Feeling unfulfilled in life? There’s usually a variety of different contributing factors that are causing you to feel this way.
Maybe you feel like your career is stagnating. Maybe you feel like you’re wasting too much time, or that you’re not spending enough time with your friends.
Or maybe, it’s everything, all at once, all the time. Whatever the reasons are for the lack of fulfillment you’re getting from your life, the good news is that you have complete control over your decisions — and when you change your decisions, you can change everything.
In this article, we’re going to examine what it means to feel unfulfilled and lay out the most common reasons why we tend to experience this feeling.
More importantly though, we’ll cover a bunch of actionable techniques that you can use to erase this feeling and live a more meaningful life.
What Does It Mean To Feel Unfulfilled?
It’s inevitable that there will be moments in life where you feel dissatisfied with the present, or anxiety and confusion about your future.
We’re not emotionally bulletproof beings. We’re vulnerable to our brain, which can easily warp our perspective on life to make things seem worse than they are.
However, feeling unfulfilled cuts deeper than that. The best way to characterize lack of fulfillment is that persistent realization throughout the day that goes something like, “Fuck, I’m not doing what I want to be doing with my life.”
When you’re unfulfilled, you feel stuck somewhere you don’t belong. It’s realizing that for the last few months, years, or even decades, you haven’t been living up to your full potential.
The bad news is that there’s no magic pill that will eradicate this feeling
The good news is that it’s not a mystery why you’re feeling unfulfilled. Think of your current level of satisfaction in life as a direct product of this formula:
The Quality Of Your Decisions x Time = Current Life Satisfaction
Where you are right now is the effect of each tiny, seemingly insignificant decision that you’ve made multiplied by time. Those choices, which didn’t seem to matter much in the moment you made them, have compounded and led you here.
Unsurprisingly, the compound effect of your actions is the exact same force that you can leverage to get unstuck and get your life back on track.
If you improve your decisions by just 1% percent every single day, how much better will you be by the end of the year?
365% better? Would you be the 3x the person you are now?
Nope, you’d actually be 3800% better. You’d be 38x the person that you are now.
In other words, you’d be completely unrecognizable. That’s really exciting to think about, but now let’s talk about how to actually get there.
7 Reasons Why You’re Feeling Unfulfilled (And What To Do About It)
The rest of this article dives deep into the probable reasons why you’re feeling unfulfilled, and prescribes specific action steps to overcome the struggles you’re having.
So without further ado, let’s talk about seven potential reasons why you’re feeling unfulfilled and what you can do about it.
#1: You’re Addicted To Supernormal Stimuli
If you look at people who achieve fulfillment, you’ll notice a common theme — they have the self-discipline to do hard, boring things consistently.
The keyword in that last sentence is boring. Because let’s face it, most of the things that you need to do to feel good about yourself are boring.
- It’s boring to work on a single task for an extended period of 2-3 hours
- It’s boring to sit quietly in a room and read books that expand your knowledge
- It’s boring to spend time meditating or engaging in other mindfulness practices
You know you need to engage in behaviors like this to become the best version of yourself, but the problem is they’re just…so..damn..boring!
So if you are feeling unfulfilled, how can you start to find enjoyment from the types of habits that actually move your life forward?
Well, to answer this question we need to talk about supernormal stimuli. The term supernormal stimuli refers to highly addictive behaviors that produce intense levels of stimulation.
- Junk food
- Streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max)
- Social media
Notice the common theme between them? They’re all intensely pleasurable, low-friction behaviors that satisfy our desire for instant gratification.
These behaviors hijack the reward centers of our brain. It’s impossible that your brain will receive the same level of pleasure from reading or working as opposed to scrolling social media or binge-watching Netflix.
This sets the stage for the deeper problem behind supernormal stimuli and why they’re making you feel unfulfilled.
