How to get out of a rut
Updated: Jan 28
In this article, I share my insights on how to shake life up when things are feeling stale.
At one point or another we all feel trapped in a cycle. Often, it’s as a result of a rhythm we’ve established – whether at home or at work. When elements of our lives begin to feel like a grind, it can leave us feeling despondent and frustrated. You might struggle to get out of bed or catch yourself complaining about being stressed. Of course, everyone has off days where things feel tough. But if you’re starting to feel locked into a routine, then you might be stuck in a rut. So, what can you do about it?
What do I do in a rut?
If you suspect you might be in a rut, then my recommendation would be to explore the feeling by asking yourself some questions, like:
Am I overworked and/or over-committed?
Am I getting enough ‘me’ time?
Is there enough joy in my life?
Do I feel like I have purpose?
What aspects of my life are good?
What people, things, or habits might be holding me back?
What could be improved?
Am I looking for – and open to – change?
These questions will help you to clarify whether your need is transitional due to circumstance or speaks to a deeper desire for structural change.
These points of exploration and acceptance are really important and will happen many times throughout our life. Recognising this can go a long way to mitigate the self-blame which can accompany a rut. Make the time to investigate why you feel how you do – without judgement.
Make a plan
Once you’ve broken down what you feel and why you’re feeling it, you can begin to formulate a plan to change things. First, you need to acknowledge that we do possess the free will and power to make changes in our lives.
Mindset is important. It’s great to search for change, but it’s not likely to come in the form of a silver bullet. It’s a gradual process, and you have the power to direct it. Remember, you don’t wake up in a rut one day – you find yourself there because of a series of factors converging over time. In the same way, it takes time to work your way out of the situation. You need to give yourself the space to move through the rut and emerge on the other side. Having this perspective and patience is important.
To make change stick, you need a powerful ‘why’ as your source of motivation. You need to own your decision to propel yourself out of your rut. By articulating a goal and laying down the groundwork to achieve positive change, you’re deepening your commitment to yourself. Consider sharing your plan for change with your support network so they can assist you through your journey. The more open you are, the more people will cheer you on and find ways to help.
A vital part of the process is recognising that interrupting a rut will often feel uncomfortable, so you need to remember that it will be better on the other side. Momentary discomfort is preferable to the frustration and despondency of sitting in your current situation.
Working things out on paper can be a powerful way to sift through the muck and find clarity. When I find myself in a rut, I tend to think of it as being stuck in the bottom of a trench. It’s wet and muddy down there, and it’s tough to find the energy to pull yourself up those slippery walls.
By drawing on your answers to the questions you asked yourself earlier, you can identify what led you to this situation. Write it all down. Now, you can formulate a plan. Start by asking yourself, ‘What does better look like?’
Once you’ve identified this, consider the practical things you can change. What big or small things can you do immediately? What will take additional time or assistance? Do you have some space in your life to add extra positive elements?
There is likely to be a temptation to think you’re trapped and nothing can change. But that perception is too binary, and it will limit you. Writing things down will help you to unpick the specifics and reveal where you can start introducing micro-adjustments to your life.
Think of this plan as a stepladder you can use to slowly climb out of the rut. To move up, requires self-evaluation, a plan and the will to take small steps. Don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up, we all trip and slip along the way, but things will get better if you keep trying. Remember, the past and the present is for learning – the future is unwritten. Where possible, take the emotion away and think critically. Examine whether you’d be able to create change by breaking things down into smaller chunks and try to understand what small cluster of changes might need to go hand in hand.
My final suggestion is to prepare. Give yourself the best chance of success by ensuring you’re getting enough good quality sleep. Talk positively about the change you’re going to make, get a little bit excited, book things into your diary, find the resources you need and do everything you can to feel strong and confident enough to act. Commit to the change you deserve to have!
Implement your changes
I recently found myself trapped in an all-work no-play rut. I was meeting the demands of clients, employers, and colleagues – then I was attending to the needs of my family. I was grinding myself into the ground, constantly agitated by the pace and the workload, and I wasn’t enjoying life enough. The solution was to cut back on my commitments and be more ruthless about scheduling time for myself.
The first thing I did was review my priorities. I then looked for ways to better use time by coupling activities. I’m now practising quietness and mindfulness while in the car, I’ve subscribed to a host of new playlists to elevate my mood and discover new music while cooking, and I cherish listening to learning podcasts while doing housework.
You should also try taking a different route or mode of transport to work, or perhaps exercise somewhere new. Basically, anything to shake up your entrenched routines. Grab a friend and create an ‘adventure’ list of new things you could do. Make an effort to spend more time in nature, seek out old friends or learn to cook a new style of cuisine. Show yourself you can change life up – and have some fun in the process.
Maybe you find a particular day of the week to be a real drag. First work out why (is it too full? Is there one thing you have to do that you loathe?), then figure out how you can disrupt it. Turn it upside down or dramatically simplify that day. If you can’t, then find a way to offset it with something that brings you joy.
If you’re feeling stuck in a professional rut, talk to your boss about ways you can unleash your full potential. Maybe you could take on a new experience with new people, attend a course or start a new initiative within your own team. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then have the courage to ask for assistance in managing workloads and prioritising.
Share your feelings
When we’re in a rut, others might likely suspect we’re not at our best. If you’re in a shared space then there’s also an opportunity for a shared solution. Without blame or shame, see if others can help you to redefine things. A proactive conversation can revitalise you and establish a framework for mutual success. If you feel comfortable with a friend or colleague who can offer considered advice, they could be an invaluable asset in helping you with ideas, momentum and accountability.
Adopt the mindset of an explorer, be curious and open to lessons about what does and doesn’t work as you find a better way forward. Remember, we’re all trying to understand our place in the world. We’re all trying to discover the recipe for our personal version of success. Be kind to yourself – and others – and recognise that we can act to create the changes we want to see.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on September 25, 2019.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.