How to Get Out of a Rut

How to Get Out of a Rut in 9 Steps

Ruts can be sneaky. One day, you just wake up and realize you’re not in the place you want to be.

Ruts can take many different forms. Sometimes it’s a career rut, other times it could be a relationship rut or a health rut. It can be physical, emotional, or psychological.

The good news is that whatever the variety of rut you’re in, realizing that something needs to change is the first step to getting out of it. If you’re not sure, here are some telltale signs you’re lost in one of life’s potholes:

  • Your day-to-day activities have become incredibly boring for you
  • You feel unmotivated or otherwise disenfranchised by your current situation.
  • You feel lost and unsure what to do next

If this sound like you, don’t fret; ruts are a natural part of life, but you don’t need to stay there! Here’s what you can do to turn things around:

1. Cut Your Losses

Many times, you keep holding onto to the very thing that’s keeping you in your rut because you feel like you’ve invested too much time, energy, or money into it to let it go.

No one knows the bane of this “sunken cost” fallacy better than I.

By my second year of music college, I realized it wasn’t at all what I wanted to do with my life. Instead of pivoting to something new, I hung into that program for the next two years until I graduated because I felt that since I was halfway there, I needed to finish.

But all I did was prolong my misery.

I’ve also stayed in jobs and roles longer than I should have because I “worked so hard” to get there. But holding onto to something that isn’t serving you won’t turn something better.

It just holds you down.

2. Stop Grasping at Straws

Making excuses for yourself is a great way to stay in a rut. It’s not uncommon to rationalize away your reasons for staying put.

But if you’re really honest with yourself, they aren’t good reasons.

For example, if you’re unhappy in your job but your boss gives you a small quarterly bonus, you might use that as an excuse not to leave.

Or perhaps you’re in a neglectful relationship, but when that person exhibits a rare moment of kindness, you use that to justify staying in the relationship.

It can be tough to realize when you’ve been grasping at straws. But if you’re honest with yourself about how often you feel lousy about your situation versus how often you’re content, you’ll see that it’s time to stop reaching and let go of the things that are keeping you unhappy.

4. Start Making Small Changes

It’s not enough to sit around and wish for things to change. You need to facilitate the change.

And it’s completely within your power to do so.

Instead of waiting for “something to happen”, make the decision that you will be that something. The next step then is to turn that decision into an action plan.

The reason why you haven’t taken action yet already is probably because it involves leaving your comfort zone. However, you don’t need to jump into the deep end of a change to start the ascent from your rut. Start with small changes and work your way up to better ones.

If you’re in a health rut and need to lose weight, start with making tiny changes in your diet and activity levels. For example, instead of diving into a highly restricted diet, try making just one small healthy food substitution, and build a healthier diet one week at a time.

The great thing about starting small is it sets you up for success and puts the motivation wheel in motion; you succeed at your small step, and it motivates you to take the next, slightly bigger step. Next thing you know, you’ve baby-stepped yourself all the way out of your rut!

5. Mark Your Calendar

You need to put a timeline in place in order to give yourself something to work towards. There’s something about scheduling a date that makes it more tangible in your mind.

So if you want to make that career change within the next 12 months, mark that date on the calendar.

Then make sure that you give yourself milestone deadlines to keep forward momentum. For example, if you need to take a few continuing education courses in order to make that career change, put a timeline in place for getting those completed as well.

6. Focus on Serving Others

I believe life is about helping people, so if you’re in a rut and not sure what direction to take, look for something to do that helps others.

For example, you could start volunteering for a cause that resonates with you. It’s a good way to shake up your routine. You’ll get to meet new people and you’ll feel good about yourself.

Any time you take to make the world a better place is time well spent!

7. Start Exercising

It probably won’t astonish you to know that you’ll have a hard time living a fulfilling life without first taking care of yourself. Your mental and physical well being is the foundation you build the rest of your life upon.

I can tell you from personal experience that exercise can change your life from the inside out. It improves your confidence, energy levels, and outlook.

Exercising will even help you think better. You might find that new ideas and plans come more naturally after a sweaty workout!

8. Get Outside

When the situation is less than ideal, the instinct might be to hide away inside and feel sorry for yourself. (At least that’s what my instinct is!) But what your mind and body really need is a fresh dose of nature. 

Go for a walk or spend some time reading in the park. This is a simple act of self-care that can help you reset your perspective and adopt a more positive outlook.

9. Abandon the Idea of Perfection

Another shackle that could be keeping you bound to your rut is the idea that you can’t make a change until your 100% “ready”.

You face the prospect of change and say things like, “The timing isn’t right,” or “Maybe one day when I’m more prepared.”

But the reality is, you will never feel ready. When you make a change, there’s a very good chance that it isn’t going to be perfect. But you’ll adapt, learn, and grow. That’s just life!

Perfection is nothing more than a dangerous illusion that will keep you from moving forward, so ditch it.

Don’t Stay Stuck in a Rut

Remember that life is always going to contain peaks and valleys. If one of your valleys has turned into a rut, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And you don’t need to resign yourself to staying there!

What kind of rut you’re in could be due to any number of circumstances, but what keeps you there is largely you, and your mindset. Even if you can’t change your situation right away, making the decision to change it is something you can feel empowered about starting today!