled in at least one area: failed creative pursuits, stagnant careers, unsatisfying relationships, an inability to save money — the list went on.

Falling into a rut or feeling stagnant from time to time is a universal experience, said Dr. Alter, whose latest book, “Anatomy of a Breakthrough,” offers 100 ways to get unstuck.

Why? When tackling any long-term goal, you will inevitably hit a plateau, he said. And because some goals don’t have clear end points, it can be difficult to feel like you’re making progress.


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