Are You Stuck in a Rut?

dirty road with ruts
Image by Lajos Peszt from Pixabay

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:

  1. Push ourselves out, and/or…
  2. 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.

  1. What can I do today that I will look back upon later and be happy I did?
  2. How will I feel about myself (in 10 minutes, in an hour, in a day) if I repeat my old behavior?
  3. How will it feel if I stay strong and carry through?
  4. What can I do right now to get away from the temptation? (take a walk, go into another room, put on music, etc.)
  5. How will I reward myself for doing this thing I don’t feel like doing?
  6. Am I tired?
  7. Am I thirsty?
  8. Who might encourage me right now?
  9. What can I do for someone else (to get my mind off of myself & my situation)?
  10. 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?

33 thoughts on “Are You Stuck in a Rut?”

    1. Often we rush along through our unexamined lives, not realizing the power we have to pursue change and improvement. We can choose not to succumb. We can succeed, perhaps not perfectly, but enough to experience satisfaction.

  1. Oh, I’m definitely in a rut! And I’ve been in and out of them many times in my life. So, I presume this one is not permanent either. When I get out I’ll let you know how I did it. (Step 1: Read your tips.) ?

    1. Many times reaching out to someone else or hiring someone has made all the difference to me. Often, this action gets the ball rolling, and then I can carry on from there!

  2. Seana, as always, you have hit the nail on the head. Nothing changes if nothing changes. We can complain and be unhappy about our circumstances but unless we make a concerted effort to do something differently we repeat the behavior. You are also correct in saying that there is no harm in asking for help. Help comes in a variety of ways and doesn’t have to be in person. I run a clutter support group with Jonda. It meets once a week for 4 weeks. We provide accountability as well as help strategize and provide alternative ways of organizing something that isn’t working for each person in the group. Help is a powerful tool.

    1. Such a perfect example of a way to bring in an external motivator and change agent. A group like this can make all the difference, getting people going and giving them a way to stay on track. I think it is a wonderful idea! I know having external agents come on the scene has helped me many times.

  3. Wow! This is so well written and your steps and questions are spot on. I have a friend who really needs this right now. I’ve already sent her a copy of your post and I know it’s going to help her.

    There’s no shame in being stuck because it happens to all of us at one time or another. It’s important to have the tools, to make the next step. It’s a process to become unstuck when we can!! Bravo!!
    Ronni Eisenberg recently posted…How to Organize a Linen Closet that is Effortless and Very User-FriendlyMy Profile

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Ronni. We definitely all fall into ruts. Sometimes they even start off being places we are happy to be, but then over time we realize it is time to crawl out and go in a different direction. That momentum of doing things the way we always have, however, can really drag us back down. That’s where an arm reaching in from the outside can make all the difference!

    1. Ah, such a good point, Sabrina. Often we are so “nose to the grindstone” that we don’t even realize how far down we’ve gotten stuck. That awareness can come from inside, or from a caring voice of one who loves us. Maybe the question today is, “Where might I be in a rut from which I need to break free?”

  4. Seana- The image you shared it so perfect for what you wrote- those deep ruts we can find ourselves in. Do you know the expression, “You can’t push a wet noodle?” I think this is true for the ruts we find ourselves in. The first big question, which you wrote about, is, “Do you want to get out?” And I think without the answer to that being a resounding “YES,” it’s going to be super challenging to move forward. Often we can want a change but not be willing to do the work needed to change. So while reaching out for help could be key in getting some movement happening, ultimately, it’s up to the rut dweller to decide if they are ready to try life on another surface.

    1. I haven’t heard that expression, but I love it! I can literally picture the difficulty of that task! I know that it can feel weird to think we might not actually want to get out of the rut, but ruts are familiar. We know what to do in the rut. We know how to behave. It can be scary to think about stepping up and out. I agree… no one can force you out if you want to stay. You need to be ready, because it will take effort. You don’t have to do it alone, but you have to be ready to invest your own energy.

    1. I had a text this morning in response to my post. Someone talking about liking his rut. This touches on your point. I said that a patter of behavior that you enjoy isn’t a rut. It’s a well-paved path that you have cultivated and enjoy traveling on. A rut is a place you would rather not be, an unpleasant path to have to schlep through.

  5. Absolutely excellent, Seana. This post reminded me of a something I recently heard and really took notice of: “You can’t steer a parked car.” Being parked in that rut for a long time can make you forget you can start the engine, or even GET OUT OF THE CAR and start walking. You really laid out the steps: recognize the rut (and that it’s not inescapable), interrupt your pattern (if you can), seek help, and be vigilant. There are so many areas where this is applicable. I have some life habits that have become ruts, and your 10 questions are super-smart for ejecting me from them.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Divide and Conquer: Improve Productivity With Privacy ScreensMy Profile

    1. Love that point about forgetting we can even get out of the car – that is so good! Sometimes it takes someone else to help us realize that we are even in the rut, right? Being alert may be the first step of all of them!

  6. Seana, you are expert at finding life lessons in the world around us. This post is no exception. I love the notion of being stuck in a rut, and I absolutely agree with your suggestions for freeing ourselves. An interesting point about the Bible story you mentioned is that the man in the story was physically unable to get himself to the healing water. He had to have help from someone else. This is often true of us when we are “stuck in a rut”. We may need actual, physical help, or we may just need moral and emotional support. Either way, it’s important to recognize that it’s ok to seek that help. I love the series of questions you offered at the end. These are spot on for helping us get past our obstacles and succeed.

    1. That’s so true about the man near the pool. He needed help, as all of us do at one time or another. I know I do! The key is to not get discouraged and give up. Be open to the simple idea of taking another approach, and then consider how to take the first step.

  7. Yes, very much. And knowing it’s not a life sentence does somewhat help while in it, but I think it helps even more the ruts in the future. You can think, “Hey, I got out of that one. What worked and what didn’t?”
    I’ve been in them all.. mood ruts, work ruts, marriage ruts, parenting ruts, and the worst – writing ruts! Oh, I’ve been in a photography rut for awhile. That is hard.

    1. Focusing on past accomplishments is a terrific way to motivate yourself! I go through ruts as well, and I eventually get out. Sometimes I need a bit of help, and other times the winds shift and suddenly I’m motivated to start climbing!

  8. “A rut is not a life sentence.” YES! It can feel like it is, but there’s always a way out. Love the emphasis on working smarter, not harder by enlisting help.

    1. It’s funny. We feel stuck, until we don’t. It’s possible to see a complete turnaround once you start moving in the right direction, even from patterns that have been well set in place!

  9. All good advice. Acknowledging we are in a rut is the hardest part. Sometimes it just becomes so ingrained we hardly recognize it. All good suggestions.

    1. It is hard to see a pattern we have been in for awhile. Some patterns may be comfortable and pleasant – those can stay! But other times, we know that we aren’t happy and want to try a different approach. These are the ruts we want to get out of, and as you say, acknowledging the situation is definitely the first step!

  10. Pingback: A Buffet of Organizing and Productivity Inspiration – Organized For Life

    1. I completely agree that another person – a friend – can be key in helping you get out of a rut. Others can give us the perspective we are struggling to achieve, right?

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