bored woman sitting in chair

How to Get Out of a Rut — Quickly!

It’s pretty easy to recognize when you’re in a rut. You feel bored with life, your job, your hobbies—and little things start to bug you. You start to find stuff you used to get excited about kind of lackluster. Maybe the same song keeps getting stuck in your head. The pressing thought that somehow you let your life become stagnant starts to be a bit depressing in itself.

It is tempting to do something rash to get yourself out of this cycle of feelings. Your thoughts might turn to quitting your job or moving to another city. But as they say— wherever you go, there you are. It can be helpful to first address these negative feelings and make incremental changes to try to improve things before upending your life.

Today I’m going to share a few ideas for mini-changes you can make to get out of a rut. I’ve purposely made these small, achievable goals.

I do want to take this opportunity to say being in a rut is not necessarily the same as being clinically depressed

I am not a mental health professional and my advice will only take you so far. If you are going through a really rough time, I urge you to reach out to a professional. Even starting a conversation with a trusted friend is a fantastic start. 

The good news is, it’s relatively simple to get out of a plain ol’ rut if you equip yourself with the right tools and take strategic actions. Consider this your toolkit.

Now, let’s get started.

small steps, big payoffs

An object at rest stays at rest. I think somebody important said that.

Jokes aside, this is a good way to look at your own habits. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are doing the same things over and over again. Small steps can make a really big difference when it comes to interrupting a stasis in your life. 

Start by choosing an idea below that sounds do-able to you in this moment. Seriously, try not to get overwhelmed. I give you permission to pick just one. 🙂

IDEA #1 – Do something creative.

Start with something easy that doesn’t take many supplies—don’t feel obligated to take anything to “hobby” level. Draw a few silly sketches. Fill in a swear word coloring book. Bedazzle your cat’s water bowl. Make a card or note for somebody. Anything goes.

idea #2 – get dolled up—or at least out of your pjs

We all know by now that when we look good, we typically feel good. But sometimes it’s really, really hard to muster up the energy to even get out of our bathrobe. So for this step you have a couple of options.

Option one (hard mode): Do the whole shebang—shower, exfoliate, shave/wax and pluck (if hair removal’s your thing), do a clay mask, moisturize your whole body, give yourself a pedicure, do your hair and makeup and put on the outfit that makes you feel the most beautiful/sexy/happy.

Option two (easy mode): brush your hair, wash your face, and put on clothes that you absolutely love for any reason.

Every time you catch a glance of yourself, you’ll be like, “damn!” And that is worth the price of admission (and all of those bath bombs—seriously, why are they so expensive?!).

idea #3 – Drive a different way to work/school.

If I could encourage you to do only one of the things on this list, it would be this. I think some parts of our life become automated because it reduces the amount of stress and stimulation we feel from that situation. Then our mind can focus on something it thinks is more important. But sometimes I’m so on autopilot on the drive to work that I don’t actually remember anything I saw on the way. And that makes me sad.

Getting away from this automated route can create literal new paths in your brain and give you new stimuli to notice and process. You might find yourself enjoying odd things about your new route. Traffic jam? Oh well, I will just look over here at this park I’ve never noticed before. Decrepit house? Imagine the memories created there. I wonder how old that building is...

idea #4 – Park in a different spot. 

This one is similar to taking a new route. It seems like such a small change that there’s no way it could make a difference. But I promise, it will.

When you get to work or school, there’s probably a specific area (or parking stall!) that you tend to park in. Interrupt that circuit by parking in a different area of the lot. You could even park at a different building, if you’re feeling really adventurous. Just make sure they aren’t going to tow you! 

idea #5 – Download new music.

Music has a way of just making you feel gooood. (Or, if you subscribe to the emo scene, it makes you feel something, and that’s enough.) A 30-minute jam session has the ability to keep me ridin’ high all day. 

If your music collection is feeling a bit worn out, try getting to know some new artists, or revisit an artist you used to love and see if they’ve released anything new lately. 

There are plenty of ways to listen to music online for free. If you prefer to curate a collection of your own, streaming services like Amazon Music Unlimited and Apple Music are relatively inexpensive.

I prefer streaming services because I am able to try out music without feeling like I have to commit to purchasing the album. Old System of a Down? Sign me up. Latest Lana Del Rey album? Her last one left a lot to be desired, but sure. I can listen, and if I don’t love it—boom, deleted, no harm done. 

With subscription services you also usually get specially curated playlists that recommend new music you might like. I’ve found so many new artists and types of music because of features like this!

Obviously, I’m partial to streaming services, but it doesn’t really matter whether you decide to go the free route or pay for a subscription. Just start listening and enjoying the benefits of hearing new music!

idea #5 – Look at the world from a different perspective. Literally.

Go home. Choose a room. Sit down in a corner.

No, really. Sit down in any empty corner, on the floor. There you go.  What do you see?

You’re probably saying, “Erin, I see my living room, but from this uncomfortable spot on my floor in a corner.”

And you’d be right. Sure, you might notice a spot you missed cleaning, or the side of the couch you didn’t realize your cat had been scratching to oblivion (dammit, Shadow!), but you may also notice some nice things. Like a houseplant you rarely admire because it isn’t visible from your usual spot on the couch. Or a small detail of a baseboard that gives you a unique glimpse into the year your home was built.

Most importantly, you will have different thoughts than you usually have in this room of your home. A lot of recurring worries, cyclical thinking, and intrusive thoughts can be triggered by seeing the same stuff every day. Our brains create those little paths as we think about things over and over again, causing us to think about those things MORE. Annoying, right?

I think that’s one of the essential things to remember when trying to get out of a rut. Disrupting that worn footpath in your brain and allowing your thoughts to mosey off and explore other parts of the forest is so, so important to changing your situation and how you feel about it.

This trick will work in pretty much any location you’re familiar with, so feel free to try it in your office or other places you visit often.

idea #6 – Make a recipe.

Choose one you think sounds really good, go get the ingredients, and make it. Right now.

(Psst, check out a few of my favorite chicken recipes here). 

Enjoy the process. Eat the food. Even if it’s bad, you created something from scratch and fed yourself.

Give yourself a pat on the back; you earned it.

idea #7 – Watch a tutorial video.

Bonus points if it’s about a topic you don’t already know much about!

Learning something new, whether it’s just by watching or actually following along, can give you a lot of satisfaction and confidence. That’s a big help when you’re trying to get out of a rut. I know learning boosts my confidence in two ways: it makes me more knowledgable, and I’m able to thank myself for doing something to enrich my life; I also find that tutorial videos are a little more intimate than other kinds of online content, and “spending time” with that creator can fill the role of social interaction in a low-pressure way. This keeps me from feeling isolated when I’m not up to spending time with folks IRL.

Bottom line

Being in a rut doesn’t mean your life is over. Sometimes you just need a small change to help you reset and get a fresh perspective. I hope these tips can help you get out of a rut and get on with a more fulfilling life.

Did you try any of the above to get out of a rut? Did your small step lead you to bigger steps? Let me know in the comments.

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