The reason that you’re feeling unfulfilled is because you’re overstimulated. Your brain is not trained to find joy in positive habits that contribute to fulfillment because it’s simultaneously comparing the rewards of those behaviors to supernormal stimuli like porn, social media, tv shows, etc. That’s why you’re not motivated to socialize with friends, perform meaningful work, and learn new information. The rewards you get from doing these things simply don’t compare to the massive dopamine release that supernormal stimuli produce.
With all that said about supernormal stimuli, here’s how to address this problem:
- To remove your dependence on supernormal stimuli for pleasure, adopt the 1:2 Habit Replacement Formula
- Remove or limit one supernormal stimuli from your life, while simultaneously adopting two positive habits in return.
- With enough repetition, your brain will learn to receive pleasure from the two boring, positive habits that you engage in while relying less on supernormal stimuli
- The direct product of this replacement is that you’ll have more motivation & willpower to dedicate towards the hard, boring tasks your intuition pulls you towards each day.
- Commit to the 1:2 replacement for 90 days before selecting other habits.
If you really want this principle to stick, don’t forget the golden rule of forming new habits — start small and reasonable.
Don’t get crazy and say you’re going to read 50 pages a day & meditate for 20 minutes per day. Maybe instead try reading five pages & meditating for five minutes — you’ll find it far easier to be consistent with these new habits.
And obviously, breaking bad habits is easier said than done. Here’s a few creative ideas that go beyond “Just get more disciplined.”
- Punish Yourself Financially: You engage in bad habits because they’re rewarding. Change that by paying someone a certain amount of money whenever you engage in them.
- Environment Design: Make supernormal stimuli harder to access through environment design. Unplug your TV after each time you use it, put your phone in another room, delete certain social media apps, block websites that distract you, etc.
- Set Limits: It’s easier to limit bad habits than remove them completely. If your first focus is cutting out TV, maybe try setting a limit of 60-90 minutes per day as opposed to going cold turkey.
If every 90 days, you gain two positive habits and get one bad habit under control, you’ll be completely unrecognizable a year from now.
#2: You’re Feeling Unfulfilled Because You’re Impatient
People who experience a lack of fulfillment often share a common trait — lack of patience.
As human beings, we’re wired for instant gratification. And the world that we live in today makes it pretty damn easy to satisfy this desire.
Yet, the problem is that achieving our goals and dreams requires delaying gratification. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working hard over a long period of time even when you aren’t seeing any results.
And it’s not something you can develop just by reading a few work ethic quotes.
So if you’re feeling unfulfilled because you’re not reaping the fruits of your labor, it’s possible that you simply haven’t given yourself enough time. Most people judge their progress with an all-or-nothing mindset — Have I achieved my goals yet or not?
This is an incredibly de-motivating way to measure progress because it puts you in a constant state of failure until you achieve your self-defined goals. You’re essentially tying your fulfillment to results that you probably won’t achieve for a long time.
When you’re feeling unfulfilled because your goals seem too far away, try to internalize this mindset and let it guide your daily life:
As long as you do something every day that moves you towards your desired future, that future will eventually become your reality.
From this day forward, stop worrying about how long it’s taking you to get where you want. Instead, focus on the one thing that you can control — making forward progress daily towards your ideal future.
Some days you’ll be a machine and run through your to-do list. On other days, you’ll struggle to discipline yourself and make minimal progress.
Whether you take giant leaps or small steps on any given day, just remember that you’ll get the fulfilling life you’re after if you just don’t give up.
#3: You Can’t Manage Your Thoughts
If you’re feeling unfulfilled, your thoughts are undoubtedly contributing to that feeling.
From your brain’s perspective, it’s far easier to self-sabotage than it is to seek fulfillment. Just think about what happens when you go down a mental rabbit hole — are those thoughts usually positive or negative?
My guess is that most of those instances where you become lost in your thoughts are a product of negative thoughts, not positive ones.
This sound familiar?
“Damn, I didn’t wake up on time today…Why am I so lazy? If I can’t even do basic stuff like that, how am I going to achieve my goals? I really need to get my social life together too. When was the last time I asked someone to hang out? I feel so lonely, why is it hard for me to maintain deep relationships?”
