How to Get Out of a Rut

By Michael Masterson

Good friend and business partner PH asked these questions:

How do you get out of a rut? Regain passion for your work? Get yourself up for each day? Have you thought about this? It happens to me often. I find it makes me miserable. I feel guilty and useless, because I tend to piss away the day. The only way I get back into it is to get on a good roll with a new project. But sometimes that takes too much time to happen.”

What can you say about this experience PH describes? That it sucks?

You wake up tired and unmotivated. You dread work. Everything seems more interesting than what you have to do.

The feeling can pass in a few hours or it can last for days – even weeks. It is entirely unproductive – and completely unnecessary.

I’ll tell you how to banish this experience from your life in a moment. But before I do, let’s talk about why you occasionally feel this way.

The Following 3 Paragraphs May Be Unsuitable for Children and True Believers

The reason you occasionally feel that your work has no meaning is because it has none. The same goes for your life. The universe is – sorry to say – a void, not a magical kingdom created for your personal amusement.

Meaning – and the passion that goes with it – is not something that exists outside of you. It comes from within you. You can’t capture it. You can only create it. The moment you stop creating it, it is gone.

The feeling of malaise you get when you fall into a rut is a let down of energy – energy that you have been creating all along.

Okay . . . maybe you don’t buy that. A meaningless universe might contradict your beliefs. But it doesn’t matter. Because what I’m about to tell you will work regardless of whether you understand the cause and effect of it all.

Let me start by giving you two good reasons to feel bad:

  1. You have a biochemical imbalance. (If you feel bad a whole lot, get some drugs.)
  2. You are doing something/someone/somewhere wrong.

You Should Be Doing What You Want to Do . . . With Whom You Want to Do It . . . Where You Want to Do It.

If you are doing something you really don’t like, it might pay to change careers. The same holds true for the key people in your life. If you have surrounded yourself with energy-sucking losers, give them the heave-ho. Same holds true for your neighborhood. Does it really suck? Does it depress you every time you think about it? Do you dream of warm weather and sunny skies? (Come to Florida!)

On the other hand, if you basically like your work/colleagues/location, don’t waste any time fantasizing about changing them.

Three Stages to Getting Yourself Out of a Rut

I said there is no reason to ever be in a slump. It’s true. And here’s better news: Getting yourself out of a funk is relatively easy to do.

1. Recognize that you are very low in energy . . . and energy is what you need.  Imagine that inside your brain there is a motivation panel. The panel contains dozens of fuses, each one a conductor of energy. When you hit a slump, many of these fuses have blown. Blown fuses – any sort of negative, self-deprecating or self-limiting thoughts – must be removed before they can be replaced with good ones.

To take out your blown fuses:

  • Recognize that your slump will pass. (It passed before, didn’t it?)
  • Try not to be mad at yourself. (After all, this is basically a biochemical problem.)
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are. (Think Christopher Reeve.)
  • If you are worried about a particular problem, imagine the worst outcome and then figure out how you will survive it. This will neutralize the anxiety.

2. Do something – anything – that gives you a little charge. The idea is to think/say/do a number of things that you’ve found through experience charge you up a little. Some things that work for me might work for you. Try these:

  • Put on some music. Loud. Choose something that will “pump you up,” as they say. This morning’s selection for me was “Help Me Rhonda” by the Beach Boys. Very therapeutic.
  • Dance. (Make sure no one is looking.)
  • If you can’t force yourself to dance, do some kind of wild exercises. Frantic jumping jacks. Leapfrogging across the carpet. (Do this in private too.)
  • Stand in front of a mirror and smile. Smile one hundred times. Did you know that the physical act of smiling releases endorphins? You won’t believe it until you try it. Go ahead.

If you do enough of this stuff . . . and you’ve really rid yourself of your blown fuses . . . you are ready for the third step (which is really the key to the entire process).

3. Complete a worthwhile task – something useful that has value to you.

The trick is to have a ready inventory of meaningful tasks that need doing. If you are a busy person, this won’t be a problem. The tasks you have set aside in inventory should be  relatively small in scope – you should be able to complete them in a few hours at most.

I can’t even begin to guess what your inventory would look like. Mine would most likely include writing something (like a short story, a scene for a screenplay, or a message for ETR). It might also include something more mundane (like replacing that light bulb that has been out for six months).

Remember that the job must be important – to you – and you must do it well. If it is and you do, you will be out of your slump by the time you are finished with it.

It works every time. Getting out of a slump is all about forgetting the problems that are draining your energy and getting involved in good, energizing work. The secret is to climb out of the rut in stages. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.

One more thing: When you feel a slump coming on, don’t ignore it. Act immediately.

You Wouldn’t Allow Yourself to Get a Migraine. Why Let Yourself Fall into Despair?

Slumps are like bad headaches. They are terrible, but they usually come on slowly. If you attack them in the beginning, when they are just getting started, you can defeat them. If you wait too long, you are going to suffer.

So the moment you feel moody or depressed or simply listless and unmotivated, recognize those feelings as symptoms of an upcoming illness – and start this three-part cure.