How To Climb Out Of A Grand-Canyon-Deep Rut

It’s hard to escape from an energy-sapping, creativity-killing rut. Here are a few toeholds to help you clamber out.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Out on the trail with my dog a few weeks back, I crossed paths with a pal who I haven’t seen in much too long. She commutes daily to her 9–5 job, so I was surprised to find her out and about during work hours. She was taking advantage of a rare day working from home by gulping deep breaths of crisp fresh air.

“It feels so good to be out here,” my friend said as we huffed our way up a steep grade. “I’ve been stuck in a rut as deep as the Grand Canyon.”

That image — a Grand-Canyon-deep rut — has stayed with me. I’ve been trapped in such trenches myself. Whether it’s a rut or simply routine, I know it can suck the creative, energizing, invigorating life force out of the best of us. With that in mind, here are a few ideas that have helped me crawl out of more than one deep crevasse. If you’re feeling stuck, maybe one of these eight suggestions will serve as the toehold you need to clamber out of the dark trough and back into the warm, bright light.

Make art in public. Schedule a hot date with yourself at a local gallery or museum. Wander through the rooms and get lost in the myriad colors, shapes and images. When a piece of art catches your eye, grab a seat nearby. Pull out the pencil and notebook you brought along for the occasion and start drawing what you see. Rut-busters challenge: try sketching with your non-dominant hand.

Clean. Purge. Repeat. I do not particularly enjoy daily house cleaning. But occasionally I find it pretty darn satisfying to get my literal and figurative house in order by tackling clutter and disarray in a room, a closet or even a single drawer. Once I start, I often end up on a several-day tear, and no area or item is safe from my urge to purge. (By the way, this stands in stark contrast to my husband, who for years kept the first 200 checks he’d ever written for sentimental purposes. Out, out, damn checks!) Rut-busters challenge: check out a video of Marie Kondo, the reigning queen of tidying up, folding socks. Now it’s your turn.

Change your hair. My hairdresser is always suggesting I part my hair on the opposite side of my head. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with slowing my alarming progression of grays, not to shake up my worldview. Regardless, I find the very thought of changing my part so impossible that I figure anyone who dares it will be halfway to a whole new perspective on life. Rut-busting challenge: add a stripe of color or change your hairstyle altogether.

Cook something new. Is there any deeper rut than the one that keeps us preparing the same meals, week after week? Whether you’re inspired by an ingredient you’ve never used or by a recipe you’ve never tried, shake things up in the kitchen by spreading your culinary wings. Rut-busting challenge: invite over some friends (I recommend your most forgiving ones) to try your new dish and maybe share a new creation of their own.

Look back — and up. Next time you’re trudging along your daily route — the one that’s so familiar you could walk it blindfolded — stop. Turn around and look around. Get ready to notice things you’ve never seen, even though you’ve passed them countless times. Want to shock your brain even more? Look up. Rut-busters challenge: if you can do it safely, try walking backward for a stretch. Your eyes, and your brain, may appreciate the challenge.

Try genre-bending. We all have our favorite, go-to genre of books. I promise that your favorite author will not be upset if you climb out of your reading rut — even briefly — to read something entirely new and different: a book of poems, say, or a young adult novel or a collection of essays. Rut-busters challenge: don’t just read a poem, write one.

Skip the movie. See a show. I’m always up for seeing a movie, but nothing quite compares to watching a live performance. It may take a little more effort and planning, but just about every time I’ve opted to attend a play, comedy show, musical, poetry slam or a live music gig, I’ve been wowed in one way or another. Nothing against an evening of popcorn and Milk Duds, of course, but why not step out of your entertainment-comfort-zone for a change? Rut-busting challenge: invite a friend who rarely sees live theater to join you for an adventurous evening.

Create something. Anything. Build. Sew. Draw. Paint. Twist. Color. Saw. Weave. Tape. Quilt. Hammer. Cut. Braid. Stitch. Fasten. Bend. Tear. Glue. Crochet. Hot glue. Join. Bend. Knit. Snap. Undo. Redo. Rut-busters challenge: bedazzle.

What are you waiting for? Go bust a rut!


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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