I love to streak.
Not the running-naked-across-a-field type. The kind where you build positive habits by doing things consistently.
Habit streaking is how I’ve stayed fit and sane during the pandemic, working out 457 days in a row.
Habit streaking is why you’ll find hundreds of digital drawings on my Instagram feed. To become a better illustrator, several years ago I started drawing every day and publicly sharing my attempts.
Habit streaking is why I had to publish this article today. This is my 91st consecutive monthly blog post. I’m determined to keep creating useful content.
These are beneficial disciplines. Routines that produce positive outcomes.
But helpful habits have a disagreeable sibling: rut.
No one likes to be stuck in a rut.
We’ve all been there:
- Doing the same dull thing over and over without even thinking.
- Solving old problems in old ways because we haven’t shifted our gaze see new ones.
- Falling into unhelpful patterns because changing them feels too hard.
Though we all slip into these ditches, our ruts are as varied as we are. So, too, are the rescues that can pull us up and out. What works for me may not work for you. And yet, I’m here to help. I have literally made it my business to help people find their way out of ruts and onto more creative paths.
So, this month I have assembled for you this list of 7 Rut Rescues, not just from my brain, but from the wisdom and experience of two dozen people I know and trust.
Rut Rescue #1: MOVE
My own ruts involve attitudes more than habits. When my business partner Jill senses that I am stuck in a mental funk, she always says the same thing: “Go for a walk.” She’s not the only one offering this advice.
“Get up and go,” says my friend Darlene, an executive and entrepreneur whose energy blows my mind. “Take a power walk!”
Bambi, a nurse, recommends both movement and speed. “Feeling down? Dance,” she says. “Feeling unproductive? Set a timer.”
Maureen, a former co-worker, specifies that the best walks are “preferably outside by a lake … in the summer … with a margarita afterwards.” Now we’re talking!
Other friends emphasize the need to get outside. Leslie, a neighbor with enviable landscaping, steps out to walk or work in her gardens. “It always helps my perspective,” she says.
Sitting still probably won’t liberate you from a rut. Get up, get out, and get moving.
Rut Rescue #2: SIMPLIFY
My husband Jim nods when Dan, the sales professional who rescued our RV vacation last month, says to “get back to basics.” Jim adds: “That’s what athletes do. When they face a losing streak or a case of the yips, they dig into the fundamentals—the swing, the stroke, the basic skills.”
My 16-year-old daughter Emma suggests something similar. “If I’m stuck on something hard,” she says, “I do an easier version. Like if I can’t get a painting right, I just color for a while.”
You might also simplify your environment, offers Anita, a communications leader: “Clean something and purge the stuff you don’t need, and then give it to someone who could use it!”
When you’re daunted, doing something simple can build your confidence to ease into a more positive groove.
Rut Rescue #3: REACH
If simplicity doesn’t cut it for you, you might go the opposite direction and take on a challenge. That’s what works for Brett, a CFO, whose approach is to “do something hard or something I’ve been putting off.”
Nancy, a musician, has a similar idea. “I try to do something out of my comfort zone,” she says. She might accompany a more accomplished musician, try a food she thought she hated (and probably still does), or even strike up a conversation with someone she doesn’t like. Courage is a rut-buster!
You might also reach for something tangible or unfamiliar. Kendra, a CAD designer who spends her days at a computer, finds it helpful to make something with her hands, “Last year it was knitting,” she explains, “and right now I’m working on scratch-building model cabins/houses from video games out of foam and junk materials.”
If you’d rather leap than crawl out of your rut, take on a challenge.
Rut Rescue #4: SERVE
My friend Kristi, who looks back on the pandemic as one big year of rut, says, “Getting the focus away from self is the best advice. Help someone else.”
Whitney, a writer with a houseful of teen daughters, agrees: “I usually try to do some sort of volunteering or service project, so I realize how good I’ve got it.”
Service need not be for strangers or charitable causes. Caring for your immediate circle works, too. Patty, a school librarian, turns to creative pursuits that feed her own soul—gardening, cooking, painting, crafting—then shares the results with her loved ones. “Sharing those things with others helps pull me out of it,” she says.
My childhood friend Kelly boils it down to this: “Focus on loving others.” This simple but significant approach always makes her feel better.
Find a cause or person who needs your helping hand or loving heart. Doing good can lift you from a bad rut.
Rut Rescue #5: CHANGE
This rut-busting advice seems like a no-brainer: just do something different. (Duh!) But changing your mindset or behavior can be easier said than done. Try small steps, like Fred the music director. “I have to make a small change in a new direction,” he says. “If I try a drastic change, it won’t last, and I think my way deeper into the rut.”
Need examples? My cousin Colleen suggests rearranging furniture, and my friend Tina says simply, “Change the channel.” (You can take that literally or metaphorically.)
My sister Norma, a visual artist, looks around her studio to find tools and materials she hasn’t been using. “I let that guide me to something different,” she says.
Or, instead of thinking about the size of the change, think about the number. “Do one thing differently,” suggests Kristin, a writer, teacher, and organizer. “It could be big or small, but it changes the perspective.”
What to do when you’re feeling stuck? Something else, of course.
Rut Rescue #6: ACCEPT
Self-compassion is essential for breaking out of a rut. “I give myself permission to be exactly where I am,” says my longtime friend Sherri. “Until I give myself a little grace it’s hard to move on.”
My wise friend Jodi agrees. “We are too hard on ourselves,” she says, reminding me that it’s okay to be in a rut. What does she do when she lands there? “Get out of bed, head to the beach, journal, meditate, listen to a happy podcast (or a baby laughing), go for a walk, and be in the moment.”
Ruts happen. Beating yourself down will only sink you deeper into that trench. Acknowledge that you’re human and take care of yourself.
Rut Rescue #7: MINGLE
Many of my friends and colleagues believe in the power of human connection to hoist them out of a rut.
Tracy, a photographer, says she takes time for herself. Then: “And I hang out with the biggest bunch of goofballs around.”
“If it’s a writing rut,” says Vicki, a public affairs executive, “I write letters or cards to friends and family.”
“Go out with friends,” says Peggy, a PR professional.
And Rachel, an old friend I haven’t seen for a while, said her approach is to “connect with an old friend I haven’t seen for a while.” (Guess who I just texted? Rut or no rut, we’re overdue.)
From your place in that rut, lift your head and look around. Find someone who will offer a fresh perspective, distraction, or a smidge of compassion.
Whether you’re stuck in a rut or striving for a streak, I hope you have access to smart, generous, creative humans like the ones who contributed their wisdom to this article. If you don’t, please reach out to me. If I can’t help you get on a positive streak, I’m sure I know someone who can.