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Leading Your Way Out of a Rut

“The difference between a rut and a grave is simply a matter of depth.” 

I really wish I could remember where I first heard this quote, or to whom I should attribute it. Because I think it’s brilliant and it always makes me chuckle a bit (sometimes, the chuckle is more of a snort of laughter -- either way, it brings a smile to my face). 

The fact is, we all get caught in ruts from time to time. It starts when we settle into a familiar routine. The familiarity feels good, and predictable, and easy to work with. So we embrace it as something that serves us well. 

The challenge is that at some point, what started out as familiar and predictable becomes monotonous and onerous. It’s no longer simply routine -- it’s a rut. And ruts can keep us stuck. Which is never a good thing.  

What is a rut? Well, it’s any routine or habit that’s getting in the way of you living fully, and optimally. Ruts can be as simple as taking the same route to work every day, eating the same foods for particular meals or at specific restaurants, or getting caught in the habit of spending too much time on social media. On the surface ruts might seem like they’re not a bad thing -- is it really so bad if I drive the same route to work each day? If it causes you to numb out on your drive, then yes, I would argue that it’s certainly not good.  

So how do you break out of an ill-serving pattern? How do you ensure that you don’t keep travelling in a rut -- any rut -- to the point that you are in so deep it may as well be a grave? Follow these simple steps: 

  • Pay attention. This seems so logical, and yet, the trap of a routine is that it becomes so familiar we don’t notice its negative impact on us. When we pay attention -- to how we’re feeling, to what we’re accomplishing (or not), to results -- it’s easier to notice that we’ve settled into a stuck space.

  • Make a commitment. It’s not enough that you WANT to make a change; you have to actually commit to the effort involved. Often, it’s best to make the commitment in the presence of someone else; this way you don’t let yourself off the hook. Which brings us to the next step.

  • Find an accountability partner. You want someone who will hold you accountable, champion you and cheer you on -- without shaming you (shame isn’t particularly helpful when it comes to facilitating long-term change).

  • Get clear on the result you’re trying to achieve. Ask yourself, what is the intended impact you’re going for? The more clarity you have on this, the easier it will be for you to stick to your new habit, whatever it is.

  • Create a structure to support you. Use a chart to keep track of your success; or place a note in a prominent place to remind you of what you’re aiming for. Structures can be an invaluable support when you’re trying to make a change.

  • Bonus: cut yourself some slack. Don’t expect that you will get yourself out of a rut permanently, immediately. Getting into the rut took some time; so give yourself permission to take time getting out of it. Tackle it consistently, and don’t let setbacks derail you.  

It’s important to remember that any rut isn’t the problem in and of itself; however, if you don’t notice it and change it, you will not experience your life as fully as possible. You will not succeed to the degree that you want. You will get left behind and at some point, wonder what went wrong.  

Bottom-line: everyone gets into a rut from time to time, both personally and professionally. Realizing you’re in a rut, however, doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck forever. You can get out. And when you get out of a rut, just like Stella, you’ll get your groove back. And finding your groove is always where it’s at.