It creeps up on you when you least expect it. You might have been in one for years and never realised it. It can derail your life, and have serious consequences on your health and your relationships.
It makes you feel frustrated, bored and gives you low energy. You’re unable to make decisions, you’re fearful of change and are risk averse. It makes you apathetic and generally numbs you to anything that comes your way.
I am of course talking about being stuck in a rut.
I’ve experienced many in my life and knowing this I have to stop even now and ask myself if I’m experiencing one. This is because they can so easily catch you unawares.
Ruts are often experienced in response to feeling trapped in life. We’re then unable to find a way out so we numb our experience. We begin to feel disconnected from a deeper sense of purpose in life as we stop connecting with and serving others. Instead, we retreat into our minds and away from harm.
Without any awareness, being stuck in a rut morphs around our lives, camouflaging itself to avoid detection.
It reminds me of a story about two fish (bear with me on this).
One older fish swims past a young fish and says to him:
“Morning, how’s the water?”
The younger fish swims on for a bit and then turns around and asks:
“What on earth is water?”
Sometimes the most obvious things in life are so ingrained in our experience that we don’t even realise they exist.
Our culture is designed to distract us from what is really happening inside us. It cries for our attention externally as we get drawn into the big shiny thing syndrome.
These things distract us from what is important and give us a momentary feeling of what we believe to be happiness.
If we were to only stop and wake up for a moment we’d see the rut we were in. But we don’t as we hide in safety, protecting ourselves from anything new that could harm us.
Maybe you’re in one now or you know someone who is.
Either way, here are 5 tips to help you get out:
#1. Name it
Like the fish in the story above, you have to raise your awareness and name it. State it out loud.
“I’m stuck in a rut and I want to do something about it”
You have to call out the elephant in the room, as immediately you start to take some control of the situation. Otherwise, your situation will control you.
Often you can’t see it yourself and it takes someone else to help you to see it.
A few years ago I was having a difficult time and didn’t know what to do. I shared my experience with a friend and they said to me “sounds like you’ve been having panic attacks”.
They were right but being so close to my experience I didn’t have sufficient awareness to name it myself.
Naming what I had, changed everything for me.
#2. Develop rituals
One of the best routes out of a rut in my experience has been the introduction of good structure.
Everything grows out of the structure that contains it.
So if you’re fantastically lazy then it will be because you’ve created the fantastic structure to support your laziness.
If you want to be energised during the day instead, then create the structure and rituals to support being energised.
The best rituals I have implemented have all been in the morning. They have been based around challenges and have involved meditation, writing, yoga, tai chi, running, swimming and cycling.
Whatever you pick I recommend you follow these simple steps:
Step 1 – Start small and grow. Start with 10 mins and slowly grow it. Don’t do too much too soon and burn yourself out. Grow the new muscle slowly.
Step 2 – Same time and place. You’re more likely to stick to something the more predictable and repeatable it is. “7am in the garage” gets done. “In the morning, somewhere quiet” does not.
Step 3 – Get support. You’re far more likely to continue with something new if you get support from someone. This might be for accountability (see #3 below) or an existing group where you can benefit from their structure.
Step 4 – Create a challenge. I use challenges to motivate me to complete certain practices or exercises every day for a set period (21 days is a good starting point). It gives the practice/exercise a start and end point which contains it. This increases the likelihood of completing it.
Step 5 – Track track track. Journal your progress so you can see the improvements.
Step 6 – Keep it fresh. Notice what you like and what serves you. Don’t be afraid to freshen things up.
The creation of any new habit will need a force greater than the one it is replacing. This is very difficult to do on your own.
Once you make a commitment to make a change and move out of a rut then you’re much more likely to be successful if you find someone to support you and hold you accountable.
This might be a regular check-in with a friend or a coach to confirm that you did what you said you did. Or it might be something that holds a consequence.
When I first decided to leave my old office job I told a friend that if I didn’t leave within a year, she could have my car!!!
Someone holding me accountable, and regularly reminding me of my commitment, made a huge difference. Three years later I left my job, and that got me out of the biggest rut of my life.
Luckily she was very forgiving, as I still have the car.
#4. Do something new
Ruts hate change, so introduce something new into your life every day.
I love giving my clients challenges and one of my favourites is to do something new every day for a month.
That could be to take a new way to work, cook a new meal, attend a new class, dance in your underwear, skip to work, sing a song at the top of your voice in the car. Get imaginative. Start to train yourself that change is good, change is normal and it’s something you do all the time.
When I go food shopping I try and buy something new on every visit. With Polish and Asian aisles in my supermarket, there’s a constant choice to pick from. This has resulted in some disasters (an Iranian yoghurt drink springs to mind) but it opens your eyes and always paves the way for more change further down the road.
Take the challenge on for 21 days and see how you feel at the end.
#5. Make the rut more painful
We can be stubborn souls at times. There will always be a part of you that wants things to stay the way they are.
As long as that part of you is stronger than the part that does want to change then you’re destined to remain as you are. Flirting around with the idea of freeing yourself but never doing anything about it.
The American psychiatrist Milton Erickson once asked a prospective patient:
“On a scale of 1-10 how much do you want to quit smoking?”
“Eight”, the man replied
“Then I suggest you go home and smoke twice as many cigarettes a day until you become a 10” Erickson replied.
It’s a controversial method but if you aren’t fully motivated to make a change, one way to motivate yourself is to increase the pain.
I hope this post was helpful. Do you have any other tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just fill in the box below.
To your success