The other day, while talking (ie venting) with a friend, I realized that my problems were more or less the same as months or even (gulp) a whole year ago. How can someone so pre-occupied with growth, and who spends more time moving, doing, actively searching than relaxing, be stuck in a rut? I mean, I’m like a little train?! And yet, that is exactly what I observed–not just within myself, but also with my peers. For instance, when I check in with my close friends every so often, our larger issues and frustrations stay eerily the same. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re living such stationary lives: on the contrary, we’re all busy putting ourselves through huge amounts of stress in order to grow. So what gives?
Here is what may (at least partially) explain what’s going on here: We tend to subconsciously think of life as *either* topsy-turvy, full of risks and turbulence, *or* stable and predictable. Though the stable option might have a lot of frustrations, we may feel inwardly that old, familiar problems are at least easier to stomach than new, unforeseen problems that may arise when we finally decide to rock the boat. So the first step to getting out of a rut is understanding that there is a middle ground–a zone where you feel challenged but happy, rather than overwhelmed and unsafe (too much risk) or frustrated and resentful (stuck).
But first, what does it mean to be stuck in a rut? Does it mean you just haven’t tried any new hairdo or new style of jeans in years? (Ha, I’m saying yes to both). (More on that later). More than those superficial aspects, see if you’re feeling these things:
-Whether it’s related to your job, relationships, family, or personal development, you’ve been struggling with the same issue for the past several months or even years.
-Your friends point out that you’ve been complaining about the same thing for some time.
-You feel bitter, resentful, frustrated, and burned out about this issue. Yet, you feel powerless to make substantial changes at this point.
-Imagining that things will stay this way for another few years, makes you absolutely miserable.
Recognize any of these signs? Here are steps to move out of that rut (we’re in this together!).
1. Give yourself advice as your own friend: People are much more likely to give rational advice to their friends, than to themselves. In a study, control group subjects were told to imagine that their doctor, whom they’ve been seeing for the past 10 years, just advised them to receive an expensive medical treatment. Then they were asked whether they would get a second opinion: most subjects said no. But more non-control subjects who were told to imagine that situation for a friend, said that they would advise the friend to seek another opinion. So when it comes to their own situation, people lean toward safety and predictability–but when it’s someone else’s situation, they can see more clearly, with less feelings of attachment or fear.
Imagine giving yourself advice as a best friend would–you will hear exactly what you need to hear.
2. Make changes for sake of changing: We’ve all heard that “artificial smiles,” or conscious smiling, can reduce stress, bring on genuine smiles, and restore good mood. Similarly, occasionally forcing an “artificial change” can bring on other positive changes. Seek out changes that you feel ready to activate now, whether or not it relates to the area of life in which you’re stuck. For instance, even if you feel stuck in your work life, you can try a new haircut, color, or a different style of clothes, or make a new beauty resolution. (Um, mine are “keep my nail polish looking nice,” and “wash my face after every workout.”) If your family situation is bothering you, you can try moving to a new apartment or at least redecorating. On the other hand, if you’re literally stuck in your location, you might try adding a new fitness goal. Sometimes, even taking a vacation or a staycation can break you away from your routine and infuse you with a renewed determination to seek change.
Each time you add some change, notice the positive effect on your well-being, and gain more confidence that you can handle other changes big and small.
3. Do research: Being stuck in a rut can feel…helpless. But you can gain a sense of empowerment through research. Look for possible next steps. Maybe it’s looking up jobs, grad school programs and deadlines, apartments, opportunities abroad, or even online stories of other people who have overcome your particular challenges. You don’t have to commit to anything yet if you simply cannot. But the more you see tangible, actionable steps, the more you will prep yourself to taking them…Whenever you feel ready, start taking those steps (even baby steps). It might be sending a resume a day or walking after dinner for just 20 minutes a day, if you’re new to exercising. Or maybe you decide to start with just one blog post a day. 🙂 No matter how small, just stick to it for a few months, and see where that takes you.
4. Be patient: The biggest hurdle to getting out of a rut may not be your lack of agency or resolution, but impatience. If you try to get out, and you don’t see immediate results, you might feel devastated and lost. Be more fluid and forgiving with yourself. Take the long view and know that most good things take a decent amount of time to be realized. Make sure you’re getting a lot of self-care and self-love so you stay “fueled” for this long journey. Ultimately, even moving slowly in the right direction is a lot faster than staying in the same place or moving in the wrong direction.
Have you ever felt yourself getting stuck in a rut? And what kind of changes will you commit to?
Also see: How to Change Your Narrative
Photo: Roman Drits via Barn Images