Even though those specific shortcomings may not apply to your situation, we all carry insecurities that can trigger a tidal wave of negative thoughts.
Letting your negative thoughts run free with zero resistance makes it 10x harder to live a fulfilling life.
Your thoughts directly influence your beliefs. Your beliefs directly influence your actions. And your actions determine whether you live a self-empowered life or an empty one.
So if you want to take positive steps towards starting to feel more fulfilled, you must learn the art of staying present and challenging your thoughts. You must learn to detach yourself from negative thoughts that try to sell you a bullshit story about who you are.
How exactly can you make that happen? Well, there’s two daily habits that will significantly improve your ability to manage your thoughts — meditation and detachment.
With meditation, your only goal is to focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth while ignoring your brain’s attempts to pull your focus away from the present.
When you sense any thought (positive or negative) bubbling up in your head, simply acknowledge it and bring your attention back to your breath.
If you’ve never meditated before, it’s going to be frustrating. So for your own sake, start with a reasonable daily target like 2-3 minutes per day and then gradually work your way up from there.
Detachment is another unique habit that will help you manage your mind. Here’s how to practice it:
- Whenever you sense a negative thought popping up in your head, thank your mind for the thought and then move on.
- Example Thought: “I’m so out of shape. Why am I so lazy?”
- Example Response: “Thanks mind! Gonna go back to being present now.”
- This response helps you acknowledge your negative thoughts without giving them any power.
- You can also challenge these thoughts and point out their absurdity by using a more direct response.
- Example Thought: “I’m so lazy.”
- Example Response: “There goes the I’m not good enough story! Thanks for that useless thought mind.”
If you practice these two habits every single day, you’ll make your mind an asset on your journey to fulfillment as opposed to a liability.
#4: You Need More Social Connection
One of the common reasons that people today are feeling more unfulfilled than ever is because we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been.
This was true even before the pandemic, which has only made this phenomenon worse. According to a recent study conducted by Harvard University, 36% of people chose “frequently” or “almost all of the time” to describe how often they feel lonely.
This number increased to 61% among young adults aged 18-25. This is staggering when you consider the fact that our society is more interconnected than ever before.
As someone who felt socially isolated for several years, I know exactly what a lack of social connection can do to your motivation, productivity, and overall mental health.
You just feel disconnected from reality. You feel like everyone else has their social life figured out while you wallow in self-pity on an hourly basis. You feel like there’s an invisible ceiling stopping you from becoming the confident, happy, and social person that you want to become.
In reality, that invisible ceiling is simply your daily decisions. If you’re feeling unfulfilled because you lack the confidence to develop a rich social life, you’re a few habits away from flipping the script and taking control of this aspect of your life.
As someone who’s made significant social strides over the past year, here’s a few habits that will get things moving in the right direction.
- Habit #1 – Make Your Presence Felt: Each day, try to reach out to someone in your social circle. It can be as simple as a quick check-in text or as personal as a long phone call where you catch up about life. Just get in the habit of connecting with the people you care about and being genuinely curious about their life.
- Habit #2 – Exercise Your Social Muscle Daily: Say hello to people as they walk by on the street, give out compliments, ask the cashier how their day is going, ask that cute girl/guy at the coffee shop for their number. These small actions have a tremendous impact on your self-image and will ingrain the belief that you’re a naturally social person.
- Habit #3 – Get Comfortable Organizing Plans: Each week, set a goal for yourself to organize one set of plans with someone/a group of people. Don’t get so caught up in what to do, just practice taking the initiative to do social things — grabbing coffee, seeing a concert, going out to a bar, etc. Overtime, you’ll deepen your connections with other people and live a more interesting life that isn’t devoid of social stimulation.
When you successfully integrate habits like these into your life, the fulfilling social life that you want to have will come naturally.
Each time that you talk to strangers, organize plans, and check-in with people you’re close to, you’re giving your brain evidence that you’re a social person. And with enough repetitions, your brain will buy into this belief and naturally steer you towards actions that confirm it.
