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Getting Out of A Rut

I feel like I can't see a rut coming on and I'm not sure what triggers them. When I realize it, it's similar to jumping in on the third season of a Netflix series. I know something is going on, I just don't know what. I used to think it was linked to complacency and that somehow my comfort level evolved into apathy. I'm still not convinced I have it pegged, and I'll continue to wrap my brain around a cause for the foreseeable future. In the mean time, my "rut game" is pretty on point as I usually don't stay down for too long. I'm not impervious to the effects of the lull in motivation, but I feel I manage them well.

I'm calling it a rut, yet you may see it as being burnt out, unmotivated or unfulfilled - but at the end of the day your spark is gone. I'm almost positive I can say with confidence that at some point this past year, we've all been in a rut. I started to feel it a couple months into working from home. Continually trying to push back my wake up time and still be online by 8:00 AM. Without the luxury of walking between meetings, one Team's call would run right into another, then another, and then another. There were always a few ongoing apologies for my kids busting into my room and wanting in front of my camera. And like clockwork, the 3:00 PM sun beaming into my windows to signal I only had a couple of hours left, but would have to work with the screen glare it was offering as well. Then at the end of the work day, there was no drive home to decompress - just the walk downstairs, my mind not fully checked out of work, so I couldn't be fully checked into home. Then before you know it, like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, my alarm was waking me up the next morning to kick it all off again.

In those early work from home days I would look forward to running low on milk to warrant a trip to the grocery store - walking down every aisle even though I just came for milk and bread. That glimmer of "normalcy" residing somewhere between the cereal isle and the seltzer water. But what else can we do to ty to get out of a rut outside of racking up HyVee fuel points? Here are a few thoughts I have on getting out of the rut you're in:

1. Identify what caused the rut in the first place!

If you have this super power….message me! Most of my recommendation in this article are essentially work arounds to the problem themselves. Ideally you can be introspective and identify the cause of the rut, or what you were doing before it started so you know what to address. Another way to try to identify the cause is to talk with people close to you, and let them know you're in a rut and trying to search out a cause. Maybe they will be able to see the obvious cause of your problems. Worst case scenario, at least those close to you know you're going through some tough times, and can be there with some encouragement.

2. Break large tasks onto smaller ones.

The closest I've ever gotten to finding a common cause to my ruts is when I've completed all of the low hanging fruit tasks, and the ONLY ones left are the ones I've been putting off. The ones I don’t find fullfillment in, but still need to be accomplished. The ones that drain instead of add to my motivation. The best way to go about these is to try to break them down into smaller tasks. Turn your mountain into moles hills. For example, I don't like to clean the garage. I like a clean garage, and wish it would take some responsibility and keep itself clean, but it doesn’t. So instead of approaching the task as "cleaning the garage" I may just focus on "straitening up the tools". Once that's complete I may "organize my kids bikes". Then "sweep the floor". One word of caution in breaking large tasks into smaller tasks, is you will find fullfillment in those little mole hill wins, but you still need to complete ALL of those mole hills to complete the larger task.

3. Progress over perfection.

I'm pretty good at this one- getting a version of the finished product out on the street for others to see. I'll often do this with the purpose of getting others to weigh in before it's deemed a final product. That comes back to my firm belief that the collective will always outsmart the individual in the creativity department. I do believe there is an inherent barrier baked into the suggestion of "progress over perfection". In order to accomplish it, there is an assumption you're willing to let your guard down, be vulnerable and open to some form of criticism. For those that struggle with that try to look at it this way. If you work your hardest to ensure your deliverable is "PERFECT" and you put it out there, to a weak response, that will probably burn. But if you put the deliverable out there a little further than it was before, knowing it's still a work in progress, it's much easier to be vulnerable and be open to ideas because you're self worth is not tied up into its current state. Even when you bring the deliverable to completion, the results become more of a collaborative effort and usually have more sticking power.

4. Change up your routine.

I'm talking about physically changing what or how you go about your day. Reorganize your desk or move it to a different room in the house, drive to work a new way, stop at a new gas station, maybe even get real crazy and flirt with the idea of trying a new grocery store. The point is to break the "mental cruise control" you tune into when doing some of the mundane tasks each day. It forces you to be in the moment and react to new situations. You can also add 30 minutes to the start of everyday to mentally prepare for everything you have going on, and to see what additional value you can add to your various plans. On the flip side you can add 30 minutes to the end of your day to take a second mental pass at everything that day held. The main take away here is to add enough change that your routine is altered, but not so big that your overall purpose gets derailed.

5. Attempt to manually restart your fire.

Are you a competitive type of person? You could give yourself a challenge, or even go in on a challenge with friends. It can be weight loss, exercising, reading, sobriety, taking the stairs, reducing Amazon purchase or not eating out. Ideally the challenge you select doubles as a way to bring value to your life as well as restart your fire. As with any challenge or competition there must be a reward, or something you're working towards, outside of the added benefit of getting out of your rut. This approach is a way to tap into your competitive drive (if that's you're thing), by introducing change to your routine and an added motivation of a reward to get there.

As I look at the list I could give numerous examples of how each of these approaches have helped me to get out of, or avoid a rut. One thing that doesn't work is to sit and feel sorry for yourself just waiting it out. Or hoping someone will see you and come to save the day. Friends may be able to call you out for being down, but you have to make the decision to get up and do something about it. If you or someone you know is currently in a rut….

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. Identify if you're currently in a rut. If you feel like you closed your eyes and opened them and 1/2 a year has gone by and have nothing to show for it, you may be in a rut! Once you do, go down the list above and choose an approach that may work best for you, and put forth the effort to start crawling your way out. If you crawl far enough you may surpass "normalcy" and make your way into awesome unchartered waters.

  2. If you know someone in a rut, don’t just send them this article and call it good. You probably know them pretty well. Look over the ideas above and think about how you could turn them into actionable approaches. Then bring those approaches to your friend. Bring a few, knowing they'll probably shoot a couple down.

Honestly though, if you do give all of this a hardy college try and you find you're getting nowhere, and still feel you're in a rut - you should probably seek out professional help or counseling. There is no muscling through a mental health problem on your own. For all you know, you're sitting atop a downward spiral, or worse you've started your decent. It's on you to lead your life, and do something about it. So get started.

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

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