The other day I read a quote: “Choose your rut wisely. You might be in it for a while.” While this statement is funny, it is also a bit of a wakeup call. Every day we make choices. Often, we choose behaviors that are the “paths of least resistance.” It is human nature to gravitate toward things that are simple and pleasant. Unfortunately, doing what is easy today doesn’t always serve us well in the long run. Repeatedly choosing to avoid tasks that are challenging, tricky, stressful, or otherwise uncomfortable can become a pattern of behavior from which it becomes harder and harder to break free; a deep rut in which we eventually become stuck.
The funny thing about a rut is that we rarely aim to be in one. More often than not, we slowly and unconsciously fall into a rut. At some point, we may look around and conclude that this is simply “the way life is.” We get discouraged, depressed, and embarrassed. Even though we may be discontent, we repeat behaviors that led to us being trapped in an undesirable situation.
So how do we break free of unhealthy patterns? How do we climb out of the rut? There are two options:
- Push ourselves out, and/or…
- Get someone else to pull us out
In either case, something different needs to happen. People rarely roll effortlessly out of a rut. Furthermore, it is helpful to be aware that the longer we have been in the rut, the more effort it is going to take to get out.
Nevertheless, a rut is not a life sentence. We can get out! Change is always possible. It might take some work, and it might be a bit painful (relationally, emotionally, physically, financially), but it can happen. If we want to get out of a rut, we need to embrace this truth.
There is a story in the Bible in which Jesus encounters a man who has been sick for many years. He spends his life sitting beside a natural pool which is believed to have healing powers. When the man asks Jesus to heal him, Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” This is actually the first question we need to ask when considering breaking out of a rut. Do we really want to change? We may talk about wanting to do things differently, but underneath, we may be comfortable with the familiarity of our rut. We may even be experiencing a payoff for living in the rut, such as having others do things for us that we could be doing for ourselves.
Once we commit to doing whatever is necessary to break free, the next step is to interrupt our customary pattern; to initiate thoughts and actions that will lead to change. There are a variety of ways to do this. For example, if our situation is that we are living in a cluttered, disorganized home where we keep losing things, we can:
- Set a schedule to tackle spaces one at a time
- Join a support group for people who struggle with disorganization
- Enlist a friend to help us go through boxes and piles
- Hire a professional organizer to help us declutter and set up systems
- Read a book or watch videos about how to declutter
- Take steps to prevent doing things “the same old way”
- Hire a junk hauler to remove things
- Schedule a charity to pick up items we’ve decided to let go
These are just a few examples. The key is to take concrete action. If we are unable to carry through on our own, we are wise to reach out to get the help we need. There is no shame in needing help. We all find some aspects of life easy and some difficult. Often, we lack the time and energy to do things the way we might ideally wish. Other times we lack skills or are living with a limitation that is making it hard for us to simply “do it ourselves.” Whatever the cause, rather than stay stuck, we can choose to reach out to external sources for support. For example:
- I hire an accountant because I know that I lack the time, desire, and skill to keep up with the latest tax law.
- Many people order meal delivery kits because although they lack the time to shop and prepare healthy meals, they are tired of eating unhealthy takeout.
- Those who wish to exercise often hire trainers or join classes to keep them accountable to working out.
- Individuals who struggle to sit still and focus work alongside a “body double” to keep them on task.
- Children who are having a hard time in a particular subject work with tutors to help get them up to speed.
- Those suffering with illnesses and physical/emotional problems go for therapy.
- People who need to lose significant weight may seek surgery to help them quell their cravings and get healthy.
Picture a truck that has been stuck in a muddy rut for a couple of months. The driver might push and push, but odds are he won’t be able to free the truck by himself, even if he is committed and doing his best. When trying to get out of a rut, consider, “Who can help me?” and don’t be afraid to follow through and ask!
Once we get out of the rut, the next challenge is to keep from falling back into it. The temptation is real – familiar patterns are like giant magnets that pull us toward them with a strong and consistent force. The further away we move from the rut, the lighter the pull, but the rut will always be calling, so we need to be on guard.
In addition to harnessing external partners, one way to stay strong is to have a few questions we can ask ourselves when struck by the desire to backslide.
- What can I do today that I will look back upon later and be happy I did?
- How will I feel about myself (in 10 minutes, in an hour, in a day) if I repeat my old behavior?
- How will it feel if I stay strong and carry through?
- What can I do right now to get away from the temptation? (take a walk, go into another room, put on music, etc.)
- How will I reward myself for doing this thing I don’t feel like doing?
- Am I tired?
- Am I thirsty?
- Who might encourage me right now?
- What can I do for someone else (to get my mind off of myself & my situation)?
- Is there a way to make this task seem either more pleasant or less difficult?
The first step in getting out of a rut is recognizing that we are in one. Have you ever fallen into a rut? Have you managed to get out of it?