Being in a rut sucks. You feel crummy. You act sluggish. You waste time watching everyone else live their best life. It’s not fun.
On the other hand, getting out of a rut can be an amazing feeling in contrast. What does getting out of a rut look like?
It looks like being healthy, having a great social life, and committing to passion projects you love. It looks like getting eight hours of sleep, exercising regularly, and growing yourself.
If you’re in a rut, I wrote this article for you.
What is a rut?
According to the built-in MacBook dictionary definition, a rut is “a habit or a pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”
In other words, a rut is a period of time where a person falls off the bandwagon and feels like they’ve been left behind. It’s a feeling of inadequacy and failure. It’s a feeling of being stuck.
If this describes you, you’re not alone. I’ve been through a handful of ruts in my life. Ruts are a regularly occurring experience for many people. Don’t feel like you need to tackle it alone because you don’t. Getting out of a rut, however, starts with you. You need to make the conscious decision to do something about it.
1. Decide to get out of a rut.
You’ve decided to get out of a rut. Good for you. That’s the first step. Here are your next steps.
The next step to getting out of a rut is journaling. Journaling is helpful for many reasons. Most importantly, journaling offers mental clarity and helps you look at your life with a bird’s-eye view.
When you want to fix any pattern of habits, you want to start with reflecting on what you’ve been doing for the past few months. Don’t get obsessed with overanalyzing too far into the past because your goal here is to identify the bad habits that you’ve been doing as of lately.
Maybe you’ve been spending the majority of your time playing video games. Maybe you watch too many YouTube videos. Maybe you’re spending too much time drinking, doing drugs, and partying (all of these I’m too familiar with).
Spend 20–30 minutes journaling.
Don’t feel bad about what you reflect on because at one point that’s exactly what you wanted to experience. On that point, having gone through that experience helped you discover what you like and what you don’t like to do. That experience helped you figure out more about your life, weighing your experience with the outcome and finally coming to this point, deciding to get out of a rut and reading this article.
Don’t feel bad, be balanced. Get excited that you’ve identified this poor experience and you’re willing to make a great change for the better.
It’s not enough to just journal, though, you want to begin avoiding these bad habits and focusing on these steps.
Now that you’ve identified what habits have been dragging you down, it’s time to project a future.
Kobe had a really great quote that went, “start with the end in mind.” Look forward 5, 10, 20 years. What do you want your life to look like? Dream big, but be practical. You can’t grow wax wings and fly into the sun, Icarus. Focus on life-long achievements like pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, getting incredibly fit, and spending time cultivating and nurturing your social circle because they will be exceptionally rewarding.
Spend 20–30 minutes journaling some more.
The key word in “projection” is “project.” You want to spend time identifying projects that will offer long-term rewards. Like planting a seed, it takes time for your goals to realize. Finding projects and throwing yourself at them is just like planting a seed. Find the projects that make you explode with enthusiasm and keep that in the back of your mind.
You’re still in a rut, so suggesting that you’re going to be a project-tackling guru all of a sudden is a nice dream, but not very practical. Move into the next step.
Life is about people and movement. Exercising regularly.
Does that mean go to the gym and lift weights like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not at all. It means going out for a daily one-mile walk. It means getting up from the couch. It means getting out of bed. It means getting fresh air and vitamin D. It means reaching up to the sky and down to the ground. It means just moving. Get active.
I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “sitting is the new smoking.” It’s true. Sitting around for too long, laying in bed for an extended period of time, and staying stagnant is terrible for the body, the mind, and the spirit. Failing to move can be a big contributor to your rut, so just start moving.
Here’s a quote I heard from Bruce Lee, “running water never goes stale.”
Your body, like earth, is made up of 60–70% water (according to a quick google search). It’s important that this body of water doesn’t sit for too long and keeps moving so you can keep the water in your body fresh.
