If you want to learn a lot more of these casual and colorful expressions in spoken English, join my Everyday English Speaking Course Level 2 (where you will learn them from conversations) or my English Idioms Course (where you will figure out idioms through quizzes).
#1 – SPINNING (ONE’S) WHEELS
= put in a lot of effort with zero results or progress
Ex) The client rejects every suggestion I make. I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels on this project.
If you are “spinning your wheels,” you’re not going anywhere! Image source
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#2 – GO IN CIRCLES
= be very active but not make any progress towards your goal; you keep coming back to the same things
Ex) The discussion goes in circles at every staff meeting; it all comes down to budget limitations.
#3 – RUN INTO A BRICK WALL
= encounter something that makes it impossible to proceed
Ex) We were working on buying a house, but we ran into a brick wall when we couldn’t get a loan from the bank.
#4 – HAVE A MENTAL BLOCK
= have a psychological barrier that prevents you from doing something or thinking of something
Ex) I can’t seem to write the conclusion to my report; I’m having a mental block.
#5 – AS SLOW AS MOLASSES
= extremely slow
Ex) The internet here is as slow as molasses – it takes half an hour to download one photo!
Molasses is a very thick liquid, similar to honey. It flows very slowly. Image source
#6 – HAVE/MAKE A BREAKTHROUGH
= make a sudden advance, discovery, achievement, or overcome an obstacle
Ex) Scientists have made a breakthrough in clean energy technology with the development of a low-cost solar energy panel.
Ex) After thinking about it a lot, I finally had a breakthrough – I realized I was the source of the problem.
#7 – GET/SHIFT/KICK INTO HIGH GEAR
= start working faster, at a high/intense level of activity
Ex) I work for a toy store and every year at Christmas we shift into high gear.
In a car, you “shift into high gear” when going fast
#8 – BE/GET IN THE GROOVE
= performing well and easily because you have been doing it for some time and it’s easy to continue.
Ex) I’m always a little nervous when I start speaking, but I feel more comfortable once I get in the groove.
#9 – SMOOTH SAILING
= easy progress with no problems
Ex) Signing up for classes has been smooth sailing – I was able to do everything online.
We also have the phrasal verb sail through something,meaning to do it fast and easily
Ex) Since he already had experience, he sailed through the training exercises.
#10 – AT BREAKNECK SPEED/PACE
= extremely fast
Ex) Things in this industry are changing at breakneck speed, so it’s important to stay up-to-date.