Lately, you’ve felt utterly uninspired. Lately, your days have been bland, dull and boring. It’s as though you’re a robot stuck on the same setting and program. Every. Single. Day.
Maybe everything feels like one big slog. And you’re not sure what to do about it. You feel trapped, restless, frustrated, or overwhelmed.
In other words, you’re in a rut.
Ruts can have a variety of causes. Sometimes, something has simply gotten old. For instance, a once healthy and fulfilling routine, over time, can become unfulfilling, said Stephanie Dobbin, LMFT, CGP, a relationship and group psychotherapist who specializes in helping busy healthcare professionals have happier relationships and less stress in Rochester, NY.
Sometimes, you haven’t spent enough time and energy thinking about what you truly want, and your life takes you into a direction you didn’t intentionally choose, she said.
Sometimes, social media can spur on a rut. Many of Marline Francois-Madden’s clients “compare themselves to others on social media who may be recently engaged or married, have children [or are] meeting career and educational goals,”—and this sharpens the pressure to do more and more. Francois-Madden, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and owner of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center in Montclair, New Jersey.
A rut also can stem from not prioritizing yourself. Maybe most of your day “is spent fulfilling someone else’s expectations, doing someone else’s work, allowing someone else to decide how the day goes,” said Brandice Schnabel, LISW-S, a psychotherapist and founder of Sky Witness Healing Arts, a private practice in North Canton, Ohio, that provides counseling from a clinical and/or shamanic perspective based on each client’s needs.
“It’s hard to feel excited about a life that is largely driven by someone else’s roadmap…”
Ruts can needlessly last longer because of fear. “We often cling to what we know because we are afraid of how we will feel if we change something,” Dobbin said. The primitive part of our brain prefers that we stay with safe and familiar, she said. Which means that the following fear-based thoughts and excuses can arise when just entertaining a tiny change: “That isn’t reasonable,” “I don’t have time” or “What if I make a change and things get worse?”
A rut doesn’t always mean that something is wrong. “For someone who has been working through intense emotion and has a history of high intensity relationships or a stressful work environment, the quiet that comes with less conflict and more stability can feel unnerving and initially uncomfortable,” Schnabel said.
“Sometimes a rut is an invitation to take a look at where the quiet comes from and what it may have to teach us.” Schnabel gave these examples: Maybe you’re an extrovert who doesn’t need as much solitude as you thought. Maybe you need to learn to be still. Or maybe the quiet is “evidence that something has finally healed and will no longer be filling your mental space with noise.”
Because there are so many reasons behind ruts, it’s important to explore where your rut might originate from. Francois-Madden also stressed the importance of knowing you’re not alone and giving yourself some grace. You’ll find more tips below.
Know getting out will be uncomfortable. It’s “not easy to try new things, because trying new things takes effort and risk,” said Dobbin. But the only way to break out of a rut is to lean into the discomfort, and dive into the newness, whether you feel like it or not. It can help to jot down a quote or your own reason for change as inspiration.
Take an honest look at your boundaries. As Schnabel said, reflect on whether you have enough time in your day for you—your needs, wants and activities that help you to feel supported. And if you don’t, think about the boundaries you can set to help you create days that are more meaningful, balanced and intentional. This might mean delegating or declining certain invitations.
Do a digital detox. Francois-Madden suggested “doing a digital detox from social media to avoid the comparison game with others.” You might take social media apps off your phone for a week (or forever). You might give yourself only 15 minutes each day to check all your accounts on the computer. Once your detox is done, see how you feel. See if your desires actually shift (because you haven’t been influenced by influencers). See if you’ve been able to hear yourself better.
Consider if you need a tweak or a 180-degree turn. “Sometimes we discount the impact a small shift might have,” said Dobbin. That is, you might find yourself out of a rut simply by making a new recipe every week, attending a different yoga class, taking a creative writing class, reading an interesting book or listening to a new podcast— “anything that introduces new information or inspiration into your life.”
Other times, you need something more drastic, such as changing your career, moving to a new place or ending a relationship, Dobbin said. The key is to make sure you’re making this decision after engaging in thorough, thoughtful reflection and trying different smaller changes. Because sometimes we make hasty decisions to escape “deeper sources of dissatisfaction [such as] poor self-confidence, attachment issues, anxiety, depression.”
Get outside. Reconnect to nature. Open your eyes, and pay attention to the foliage around you. Look up at the sky. Look down at the ground. Breathe in the fresh air. Notice how the breeze or chill feels against your skin. According to Schnabel, “staying grounded and in touch with the land on which you live your life can be rejuvenating and rewarding.”
Find ways to serve. “Get outside of your own head, give back to your community, surprise a friend, or look at your budget and wardrobe, and figure out what you can spare,” Schnabel said. Think about how you can best serve others (which often helps to serve ourselves).
Journal about your wants and obstacles. Write down your dreams and desires, Dobbin said. “Try to go big,” and set aside any doubt that surfaces. Then when you’ve written it all, jot down the thoughts and feelings you have about each dream. This “will give you a sense of your own limiting beliefs and any fears you have about showing up to your life in a different way.”
If you’d rather type, Schnabel suggested using 750words.com, which actually analyzes what you’ve written.
Talk it out. Francois-Madden emphasized finding a trusted friend or support system to express what you’re currently feeling. Often saying our struggles aloud gives us a fresh perspective, and of course others can give us insight, as well.
“If you’ve had trouble making important changes, you might consider finding a therapist or coach to help you get to the bottom of what’s stopping you,” Dobbin said. Plus, sometimes, a rut is anything but. It’s actually depression (with symptoms such as feeling powerless, stuck or uninterested in activities you used to enjoy), and seeing a therapist is vital.
And, of course, you can try therapy at any time. As Schnabel said, “Therapy is a safe space in which to really look inward, process external influences on how we’ve developed, and think about who we want to be.”
Find what speaks to you. Dobbin suggested looking for self-help books, memoirs, podcasts, Ted talks, and anything else that strikes a chord. For instance, she mentioned these resources:
- Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: “[She] spent a year saying yes to every opportunity that came her way, and saw her anxiety dissipate and confidence increase.”
- Headspace: a meditation app with different “courses” for helping with stress, sleep and other concerns. This is Dobbin’s go-to suggestion for people who want to start or recommit to meditating.
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown: “for addressing confidence issues and letting go of perfectionistic tendencies that can get in the way of taking action.”
The reason for your rut will likely guide how you break out of it. So give yourself the time and space to consider what might be the cause—and listen to your answer. Don’t let fear dictate what you do. Let it walk alongside you as you make tiny tweaks or major changes, as you learn invaluable insights about yourself.