As you exercise, challenge yourself. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions (safely) and push your limits. Right now, if you’re reading this because you’re in a rut, your range of motion and your ability to move can probably be better. There’s always room for improvement for everyone. Push yourself to your limits so you can continue to extend those boundaries further.
Get up and go for a 30-minute walk.
And don’t forget to stretch!
Suggesting reading to some people is almost like suggesting they sacrifice their first born child — people avoid reading like the plague.
I love reading. There have been so many amazing people throughout history, two I’ve already mentioned in this article (R.I.P. to a couple of GOATs). Reading books is like having conversations with the greatest minds in the world and getting a lifetime of knowledge dwindled down into a few cliff notes.
However, if you didn’t graduate with a degree in literature and writing like me, audiobooks are a great, low-investment alternative.
Many audiobooks can be found for free on YouTube or your local library’s digital catalogue. While there’s no replacing the effort that goes into spending your attention and energy on reading, I’ve found audiobooks an excellent supplemental experience that you can do while washing dishes, going out for a walk, and other mundane, low-attention activities.
Here are a few books I highly recommend:
On the Shortness of Life is a book about how people spend their time pursuing things in life that don’t matter. Taking this a step further, some people spend themselves pursuing activities that are even detrimental to their life. This book taught me to identify vices to avoid and virtues to pursue.
Mastery is a book about pursuing expertise in a given field. The practice of pursuing your skillset can offer direction and bring you purpose in life. That mindset alone helps you to identify the activities you want to spend your time on and pushes you forward.
Outwitting the Devil is a book about the distractions in life and how those activities can consume a person at the expense of genuine fulfillment and happiness. I recommend reading this book after reading at least one other book from this list.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is a book about practices and good advice. I like this book because it gives practical philosophical concepts that can be easily turned into daily practices.
Pick a book from this list and read for 30 minutes.
Contrary to popular belief, staying up all night scrolling through TikTok isn’t a good use of time, especially if its at the expense of 7–8 hours of sleep.
Getting good sleep deserves its own section because many people sacrifice their sleep in favor of watching television, spending time on social media, or otherwise spending the time they should be processing the day with intaking more information.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint. I find myself staying up past my bed time on occasion. And during those times, I either get a great deal of work done or I’m spending a Friday night with friends and family and enjoying myself. But I don’t make it a regular habit to stay up past my bed time.
Get to bed early tonight and shoot for 7–8 hours of sleep.
If you know you need to wake up early in the morning, you’ll want to put away the screens and devices at least one hour before bed so you can spend time winding down for the night.
If you’re having trouble with getting to bed, maybe you have insomnia, create a “wind-down” routine.
My wind-down routine looks like this:
- 8:30 pm — Last call.
- 9:00 pm — Turn off the screens. Stretch, foam roll, and get ready for bed.
- 10:00 pm — Head on the pillow.
Keep your wind-down routine simple. Spend an hour each day before bed practicing self-care. That can come in the form of having an evening facial routine, listening to soft music, reading a book, or spending the evening in recovery-promoting exercises. Maybe you like taking a bath at night — do that regularly so your body gets used to recognizing when it’s time to shut down for the night.
Getting out of a rut doesn’t happen overnight. It comes with regular practice. Doing these actions only once may make you feel better the next day, but we want to turn these activities into habits.
Recognize that success isn’t convenient. Get out of your comfort zone and welcome challenges into your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and look a little awkward in the process (read Mastery to learn more about this idea).
What happened to the list of projects you wrote about earlier?
As you cut down on spending time on bad habits, you’ll naturally spend more time focused on pursuing good habits. Your projects will naturally take priority over your bad habits and you’ll enjoy reaching your goals. Time is your most valuable commodity, so spend it wisely.
If you want to live a good life, you need energy. And to get more energy, you need to have the right mindset.
Like your diet, everything you consume visually and audibly becomes part of your mental diet. Reading more books, exercising regularly, and spending the time to reflect is the equivalent of eating a healthy, leafy salad.
Adjust your mental diet and welcome challenges. It starts with deciding to make a change.