So, you’re in a rut.
The dishes have piled up. Your work lays unfinished in a pile on your desk. You haven’t been to the gym in days or even weeks. You spend your time watching tv, or TikTok, or playing video games all day. Somehow, you’ve managed to wake up on the wrong side of the bed every morning. You lack energy, motivation. You can’t even remember why you used to be so productive in the first place.
What’s worse, the thought of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and getting back on top of things fills you with dread. You don’t want to clean your room. Lying on the couch all day is a much more enjoyable pastime. Catching up on work sounds like a huge burden. And the further you slide into this rut, the harder it is to come back out of it.
But you are here, reading this article. This means you’re probably feeling sick and frustrated with your inability to get moving. You don’t want to be in a rut anymore. The pile of dirty laundry and the approaching work or school deadlines are starting to give you anxiety. However, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to break out of this funk.
First of all, it’s important to realize that you aren’t alone. Lots of people experience periods in their life where nothing seems to go right for them and they can’t give 110% anymore. Being in a rut definitely doesn’t mean you’re broken beyond repair. It just means it’s time to implement some new strategies to help you feel confident, energized, and motivated again. Let’s look at a few different tactics you can use to pull yourself out of your rut and back into action quickly.
The first step to getting out of a rut is realizing that you are not fine. In a TedX talk by Mel Robbins, she describes how dangerous the “F” word can be. Often, we tell ourselves that we’re fine — fine not having the things we want, fine living our lives on autopilot, fine feeling unmotivated and unenergized. Essentially, we become complacent. However, what we need to do instead is acknowledge that we are not fine. We are not fine with the way things are, with our lack of inspiration, with our missed due dates, with sleeping in until noon. When we acknowledge that we’re not fine, we can then create the emotional impetus to force ourselves forward. One of the reasons you probably find yourself in a rut is because you’ve accepted it. You’ve accepted leaving your dirty laundry on the floor — “it’s fine,” you subconsciously tell yourself. You’ve accepted not going to the gym anymore — it’s fine. You’ve accepted that you’ll turn in your work a day or two late — it’s fine. Once you acknowledge that, no, things are actually not fine, you can begin to do the work you need to do to get out of your rut and back to your usual self. Feeling unsatisfied with your life while in your “funk” can give you the emotional energy you need to change things.
The next important thing to realize when trying to get out of a rut is that humans are essentially ruled by our emotions. If you’re in a rut right now, you’re probably spending a lot of time watching TV, or with your face glued to your smartphone, or even playing video games until late at night. All these activities supply your brain with lots of dopamine, which makes you feel good for short bursts. Your brain loves getting dopamine through these easy activities and ends up chasing it over and over again. Eventually, your brain gets hooked on dopamine. You become addicted to your phone or shows or games because they supply you with those quick dopamine hits and allow you to escape into other worlds. When we get addicted to dopamine, it’s very hard to quit. So in order to stop sitting on the couch all day, it’s important to approach your rut like an addiction. Remove the source of dopamine from your life gradually. You may even experience withdrawal symptoms, but try to keep at it. Try turning your phone off and putting it somewhere out of sight, or try working in a new environment like a coffee shop or library where you can’t get distracted by your game controller sitting nearby. When you understand the power of dopamine on your brain, you can take the necessary steps to remove your distractions and replace them with more fulfilling activities.
Another key principle to understand when it comes to getting out of a rut is that motivation actually follows action. Motivation and action are sort of like a circle, where motivation causes us to take action. However, taking action also causes us to gain motivation. So if you find yourself struggling to find the motivation to take action, to clean up your life, to get back on track, to finally fold that pile of laundry on your bed, you probably never will because you’re stuck at the bottom of an unmoving Ferris wheel. Instead of waiting around for your motivation to suddenly appear, try taking action first instead. Once you take action, you’ll probably discover motivation along the way to keep going. Just taking one small action is enough, followed by praising yourself with a reward or a pat on the back — this is self-induced dopamine! — can get the Ferris wheel back up again. The cycle of action and motivation will kick into motion once more.
However, while taking action, even if it’s small, is a great way to start the motivation/action wheel turning again, you can also take some steps to gain back your motivation first. Simply just getting a little bit of motivation can be enough if it causes you to take immediate action, which then results in more motivation and more action. Some ways you can give yourself a little motivation is through listening to inspirational speakers, uplifting music, reading a self-improvement book, or listening to a motivational podcast. Even taking 10 minutes to watch a Youtube video about how to get out of a rut can get you inspired enough to do a bit of cleaning or walk around your neighborhood for exercise. You can also try switching up your environment, reorganizing your workspace, or getting out of the house. It’s easy to feel stuck in a rut when your routine has gone stale and the places you live and work have become tedious. Whatever you can do to improve your emotional state just enough to get you to take action can be well worth it to help get things moving again.
The last thing to remember when it comes to getting out of a rut is that it may not happen overnight. Don’t forget to forgive yourself for your mistakes and don’t expect yourself to get back to 110% immediately. Getting out of a rut usually takes time, patience, and the ability to be gentle with yourself. Every time you accomplish a task, make sure to give a little cheer, high-five yourself, or somehow give yourself a reward. Keep focusing on moving forward and getting momentum back in your life one step at a time. It might be hard, and there might be setbacks, but eventually, you’ll relearn how good it feels to be productive and energized and you’ll finally get out of your rut.