“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” - Ellen Glasgow
You wake up one day and realize you’ve been on autopilot for weeks, months and maybe years. Perhaps you accomplished something amazing and took a break, or you failed and stayed crouched down. No matter what flamed the burn out, you didn’t rise again like a phoenix. You stayed in the ash. You’re in a rut.
Ruts persist because they’re comfortable and because they pay off. Understanding the pay-off of habitualized negative or neutral behavior is key to climbing out. Also key? Replacing rutted habits with new positive ones. The ones that take you above life’s drudgery.
The Pay Off
First find out what’s got you stuck. Fear is always a go-to issue, but often it’s the positives of not changing that really keep us in the ground. For example, you keep doing what you’re good at instead of challenging yourself. There is praise, cash, respect and other accolades if you stay where you are doing good work, whereas the payoff of pursuing your dreams is far down the road -- a road containing hard work, missteps and risk.
You’ve habituated things that keep you in your comfort zone and likely things that sabotage getting out of your rut. Lunch with your co-workers at the pasta place, facilitating the dreams of a loved one and not your own, beers on Wednesday for getting halfway through the week, spending your creative energy on the boss’ passion project. And each of things has a payoff (see above). You’re appreciated, respected, or given a shot of dopamine for these habits.
Alright, so you know why you’re in the rut . . .
Remember your dreams. You had them once, find them again. Do small things that inspire you and get you out of the daily grind. Go to the movies on Tuesday night. Start reading a novel. Paint something. Shake it up and rediscover passion.
Visualize. This can go both ways. Imagine the life you want. Make it a reality in your mind and the cognitive dissonance will help inspire action. While you’re at it, imagine life a year from now if you change nothing. Yep. That’s reality if you stay rutted.
Start small and replace bad habits. One by one replace bad old habits with good new ones. Author Joseph King at the blog Dumb Little Man gives these wise words of inspiration in his article The First Step to Change.
“Commit to one small personal change, do it everyday for one week, and write it down. No ideas? Here are some good ones:
Realize success takes work. As Forbes Magazine says in its article 8 Ways to Dig Out of a Rut, “You’ve got to work hard at some point. It might as well be now.” Meaning, of course, that nothing is accomplished without hard work. It’s likely you work hard already for things you don’t really enjoy. But even if you don’t, you’ll have to put in the time if you want to succeed in anything in life. So don’t delay, just do it now.
Build a ladder out of your rut. You can make excuses and rationalize your behavior or you can get back out there. Your choice.