In a Rut? 6 Tips for Getting Out


“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

That’s a quote by Edith Wharton, and I can only guess that she wasn’t one to travel the proverbial beaten path for long. In 1921, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, despite struggling with debilitating depression — and writing as one of the most astute critics of her own social class. 

I often take inspiration from other people (like Wharton) who’ve overcome huge obstacles and bravely picked their way across uncharted territory. But sometimes, my admiration leaves me wishing that I was like that person, rather than beating out a path of my own choosing. In other words, I get stuck in a rut. (See also: The Benefits of Changing Your Routine)

Fortunately, I’ve been in and out of enough of them that I’m pretty confident that you don’t have to stay in one forever. So, whether you’re feeling stale at work, in a relationship, at the gym or in a creative passion, here are some tips to get up and out of that rut and move on to something better.

Find Out If It's Physical

If you work at a desk like I do, you might have noticed how easy it is to forget all about your body. Mine often languishes away, slumped in my office chair, while my brain and typing fingers do all the work. But whenever I try to clock in when I’m feeling under the weather, I’m reminded of just how important my overall health is to my ability to apply myself to my work. If I’m sick, I struggle to read, to write, to concentrate — even to think. The day quickly devolves into a litany of mistakes punctuated by bouts of staring off into space. I can only imagine that my body has sent all its resources to fight off some tiny microbial invader, leaving my brain wholly understaffed.

What I’m getting at is that if you feel like you’ve fallen into a rut — especially if it applies to several areas in your life — consider visiting your doctor to see if the problem’s physical. Sometimes mental and emotional fatigue stem from illness rather than a lack of enthusiasm.

Take Small Steps

I am an impatient person. When I don’t like the way something is, I want it to be different. Like, right now. Unfortunately, life often doesn’t work like that, and the best I can do is chip away at a problem and effect change little by little. When you’re in a rut, it’s only natural to want to grab the edge and heave yourself out in one swift, determined motion. In reality, you’ll probably have to work at it a little bit at a time. At least that’s been the case for me.

Invest in Your Passions

A recent Global Workforce Study by HR consultant Towers Watson found that a full 65% of U.S. workers aren’t engaged in their work. Because work is where we spend much of our time, an inability to find energy and enthusiasm for it suggests many of us have fallen into a big rut. But even if you’re stuck in a job you hate, it’s important to fill your life with as many things that you love as possible.

A new type of psychology called positive psychology backs me up on this. It looks at how and why people enjoy their lives, and what makes them feel those lives have meaning. Hobbies, interests, and engagement feature prominently here. I think that’s reason enough to not only ensure that our lives include the things we love, but that they revolve around them as much as possible.

Try Something New

When I feel like I’m stuck, I like to travel somewhere I’ve never been before. There’s something about waking up in a new place that makes the whole day seem like one big possibility, rather than just a routine. Experiencing something new — whether it’s a recipe, a sport or a friend — is great way to put some adventure into even the most mundane day. After all, you never know what’s going to happen, and you might just stumble into something you’ve never noticed, thought of, or experienced before. Plus, life’s too short to be bored.

Look Inside

I’ve been stuck in a rut before. In some cases, I had a problem I had to deal with; more often, the problem was me. It’s only natural to blame other people when you’re somewhere you don’t want to be, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or a just a bad habit. But you know what all those things have in common? You have the power to change them. So if you feel like you’re in a rut, consider getting out of it on your own already.

Recognize Progress

Sometimes you can’t change your circumstances (at least not right away), but changing your mind is still making progress. Sure, you might be stuck in a rut you can’t get out of just now, whether for financial, practical, or emotional circumstances, but at least you know you’re stuck. Now you can make a plan to get yourself out. That may not feel like much, but what happens on the inside is what drives real change.

I’ve been stuck in a rut before — sometimes for far too long. But if even the people I admire most in the world can admit to getting stuck, well, maybe it has its purpose. After all, if you don’t find yourself in a place you don’t like, you’ll never have the motivation to seek out something even better.

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Guest's picture

You make an excellent point about having your physical health checked, especially for those of us who now work from home. There are no co-workers to tell you about looking under the weather. I learned about a few health problems and addressed them. Now I have a new perspective. Financial heath, emotional well-being and a positive attitude also make a big difference as well as getting enough exercise.

Tara Struyk's picture

Great point about working from home. It's funny how other people often take better care of us than we do of ourselves ...

Guest's picture

I've found that just changing my attitude works wonders for me. Many times I cannot change the circumstances, but I can change how I look at it and other things. I work on focusing on the positives I have and even try to find the positive of the negative situation I'm in. It makes me feel good, which motivates me and helps me to get out of the rut.

Sometimes I also hit the gym. I'm not always in the mood to go, but I know if I go and give it everything I've got, I come out with a huge endorphin rush that motivates me as well.

Guest's picture

I really liked this post. We often get into slumps where we're simply going through the motions of everyday life. Looking inside is good advice because at the end of the day, we are the only one who knows how we think and feel and what we need to do to change something.