How To Bust Out of a Rut
A Simple Tool for Getting Out of a Rut
You’re deep in a rut. At work. In your relationship. In your habits. In your LIFE. At first you thought the Treadmill of Progress had just slowed down a bit, then it struck you — it was rolling backwards. And it had been doing that for a very long time.
What do you do? How do you come back?
I’m not talking about people who are moderately or severely clinically depressed because they require specialist intervention; I’m talking about that dull, flat mood or persistent boredom, a creeping dissatisfaction you can’t quite pin down, that uneasy feeling life is passing you by.
Many people who feel this way don’t seek psychological help. They don’t think it’s bad enough for therapy, so they battle on, telling themselves there are so many people in the world who are worse off. Which is true. But that doesn’t mean those problems aren’t worthy of attention, that they don’t need and deserve some help.
It’s true that no-one lives at high-revs ALL the time. Well some people might, but they’re either making a lot of money or getting a lot of power out of being that way — or they might have other difficulties going on.
Most of us are just riding the wave, the ups and downs of life. We all have disappointments, dry patches, uncertainty, fears, times which lack drama and excitement. That’s okay, normal. But when these drag out over months and your usual strategies for kicking yourself forward are failing you, it’s time to do something.
So here’s a quick tool for re-booting your life.
Remember that being in a rut and being mildly depressed can look the same (e.g. sleep difficulties and low mood, sadness, irritability, negativity, social withdrawal). And staying in a rut can lead to more serious mental health difficulties.
So be honest about where you are.
If your life feels boring and stagnant and you’re aching for some excitement (AND you are still capable of having genuine, sustained fun), then you’re probably in a rut.
If your life is relatively sweet, you are doing all/many of the things you enjoy but they’re no longer bringing you pleasure or you feel you are going through the motions when you engage in them — then you may be depressed. Please check.
The Spider Web of Life
Assuming you’re in a rut, do a quick life inventory. When you’re struggling it’s common to think everything is bad, as psychologists say, to “globalise” your difficulties. For example, saying “my life is crap” is not the same as “my boss is a bitch”. It may be that the bones of your life are fine, but your boss is making you miserable because she, well, really is a bitch.
It’s important to isolate where your problems lie so you don’t feel overwhelmed — and you know where to focus your energy.
Here’s a visual example of the Spider Web. To complete yours, follow the instructions below:
- Take a piece of paper, draw a circle divided into eight segments. (There are lots of these “wheels” on the internet but most are more complex than you need)
- Name each as a key area of your life: body, love, work, mind, interests, fun (social), home/family, money.
- Draw a dot in each section according to how satisfied you are (If your dot goes is in the dead centre of the circle you’re 100% happy).
- Join the dots — that’s your Spider Web. You’ll quickly see where the key problem/s lie, where you are most stuck.
- Then choose the most difficult area for you — or the one in which making a change would make the biggest short-term difference to your life. Then decide on ONE (only) small change you are going to make. Begin to make that change, daily if you can, and when it is locked in and feels solid, like a new habit, then — and only then — repeat the process.
For example, if your weight bothers you, you might resolve to cut out your evening snack (no eating after 7pm), or introduce a daily walk. If your relationship needs a re-charge, come up with one small new/different thing you could do for your partner (Warning: don’t find one thing they should do for you, that’s cheating.)
Remember, thinking Small is the key to success. If you are not able to keep up your new habit, then you’ve made it too hard. Break it down even further — until you succeed.
As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So it is with rut-busting. Good luck, Grasshopper. You’re on your way back.