It's Time to Do What You Love
Update: This story was originally published on September 29, 2015. Updated by Sacha Strebe.
A rut can come in any shape or size. Maybe it’s a relationship that needs a jolt of passion, a job you’re neither inspired nor challenged by, or simply an unhealthy tendency or relationship you can’t seem to shake. Whatever the rut, the underlying thread is a feeling of repetition—and not in the good, practice-makes-perfect kind of way. Being stuck in a rut, professional or personal, can stem from any number of things: fear, a feeling of helplessness, uncertainty, routine, or regular ole complacency.
If you’re feeling trapped in a negative or less-than-gratifying cycle or pattern, it’s time to shake things up and enact a change. First and foremost? Look that rut square in the eye and call a spade a spade. So if you’re ready to take action and unstick yourself from whatever mire you’re in, read on. It’s easier than you think, we promise.
In a very real way, this is the most important step—yes, you and only you have the power and strength to change your own path. Similarly, you need to first acknowledge your rut in order to break it. Whether it’s a dysfunctional relationship that you’ve gotten too comfortable with or a habit of staying in and watching Netflix every night of the week, accept responsibility in order to make a change.
Take a moment to dismantle your defensive guard before doing this. Now, invite a friend or loved one to weigh in on your current state. Sometimes, those who care about you may notice you’re in a rut long before you do, which means they might have some ideas as to how to work through it. Depending on how sensitive you are as a person, it’s important to recognize that if you invite someone to weigh in here, you can’t take it personally. Treat the conversation like a workshop, during which you can brainstorm solutions. In the end, it’s all helpful.
An important part of getting out of a rut is admitting and understanding what keeps you in it. Are you attracted to familiar circumstances, even if they are destructive? Are you repeating patterns because you can expect positive reinforcement, even if you’re not challenged or fulfilled?
Did you know that creative problem-solving is often best done while letting your mind wander? Yep, sometimes it takes a little time away from all the hustle of work to engage in truly creative thinking. It makes sense—if you have your nose to the grind all the time, you simply don’t have the time or mental space to think critically about your circumstances. Endeavor to carve out some moments of quiet contemplation or play.
Never ever stop learning, exploring, and experimenting. Though this ought to be a cardinal rule of life in general, it’s especially crucial if you’re feeling stuck. Try making plans with a different or new group of friends, or simply rethink your most tried-and-true routines. It may help you escape a less-than-helpful pattern.
Doing something completely new and foreign lights up different areas in our brain, especially in a region closely linked to the hippocampus and elevated levels of dopamine. One study published in Neuron found that stimulating this area of your brain lends it greater plasticity, thus opening you up to the possibility of a “lightbulb” moment. The takeaway? Do something new—travel, skydiving, even visiting a new exhibit at the local museum—and then ponder your rut. You may find you can envision a clear game plan to overcome it.
If you often find yourself paralyzed by the idea of enacting some major change in your life, start small. Set attainable goals that you resolve to work toward at achievable time frames. Decide what you want and go at it small step by small step.
While it’s important to set attainable goals, it’s also helpful to think about the bigger reasons we have for making a large change. You know, the happy-in-old-age, saving-for-a-family-vacation, buying-a-home type of goals you’re working toward on a macro level. Re-engaging with our loftiest of goals and dreams serves as a great incentive to get down to business, and oftentimes, visualizing success may actually help us succeed.
Having a role model or mentor—whether a fictional character whose boldness you admire, a celebrity whose story inspires you, or a family member who has always given fearless advice—can help you find a pathway out of your own stale patterns. Like seeking outside perspectives, emulating the personality traits and practices of those you admire can give you a boost of confidence.
Working toward a goal is hard work. Studies suggest that the secret to achieving any goal—big or small—is simply recalling times you succeeded in a similar endeavor. Do a little mental exercise to recall a time you felt respected, truly charismatic, or highly engaged in a task, and then use that positive thinking to propel you forward toward achieving your goal.
Though we wouldn’t recommend interrupting a really great forward momentum, we would recommend pausing to reward yourself as you achieve your goals and successfully work toward breaking out of whatever rut you’re in. Doing something you really love but rarely have (or make!) time for will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel more clearly.
Uncertainty and fixation on regrets can be paralyzing. Instead of aiming to overcome uncertainty or master the future, accept that you cannot see into the future nor change the past, acknowledging that both of these things will keep you frozen in a holding pattern with no hope for progress or improvement. Once you accept this and begin looking at setbacks as opportunities to grow and learn, it becomes easier to take action. And taking action is a very good start breaking out of any type of rut.
Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Shop a few of our rut-busting buys below, and then tell us what you did you to break out of your routine!