Do you feel like your life has been in a rut? Why is it that our lives rarely change, even when we’re miserable?
OK, that’s a little harsh. Most of us aren’t miserable, but I can’t help but think about Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he learns what needs to be learned.
Sounds like a rut to me!
I can totally cop to feeling like I’m in a rut because the days are passing in a blur of sameness. Every month, I get to the end of the month and say “where did it go?” Every single month!
There are forces in our country that are conspiring to keep us stuck. You know, that whole lingering pandemic thing. But I refuse to be a victim, which got me thinking about what ACTUALLY keeps us stuck.
And you know what I came up with?
Our brain. One of my mentors likes to say an unmanaged mind is like a two-year old running around with a knife. Bad things might NOT happen, but the risk is high that they will!
Our human brain is pre-wired with one over-arching goal: Survive.
If you are breathing right now and not starving, part of your brain is perfectly content. It likes that status quo and it does not want to change that status. This is the primitive force within our minds that conspires to keep us stuck. Unfortunately, it is spectacularly effective at accomplishing this. In fact, it’s so good, we don’t even realize it’s happening!
Here are the reasons I came up with that may very well be the cause of your rut:
1. You lack the knowledge necessary to make a change. You might know that you need to be more confident, but you might also lack the knowledge of how to develop confidence. Not all skills are available at our fingertips. You might need to do a little studying before a change is possible.
Oh boy, did I have this going on! I started my business when I retired two years ago with the knowledge of how to do what I wanted to do: facilitate, coach, and speak. What I didn’t know how to do was run a business. Thirty-two years of working for the Army did NOT teach me about marketing, branding, social media or corporate finances!
My rut in the early days, was “I have to learn this! And I have to learn this! Oh! And this, too!”
Can you get out of your rut by learning something?
2. You don’t know specifically what you want. If you think you might like to be a fireman, but also think becoming an accountant sounds interesting, you’re stuck. At some point, it’s necessary to make a clear decision and set a goal. That’s why the S in SMART goals is for Specific.
Are you stuck in the “I don’t know what I want!” loop? I know I am with regards to where I live. I have a primary home and a vacation cabin in Northern Michigan. Do I want to sell my home and move up north? My mind keeps churning with pros and cons.
I don’t have the answer to that one yet, but I do know that I will never get out of that rut unless I take action one way or the other. And that’s the trick with this one: pick and take action. Very few things are set in stone once a decision is made. If you find you’ve chosen unwisely, well, that’s information that can tell you which way to go next. Either way, you aren’t stuck anymore.
3. You lack willpower or fail to use it effectively. Willpower is limited, but it’s great for creating new habits and behavioral patterns. Sticking with a task after the urge to quit surfaces can develop willpower. Continue for another 5 minutes. Increase the amount of time each week until you can work through the urge to give up.
Use your willpower to develop small habits that can grow into useful routines. There is a fantastic book on this called Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’m using his process to develop the habit of consistently doing strength training. I started with doing 2 minutes every night at 7:00 pm. I mean, come on, even I (who does not like to work out) can do pushups, sit-ups and squats for two minutes! I’m developing the habit.
4. You can’t deal with being uncomfortable. Anxiety, nervousness, and fear are great for preventing you from jumping off a 10-story building. But they’re worthless when it comes to keeping you stuck. Some level of discomfort accompanies any change, but your emotions are misleading you. You’re not in any real danger.
It’s that brain of ours again. One of the three primary drivers of how to survive is to avoid pain. That feeling of discomfort is perceived by our brain as pain, and is to be avoided at all costs. I can’t emphasize enough how deep in our brain these are; they are not cognitive, rational thoughts we have, they are in the limbic system (emotional part) and in the amygdala (our lizard brain, as I’ve heard it called!).
Our rational brain is how we get out of ruts caused by discomfort.
• Use your logic to talk yourself through it. “Nothing bad can happen from giving a speech. In fact, there are many benefits.” Use the logical part of your brain to override your primitive instincts.
• There are many techniques to lower your levels of discomfort to more manageable levels. Meditation, prayer, and counseling are a few that can be beneficial. I use an affirmation every morning that says “Feeling uncomfortable is just a sign that my old comfort zone is having a hard time keeping up with me.” It just reminds me that feeling icky is part of the process and it isn’t going to kill me!
• Start small and push through slight discomfort. Your ability to handle the bigger and scarier situations will grow with experience. It’s like the muscle I’m trying to build with my strength training!
5. You give up too quickly. Change can take time. 80% of the change you ultimately see won’t reveal itself until at least 80% of the work has been completed. Your early efforts show little results, but things are happening behind the scenes. It’s necessary to persevere to see a meaningful change in your life.
Learn to be a finisher. Start completing all the little tasks in your life. If you decide to walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, keep going until you’re done. Avoid letting yourself off the hook until an activity is 100% complete.
I call Monday my Administrivia day. I do my weekly planning Monday morning and I come up with a laundry list of things I want to do that week! About 80% of them are quick tasks. Things like call for an appointment (or reschedule that appointment!) or set up a meeting with a client. Then I spend a fair amount of time getting all of those out of the way on Monday. I find I can concentrate much better, having finished all those little, let’s face it, annoying things.
Making any change can be a challenge.
Understanding your roadblocks to change can enhance your ability to bring about meaningful changes in your life. Have an objective and develop habits that support that objective. Learn to lower and deal with uncomfortable emotions. You have everything within in you necessary to create a spectacular life. Go for it!
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Said the spider to the barkeep “I keep climbing this water spout. The rain washes me out. Then out comes the sun, and dries up all the rain! So, what do I do? I climb right back up again! Talk about a rut!”