How to Get Out of a Rut

By Michael Masterson

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally written by Michael Masterson. It has been updated and rewritten to address current events and provide further value. Please note that the opinions and views shared here may or may not reflect the original author’s views.

At some point in our lives, we’re going to stall in our progress.

We’ll keep pushing to achieve our goals, but feel stuck without knowing what to do to break through to the next level.

My friend PH posed this question to me recently:

How do I get out of a rut?

How do you regain passion for your work, get yourself up for each day? I don’t why, but ‘feeling stuck’ happens to me often.

I find it makes me miserable. I feel guilty and useless, because I tend to waste 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 (other than ‘It sucks’)?

We’ve all been there:

You wake up tired and unmotivated. You dread work.

Everything seems more interesting than what you have to do, and you don’t even feel like doing what’s in front of you.

get out of a rut motivation image

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.

how to get out of a rut perspective image

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.

There Are Two Good Reasons Why You Feel Bad:

First, you might actually have some kind of biochemical imbalance. There might be something wrong with your body’s ability to produce healthy hormones and neurotransmitters in your brain.

If you DO feel really bad, a lot of the time, it goes without saying: Seek professional medical help.

Secondly (and MUCH more common): You are DOING something with someone in someplace… all wrong.

Doing things that you feel aren’t important, hanging around people who complain all the time or put you down, spending too much time in negative environments…

If you’re doing any of these things and you feel like you’re in a rut, I would say that’s pretty normal.

get out of a rut boredom image

If you’re in a profession that requires you to do work that you don’t approved of, or living somewhere that makes you feel unsafe (or perpetually down because it’s always raining)…

There’s an obvious problem (but it’s not always obvious to the person who is trying to get out of a rut).

With that said – and under the assumption that most people find themselves in a rut and don’t know how to get out because of something they’re DOING, here are…

Three Stages to Getting Yourself Out of A Rut

I said there is no reason to ever be in a slump. It’s true – you maintain complete control and ownership over how you’ll feel in the near future.

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.

People who wake up excited to get started on their day, give 100% commitment to their work, and spend time around interesting people don’t have lots of energy because they AREN’T in a rut…

They aren’t in a rut BECAUSE they have lots of energy.

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, that can be a simple sign that many of these fuses have blown.

There can be many things that cause this to happen – someone you love might really put you down. Your boss might say that a project you worked really hard on is completely awful.

Someone you care about may fall ill or pass away – causing you to contemplate more and more negative thoughts about the meaning of life and how you’re using your time.

To replace these blown fuses, there are a few simple tricks you can use:

Acknowledge that you slump WILL pass. You’ve been through time times before and come out the other side.

Your brain is CONSTANTLY trying to rewire and rebalance itself to achieve equilibrium.

Sometime soon you’ll see proof (whether you choose to recognise it or not is up to you) that the world actually is a great place and things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Try not to be mad at yourself. Nobody skates through life feeling good all the time, finding happiness and joy in everything they attempt.

Everything comes with it’s challenges – building a business is hard, and so is being an employee.

Working hard to achieve lofty goals makes you feel exhausted – mentally and physically – but living in your ‘comfort zone’ has it’s drawbacks too.

Feeling like you’re in a slump is a bad thing – it’s happened, you have the opportunity to learn how live in a way that makes you feel better, and it’s not that hard to get out of a rut.

Remind yourself how lucky you are. Yes – it can be a bummer when you strive without progress with your work, relationships, finance or fitness…

But let’s be honest here: There are worse things to deal with: Chemotherapy, bankruptcy, major accidents, being kidnapped…

It’s ok to feel bad sometimes – just not THAT bad.

Neutralise the anxiety. If you’re worried about a particular problem that you’re dealing with in your life, process it like a mature adult.

Think about the absolute worst-case scenario that could possibly happen to you. Could you lose your job? Might your husband or wife consider breaking up with you? Would your kids be mad at you for a while?

Then – and this is important – really think about how likely that is to happen if you start doing the best you can to resolve whatever issue that you’re facing.

Relationships can be healed, readability can be rebuilt, forgiveness can be granted and you DO get a second chance tomorrow.

2. Do Something That Gives You A Charge

While it’s hard to think positively as you try to get out of a rut, you DO know some things you can do that will make you feel better.

You may enjoy being out on the golf course with friends (even if you can’t see the point right now because your handicap has dropped thanks to a lack of practice)…

If that’s something you enjoy – pull out your phone, call your friends, and get a round in.

Playing golf isn’t a means to beating your friends or scoring your best round ever – it’s a means to enjoyment. 

The same is true of every other hobby or activity that you enjoy – let go of the outcome, and just do something that charges you up.

Play some loud music, dance, read a book you enjoy, hang out with people who aren’t trying to get out of a rut. Go sit on a beach somewhere and watch the ocean.

nature get out of a rut image

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

3. Do Something You Think Is Important

Let’s dial things back from the whole notion of ‘passion’ and finding your life’s meaning in work.

Rather than look for some miraculous, grand gesture of goodness to the world, think about something that matters to you and which YOU think is important.

You might care about the environment enough to think that it’s important that someone picks up all the rubbish on your street.

That person can be you – it may not be a passionate life-calling, but I would agree with you: That’s really important.

You might believe that homeless people shouldn’t go hungry – something that’s important enough to you that you could go and buy a sandwich and give it to someone in need.

That doesn’t require a shift in the direction of your entire existence – but it matters.

The trick is to have a ready inventory of meaningful, important tasks that need doing (usually these will involve helping someone else, or your community).

helping others get out of a rut image

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 task 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…

And that’s mostly because falling into a rut is a side-effect of continually dragging yourself through work that feels pointless and irrelevant to you.

There’s a reason why many movies about heroes and entrepreneurs feature the starring character at the beginning struggling through ‘normal life’…

Dealing with a boss that hassles them, racing to finish the Johnson report instead of spending weekends with their friends, battling through a life of endless and monotonous repetition.

The path to get out of a rut is all about forgetting the problems that are draining your energy and getting involved in good, energizing work.

The secret is to get out of a rut in stages. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.

Once you’re out, consider the work you’ve done to get back to feeling your best as essential self-care.

If your life is that significantly improved by doing more things that feel important and meaningful to you…

It’s a sign that you weren’t doing enough things that matter to you as a person, and to your values, beforehand.

You alone get to choose how you spend your time – and while we all have to face things that make us feel unpleasant some of the time…

We all have to delay gratification to do essential, but not significant, work at some point…

That’s no excuse to ignore our basic human need to give ourselves to actions that we feel are significant.

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 and can have many different causes.

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.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re in a rut right now – take the lesson from PH’s question at the start of this article and evaluate how you spend your time.

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.