#5: You’re Not Clear On What You Want
If you’re not living the life you want, it might be because you haven’t actually defined it yet. Most of you reading this want things like: financial freedom, deep personal relationships, a fulfilling career, etc.
These are all great things to aim at, they’re just too general. For starters, almost everyone with a pulse wants these things. You’ll be hard pressed to meet someone who doesn’t want to love their job, or have more money in the bank.
The question isn’t whether or not you want these things, the question is do you have a specific plan to get you there?
- Do you have a clear vision for where you want to be 3-5 years from now?
- Have you identified key areas of focus for the year ahead and set specific goals that align with that larger vision?
- Have you broken those yearly goals down into smaller sub-goals that lay out a clear path to achievement.
If you haven’t gotten this specific yet, now is the time to do so. Because if you’re feeling unfulfilled, my guess is that you feel a little like you’re just wandering through life.
You may have an idea of what your life should be like and what you need to do to get there, but it’s hard for you to assign meaning to your actions because they’re not moving you towards a clearly defined objective.
So the first step on getting crystal clear about your ideal future is to specify a timeframe. When you write out your ideal future, are you going to be talking about your life in one year? Two years? Five years?
Personally, I prefer the two year timeframe. One year feels a little too short and five years feels a little too long/unpredictable, but that just comes down to personal preference.
Once you have your timeframe, identify the three most important components of your ideal future in bullet-point format. Specific targets aren’t necessary, just make sure it’s clear exactly what you’re going after.
- Specific: I will have turned my self-improvement blog into a widely read resource that helps people improve their life and generates at least $8,000/month.
- More General: I will have developed a rich social life and deep personal relationships that keep me happy and fulfilled.
Write out three bullet-points like this before moving onto the next step.
Now that you have a high-level overview of your ideal future, it’s time to get a little more granular and identify where to focus your attention year by year.
First you’re going to identify the top 2-3 goals that you’re going to pursue over the next 12 months. The best way to do this is to start by making a list of 8-10 and then narrowing it down based on impact/importance.
Once you’ve got 2-3 goals that you’re going to focus on over the next 12 months, break each of these goals down into 5-7 sub-goals. These sub-goals should act as milestones that signal you’re making progress towards achieving the bigger goal.
Then, you simply rinse and repeat these steps for each year. Or even better, just start with Year One and wait 8-9 months to re-evaluate your priorities before completing this process for the following year (this is actually the approach that I like to use)
Once you’ve completed this process, you should have three things:
- Three key outcomes you want to achieve in 1-5 years.
- 2-3 clear goals for the next year (or the next few years)
- 5-7 sub-goals for each of these yearly goals
Hopefully, having a gameplan like this brings the clarity and structure to your life that you’ve been lacking.
And while it won’t lead to fulfillment unless you take action, it becomes a lot easier to take that action when everything is laid out in front of you.
#6: You’re Feeling Unfulfilled Because Your Job Is Killing Your Soul
When you show up to work each day, do you feel like you’re doing what you were meant to do? Do you find meaning from your work, or is it simply a way to get by?
If you get up every single day and dread going to work, then feeling unfulfilled is almost unavoidable. Spending half of your time doing something that you hate is not a recipe for feeling fulfilled.
And look I get it, you’ve been told a million times to “just follow your passion.” Most people who say this are blind to the fact that you have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and a financial future to secure.
You can’t just quit your job and neglect these responsibilities, so what’s the solution?
Get more time back.
See, at the time of writing this article, I actually work a 9-5 job in tech sales in conjunction with writing, editing, and publishing content for this site.
As you can guess, personal development is my passion. My goal for this site is to turn it into a full-time income stream that supports my dream job of becoming a leader in the personal development space.
My job takes eight hours a day away from this goal. And because of that, I’m up at 5:30 a.m. every single day laying the foundation for my future.
I spend the first three hours of each day before work creating content, editing that content, and then putting it out into the world.
No phone. No email. No social media. No TV. Just focused, distraction-free work on the high-leverage actions that move me towards a fulfilling future career.
