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Help! I’ve Fallen into a Rut and I Can’t Get Out!

Eight ways to pull yourself out of the trenches and start living the life you want

by Janice Holly Booth

Well-Being
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Trying to pull away from those deep, self-made grooves requires the bravery and stamina of the western pioneers, and maybe some luck too. When we always do what we’ve always done, laying down new tracks is a daunting task. Where to even start?

Rut reboot 1: Decide if it’s rut or routine. Some ruts are good ones: You work out every morning before heading to the office; you and your partner designate Tuesdays as date night. Regular exercise and time with your significant other are positive forces in your life, so these tracks don’t need to dynamited and rebuilt. But even constructive routines can start to feel boring, so focus on how you can infuse them with newness. Switch out one morning at the gym for a Pilates session, or take an early morning bike ride. Instead of dinner and a movie every Tuesday, grab a bottle of cheap wine (Trader Joe’s Shiraz: just two bucks!) and watch the sunset, or maybe take a few spins around a nearby go-kart track. Or hey, why not go big: switch out three Tuesdays for a long weekend in a town you’ve always wanted to explore.

Rut reboot 2: Take comfort in others. Sure, you’re pretty darn special, but face facts: there’s no single human condition you might encounter that hasn’t already been experienced by millions of people. Take heart that you are not the first person to feel “stuck” at this point in your life. A quick Google search will land you on countless inspirational blogs or articles that offer good-to-great advice on shaking up your routine. And if you know someone who is decidedly “un-rutted,” go ask ‘em for advice on how they managed to get that way. (Go ahead. We’ll wait.)

Rut reboot 3: Make new friends. Sometimes well-meaning aquaintances keep us in our ruts with the same unproductive conversations running on an endless loop. It’s like Groundhog Day without the laughs (or the groundhog). If that’s the case, resolve to move in different friend circles for a while. Expose yourself to fresh conversations and different scenery. New pals can be a refreshing complement to the comfort you feel with your long-time buddies.

Rut reboot 4: Sign-up for a class, any class. Yes, you can take a different route to work, or eat Chipotle for lunch instead of Wendy’s, but these changes are not significant enough to constitute a life revival. Committing to a long-term endeavor, like art classes or learning a language, will keep you from gravitating back to your rut. If you pursue a skill you’ve always wanted, it will enrich your life in other ways as well: Once the class is over, you’ll have more ways to spend your time joyfully and be less likely to default to your old way of living.

Rut reboot 5: Ask for help. Clinical depression and substance dependency can become overwhelming forces that keep us down, and you may not be able to pull yourself out of these potholes alone. It’s OK to ask for and seek help—you’ll get back on track a lot sooner if you enlist the assistance of experts (and remember what we said earlier, you’re not the first one to get stuck here). 

Rut reboot 6: Scare yourself. There is no greater rut-buster than doing something that terrifies you, whether it’s singing karaoke in front of all of your coworkers or bungee jumping from a suspension bridge. Eleanor Roosevelt said we should do something that scares us every day, but she was speaking metaphorically (at least we hope she was).  Scaring the stuffing out of yourself at least twice a year is a great way to avoid the ruts that form when life is lived comfortably in the place where the dial never moves.

Rut reboot 7: Copy someone else’s life. There’s someone out there who leads the existence you wish you had. Take a look at what’s so appealing to you and then do it! Whether it’s wearing a cape and cowl and avenging the death of your parents in a dark alley or always knowing the right joke to tell, follow Walter Mitty’s example…go from daydream to doing. It sure worked for him: Not only did he get way out of his rut, he got the girl, too!

Rut reboot 8: Say yes, a lot. The next time an opportunity arises for you to do anything out of the ordinary, just say yes. Unless it’s going to be hazardous to life or limb, just commit to it. If you’ve been hiding in your rut for so long that no one’s asking, then go out and volunteer. Helping someone out is one of the greatest energy infusers there is. You may have fun. You may have a lousy time. But either way, you’ll be on your way to a whole new place. The early settlers would be proud. 

Photo Credits

Wagon Wheel: Moment Open/Getty

Friends: Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty

Jump: Cavan Images/Taxi/Getty