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Cartoon of woman climbing out of rut

How to Get Out of a Rut

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Have you ever found yourself in a rut? Perhaps you are bored by your job and don't see any prospect for change. Maybe you feel your life has fallen into a routine and you need change. Perhaps a relationship has become dull.

Being in a rut is difficult. It implies you are not happy with where you are, but you are not miserable either. If you were miserable, you would be more likely to do something to change your situation. Nevertheless, it's not a nice place to be and the longer you are stuck there, the harder it is to climb out. Fortunately, if you are in a rut, I can help! In a moment, we'll look at some of the things you can do to get yourself to a better place, but first let's look at some things that will not help.

Things That Will Not Get You Out of Your Rut

There are four things that people in ruts often do. These do not help.

1. The waiting game

It is all too easy to believe that time will eventually change things. That if you stick to your situation, you will eventually feel better about it or something will change. If you've been in a rut for a couple of days, this might happen. If you've been in rut for months or years, it most definitely will not.

2. Prayer

Your God is very, very busy. She is not going to get you out of your rut. She knows you can do it if you try − and if you read the rest of this article. By all means, pray to Her for comfort. Pray to let Her know how you are doing. But do not demand that She gets you out of your rut. That's just selfish.

3. Expect someone else to save you

If your rut involves other people, for example if you feel your relationship has stagnated, you might expect your partner to do something about the situation. But, she's probably waiting for you to act when, in truth, you need to act together. If your job bores you to tears, do not expect your manager to say, "Hey, I see you are bored to tears with your work. Let me promote you into a better job." That won't happen.

4. Get lost in your dreams

If you are stuck in a rut, you may very well have a vision of how you want things to be. You may even cope with your rut by getting lost in your dream rather than taking action. Unfortunately, dreaming becomes a crutch which discourages you from taking real action. But your dreams aside and take action.

Now, let's look at what you can and should do to get out of your rut.

Own Your Rut

The very first thing you need to do is to take responsibility for your situation. Perhaps you are where you are because of someone else's actions. Perhaps a less honourable colleague's played office politics to get the position you wanted, leaving you in a dead end job. Maybe your partner likes routine more than you do. Okay. It's too bad that these people played a role in putting you where you are now and that's not nice. But you cannot change what has happened. You can, however, change your future. To do this, you need to own your rut. You need to take full responsibility for it

You may find, as you do this, that you feel better about your rut. You are no longer stuck in a hopeless situation. You are now the proud owner of a rut and, as its owner, you can turn it into something desirable, something positive, something groovy!

Say it out loud: "I am the proud owner of  rut and I am going to do something about it!"

Very good! Now, let's do something about it.

Learn from Your Rut

Now that you are the proud owner of a rut, you need to learn from it. This is a simple, three step process.

  1. Ask yourself, why you are in a rut. What happened or what did not happen? Don't dwell on this, it will only make you unhappy. But work out what events got you to the situation you are in. If you are not sure, don't be afraid to ask. People are normally happy to analyse other people's mistakes.
  2. Once you have done this, work out what you could have done differently that might have made a difference. Again, if you are not sure, ask you partner, friends, family or people familiar with your current situation.
  3. Now, you cannot go back and change what happened, but you can learn from your mistake so that you do not fall back into a rut again. So, what are the lessons you have learned about your rut? What will you do in the future to prevent it from happening again?

Example

Sandra has been working at the same job for a few years. She's always done what her boss asks and she has always done it well and to schedule. But she's growing bored with doing the same thing day in and day out. She wants change and she knows she is capable of more demanding work.

Sandra learns that a management post is opening up and she believes she has a good chance as result of hard work. Eventually, she becomes convinced she will get the post. Who else deserves it as much as she does? Instead, it goes to an outspoken colleague whom she does not feel deserves the position. Not surprisingly, Sandra soon falls into a rut. Her dull job becomes almost unbearable and she does not see a way out any time soon.

Fortunately, she has already read this article and knows she needs to learn from her rut.

She was so sure she would get the promotion that She cannot work out why she was passed over. She asks her boss, who explains, "Yes, Sandra, you've always done great work and I have never been disappointed by any task that I've assigned you. But with your experience and at your salary grade, I don't want someone who simply follows orders. I was someone who works out what needs to be done and who takes initiative − especially at the management level of that position. Helene may not be as efficient as you, but she knows what needs to be done and takes on responsibilities herself. She also sometimes makes suggestions to me."

Clearly if Sandra wants to be considered at the next promotional opportunity, she needs to start taking more initiative now. She needs to demonstrate that she can think for herself, anticipate tasks and get things done. That's not easy, because Sandra does not like taking risks and she wants to make her boss happy − so she's afraid that if she makes a mistake, she will be reprimanded − but she understands she needs to change.

Where Do You Want to Be?

You are clear that you do not want to be in a rut. But where do you want to be? Your job bores you to tears. Do you want a promotion in the same organisation? Or is it the organisation that you want to leave? Or do you want to change profession completely? (Click here an article on changing your job and here for an article on mid-life change)

You and your partner do the same thing every day. There is no variety in the relationship and you are bored. Do you want to liven up your relationship or do you want a new partner? Let us hope it is the former. But, if you are no longer happy with your partner, then something more serious must be done.