So if you’re feeling unfulfilled because your day job is killing your soul, ask yourself the following questions:
- When do I feel most productive?
- What kind of work makes time fly by?
- What kinds of topics have I always been naturally curious about?
- Given that succeeding in any field is going to require hard work, what’s the kind of work that I can still force myself to do even when I’m not feeling my best?
Then, get really honest about where you’re spending your time. Because it doesn’t matter how busy you think you are, I guarantee that you can find an extra 2-3 hours each day to work on transitioning to a career that you’d actually enjoy.
If you hate your 9-5, then get up three hours earlier and put in the work to get out of it. If your work starts earlier than most people, then save that work for the evening hours.
The bottom line is that if you care enough, you’ll find the time. And let’s be honest here, most people who say they “don’t have enough time” are wasting too much of it doing shit like this:
- Watching TV
- Checking email
- Online shopping
- Checking social media
- Playing video games
- Going down the Youtube rabbit hole
- Waiting to feel motivated to take action
If you were to cut out or limit just 1-2 of these activities, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to find the extra 2-3 hours that you don’t think you have.
And if you spend 2-3 hours each day performing uninterrupted, deep work on turning your passion into a profession, you’ll reach that goal if you give yourself enough time.
The results may not be immediate, but with daily consistency they will be inevitable.
#7: You’re Stuck In Your Comfort Zone
If you’re feeling unfulfilled, there’s a good chance that you’re stuck in your comfort zone. You’re feeling these urges to take on challenges and do things you’re afraid of, but you’re not acting on these urges.
And each time you don’t, you can feel the pain of inaction:
- You feel it each time you want to speak up in a meeting but stay quiet because you’re afraid of being judged.
- You feel it when you need to have an important conversation with someone, but avoid it because it’s too uncomfortable.
- You feel it when you get invited to a social gathering but turn down the invitation out of fear.
- You feel it when you get the urge to talk to that attractive man/woman at the bar but don’t do it because you’re afraid of rejection.
Each time you fail to act in these moments and don’t tap into your intuition, you betray the deepest parts of yourself and shatter your self-confidence.
Now obviously, getting out of your comfort zone is easier said than done. So here’s my advice for attempting comfort zone challenges the right way.
- For one week, keep a journal/note of each time you don’t take action because of fear.
- Don’t judge yourself, just be a passive observer. Act as if you’re a scientist conducting research.
- At the end of 7 days, look at your journal of events and you’re likely to notice some common patterns in the specific instances where you give into fear
- Pick out the 2-3 scenarios having the greatest impact on your happiness and make those the primary focus of your comfort zone challenges.
Now that you know where to focus your energy, you’ve gotta train your brain to be comfortable taking action in these moments.
The best way to achieve this is progressive desensitization, a technique that psychologists frequently use to treat phobias. The reason that it works so well is because it attacks your fears in a systematic fashion that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
For example, let’s say that you adopt progressive desensitization to overcome your fear of starting conversations with strangers. A sample plan you create for yourself might look like this:
- Level 1: Walk outside and smile at strangers as they walk by
- Level 2: Walk outside and say “hello” to strangers as they walk by
- Level 3: Walk outside and ask strangers for directions somewhere
- Level 4: Walk outside and give compliments to strangers as they walk by
- Level 5: Walk outside and start a conversation with a random stranger
With each step in the progression, you’re moving towards your ultimate goal of getting comfortable conversations with random people.
Using that framework as a guide, come up with a similar progression built around your own fears. Start with the small steps that you know you can take, and then eventually build up to taking action in the exact scenario that you’re afraid of.
You’ll feel more alive and fulfilled when you consistently take action in moments where fear tells you to run the other way.
Hopefully, this article has armed you with several different paths of action that you can take in order to overcome feeling unfulfilled.
Whatever path you decide to take, just remember that consistency conquers all.
When you start small with habits that are easy to maintain, this builds a foundation of consistent action that makes bigger and better change inevitable.
Time to click off this page and get work!