You know what movie I think about at this time of year? Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray. First of all, I love anything that has to do with Bill Murray – how can you not? Second of all, it’s cold and dark out, and the holidays are over; at this time of year you can sometimes feel, well, stuck. The plot seems appropriate to late winter: it features a TV weatherman (who’s a bit of an egomaniac, and who doesn’t seem to live life with any sort of appreciation or gratitude) who wakes up one morning to find he’s living the same day over and over and over again. It might sound nightmarish, but in the end, it teaches him a much-needed lesson about living your best life.
So do you ever feel like the plot of Groundhog’s Day is happening to you, only in a less literal sense? If so, you’re probably stuck in a rut. Maybe you’re just moving through life, following the same routine, doing the same things everyday. Maybe you’ve lost motivation and life suddenly feels a bit blah or even meaningless. Maybe, to put it in the more sophisticated words of a psychologist, you’re stuck in what Dr. Lindsay Tulchin describes as “a negative spiral of thoughts about yourself and your future that lead to avoidance of either actions that you know will help you feel better or actions that will help steer you in the right direction.” Never fear! Like Bill Murray’s character, you can break free from your rut, you just need some strategies to get moving.
What’s the first step in dealing with any situation? Accepting it. Hey, it’s ok to be stuck in a rut – it happens to the best of us. What’s not helpful is denying the situation, or just shrugging it off and blaming tiredness or telling yourself things will just be different tomorrow. Accept that things need to change, and that you need to spark that change. But, at the same time, remember not to beat yourself up about your situation! Judging yourself for being in a rut is just going to keep you stuck right where you are.
Examine Why You’re in a Rut
Accepting your situation is one thing, but you also need to start somewhere with moving onward and upward. In order to know what you need to do, try examining the possible reasons behind your rut. Doing a good, thorough soul-searching can be uncomfortable sometimes, but you might just find what you’re looking for, especially if you ask yourself things like:
- What makes me feel stressed or anxious?
- What makes me happy?
- Is my relationship or job actually going in the right direction, or am I just sticking with it because I’ve invested so much time and energy in it? This is known as the “sunk-cost fallacy” and it can keep you stuck!
- Do I feel like I’m doing everything in life because I have to or because I want to?
It may be one big thing, like your job or relationship, that has you feeling stuck, or it could be a lot of minor things that have built up and are zapping your energy to move forward.
Look at Your Expectations
What is that people say about the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You could also say that it’s looking to a one-size-fits-all formula for happiness and fulfilling relationships, and expecting it to work for every unique person. We’re all taught that happiness looks a certain way, or that relationships (romantic and otherwise) look a certain way, but sometimes we need to break out of those formulas.
What you need to do is examine your happiness formula and your relationships. For example, when it comes to happiness, you might need to just step back and prioritize, without judging yourself. Make a list of your priorities and values, and then a list of how you’re actually spending each day. Look at how your lists differ, then see what you can do to change that.
When it comes to your relationships, ask yourself both what you are giving and what you are receiving, or expect to receive, in return.
Deal With Your Negative Thoughts
Anxieties and negative thoughts can be tricky things. They can make things seem much bigger or worse than they actually are. If you’re stuck in a rut and the negative and anxious thoughts are starting to swirl around in your head, you definitely need to nip those in the bud. Try writing down your negative thoughts and reading them back to yourself; that simple act could show you just how overblown or out-of-proportion they actually are.
This is not the same as ignoring your negative thoughts. Remember, nobody is telling you that you always have to think positively! Because you know what? Negative stuff happens. The key is knowing that, while you don’t always have control over every situation, you do have control over your thoughts. Take your negative thoughts and try to make them more realistic and helpful.
Set Small/Attainable Goals
Ok, let’s get a little more practical now. Part of being stuck in a rut can stem from feeling powerless. An easy way to get yourself out of your funk, gain momentum, and feel more in control? Set a few small and attainable daily or weekly goals and then tick them off your list. Even small things like cleaning out that closet, cabinet, or drawer you’ve been meaning to get to, or sending that one email you’ve been putting off can feel like wins and set you on a new path.
Speaking of new paths, another way to feel like you’re taking positive steps in your life is by finding ways to trigger changes each day. Think of one small positive action that can lead to more positive actions. For example, if you’re looking to feel healthier but you’re lacking motivation, start really small and see if you can create a domino effect. Drink a big glass of water when you get up and see if it leads to a healthier breakfast, which might lead you to want to fit in more exercise that day. Or lay out workout clothes and shoes by the door and see if it leads you to go for that run you’ve been putting off (which will also have the added bonus of boosting your endorphin levels AND getting you outside for some vitamin D!)
Add Some Impulsiveness into Your Life
Impulsivity gets a bad rap, but sometimes it can be good for you! If you’re stuck in a rut, it might be time to stop with the overthinking and just start doing new things. It can be as small as making a snap decision to stop at a new coffee place or take a long walk home, or it can be as big as heading on a trip to a new city to do some exploring. Looking for something in between? Say yes to that date, pick an organization that you’d like to help and offer to volunteer, or put yourself forward for a project at work.
One of the first things we stressed was that you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you’re in a rut. In fact, now is the time to focus on self-care. Doing some of the following could just give you the perspective, relaxed frame of mind, and energy to figure out why you’re in your rut and how you can start to get out of it. Remember to try and find time for:
- Loved ones and friends
- Healthy, balanced meals
- Plenty of quality sleep
- Mindless relaxation or pampering
- Regular exercise
- Breaks from work to avoid burnout
There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling stuck. And, like spinning your tires in the mud, the more your frustration spins round and round in your head, the further you’ll get stuck. We know that it’s easy for others to tell you to pull yourself out of your rut, but trust us, there are ways to get moving, make change for yourself, and bring joy back to your life. Start with some of the above suggestions, and before you know it, the clock will click to 6:01 and it will be February 3rd.