You and your partner opened a coffee shop. After several years, it is hardly making any money. You struggle to get by financially and feel frustrated by the insecurity. Do you want your coffee shop to be more successful or do you want to be employed again where you will receive a regular salary.

Be realistic. I honestly know people who are stuck in boring jobs and whose strategy to get out of the job is to buy lottery tickets weekly in hopes that they will win the jackpot and never have to work again. I know of no one who has succeeded with this strategy.

Not Sure Where You Want to Be?

It is possible that you are stuck in a rut that you desperately want to escape, but are unclear where you want to be. This happens, especially if you've been in a rut for a while. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks that might help.

Real Advice

Ask people whom you care about, especially your spouse, for advice. Tell them you are in a rut (if they do not know already) and admit you are not sure where you want to be. Ask them what they think you would be good at. But be careful here. If a friend's advice does not resonate with you, do not feel she knows better than you do. You could all too easily go from one rut to another.

Moreover, do not be ashamed to be in a rut. Most adults find themselves in a rut from time to time. Friends and family will not look down on you. Indeed, they may feel relief in finally understanding why you've been looking so down lately.

Relative Advice

Do you have older children or a brother or sister you can relate to? If so, imagine one of them is in your position. For example, imagine it is 10 years from now and your son tells you that he is in a rut very similar to yours. He asks for your honest advice. What do you suggest he do?

Envy and Admiration

Think about friends and acquaintances whom you admire or envy in the context of your rut? What are they doing that you envy. For example, if you are in a rut career-wise, look at people whose careers you envy. What is it about their work that you would like to be doing. Don't be afraid to get in touch with them to ask about their work and even for tips about how to get into the field. Most people love to give advice and most people will think you are more intelligent for asking them for advice.

Cutting Your Losses

One of the reasons an individual gets into a rut is because he feels he has a lot invested in his situaton and he will lose too much be leaving. Instead, he feels that if he just keeps at it a bit longer, his fortunes will turn.

This is particularly true of small business owners whose businesses do not take off, but do not fail either. To reuse the example from above, you and your partner open a coffee shop. It is not a roaring success, but it is not losing money either. Nevertheless, your income is miserable and you feel poor. You may feel that after investing tens of thousands of Euro in establishing your business, you do not dare close it down and lose all that investment.

Well, yes and no. You would indeed lose your investment. But without change, you are unlikely to regain that investment. So, every day you continue to run the business is another day that you are not earning more money doing something else; it is another day you are wasting your investment. Moreover, the stress of running a business that is not working can be bad for your health. In this case, it is probably better to cut your losses and find something better for you financially and emotionally.

This is known as the "sunk cost fallacy" − the notion that you have invested too much in a project to kill it.

Sunk cost is an issue in many ruts. If you've worked for an employer for years, you have likely accrued benefits that you would lose if you left. If you've been in a relationship for a couple of years, but the relationship is going nowhere, you may feel you have sunk too much emotionally in the relationship (in which you are not married or living together) to leave it, even if you both know it would be for the best.

Work Out What You've Got to Do

You know where you are now and where you want to be. Now, you need to work out how to get from the former to the latter. Work out a step by step action plan and ensure that each step is manageable. If it is not, break it into smaller steps.

Think about the action plan a day or two. Discuss it with your partner as it will probably affect him. Ask friends for feedback. Think about each step and ask if you are confident you can do it. If not, why not? Think about the immediate benefit of the step as well as the long term benefits.

Start Step One Now

Once you are confident about your plan, start step one immediately. Not tomorrow. Not after the summer holiday. Now. Every day you fail to start climbing out of your rut is another day you are stuck in your rut. You own your rut and you own your escape route. Start now!

Don't Dream the Dream, Do the Do

Now that you have an action plan and a goal, you may start to dream about how nice it will be once you've achieved your goal and got out of your rut. Your life will be happier and more meaningful. You'll feel better. It will be great, won't it? Indeed it feels great already, just thinking about it.

Stop thinking about it! That great feeling you have, dreaming about achieving your goal, is your brain feeling satisfied that you have achieved your goal and when your brain starts to feel that satisfaction, it feels less of a need to actually tackle the steps necessary to get to the goal. Dreaming the dream is so nice, your brain reckons, why bother with the hassle of actually doing anything about it?

This trap of dreaming the dream keeps a lot of people stuck in their ruts. Don't let it happen to you. By all means, keep your goal in mind, but focus on your current step. Focus on what you need to be doing now and do it. If you catch yourself fantasising about achieving the goal, stop and instead think about how your current step fits into your big plan of getting to your goal.

It is only by focusing on each step and doing what you have to do that you will get out of your rut and get into a much better situation.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you are stuck in a rut, you now know what you need to do. Take responsibility for your rut and own it with pride. Work out how you got into the rut and learn from it, but don't dwell on it. Work out where you want to be and what you need to do to get there. Break that action down into steps and get to work.

It's a simple process that just takes time and determination on your part. If you are in a rut, now is the time to start making you way out of it. If a loved one or a friend is in a rut, you can help her. Coach her through the steps in this article or share the article with her.

A better life is just around the corner.

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