How to get to the root of your rut and turn that negativity into a place of productivity.
by Jessica Abo
Being stuck in a rut is uncomfortable. You may have noticed changes in your sleeping habits, eating habits, emotional state, and tolerance level for the people around you. You may feel disconnected, question everything about your life, and doubt every decision you’ve ever made.
You may feel mad, sad, frustrated, anxious, bitter, mean, or more introverted than usual. The good news is, these negative feelings can help you make positive changes. We all know we aren’t wired to be happy all the time, but many people I’ve coached are so scared they’ll never get out of their rut that they turn to quick fixes that don’t fix anything. In this chapter, I want you to get a handle on the scope of what’s chipping away at your happiness so you can target your thinking toward taking the steps you need to improve your situation.
GET REAL WITH YOUR RUT
I know you may be eager for an answer key for happiness, but it’s important to dig out of your rut slowly, as opposed to quickly mapping out a grand plan that has cracks in its foundation. Whether you’re in a rut because of your home life, work situation, relationships, or role within society, the key to hitting refresh (like we do when our computer screen is stuck) is to use these times we feel down in the dumps as a cue for us to do a personal audit. Here are some ways you can do that:
Accept where you are, even if it’s painful. Close your eyes, think about this sh*tty feeling, and in your head wrap your arms around it like you’re giving it a hug. I know that sounds weird, but doing this may help you be more present and connected to what you’re feeling. Are you angry? Sad? Jealous? Frustrated? Disappointed? Hurt? You first have to understand where you are to figure out how to work through it.
If you feel alone, embrace the empty. There is something within emptiness that enables us to discover something new. Try not to throw a new person or a million projects into this void to distract yourself. Instead, attempt to learn something while you’re here, so you can turn that mess into a message.
Explore being more mindful. I have learned how to course correct when I am having a bad day by developing the tools I need to help me through any situation. It’s not always easy to do, but I feel better at any given moment, knowing I can change how I am feeling by putting these tools to work. I couldn’t show up to a marathon and run 26.2 miles without proper training. When I ran one in real life, I prepared for months. Similarly, I have trained my mind to help me process information without resorting to old patterns and behaviors. I have looked into why I do what I do and figured out what serves me well and what sets me back. If you are in a similar place, you have to find your own way out. What helped me was finding my center. If it’s hard for you to quiet your mind, try doing a guided meditation (there are so many on YouTube). Click through videos until you find a theme (love, abundance, resilience, etc.) and a voice you like. If you don’t connect with the music or person, try a new app or video.
Rejuvenate your personal space. Try moving your furniture around, changing the color scheme in your apartment (even if it’s just your bathroom), or buying a cool poster or print to brighten up the place. Print pictures of people, places, or pets and put them on display. Small changes can reset the tone in your home or office. When I was in my rut before my 35th birthday, I realized my studio apartment looked like a cool office space. I asked my mom to help me change my entire color scheme and vibe to help make my place warmer. I turned what was once black, white, and red into white, gold, and teal. Suddenly, my apartment looked and felt like a spa. I didn’t go crazy on the makeover thanks to my partners in crime: HomeGoods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Century 21, and Overstock.com. Changing my environment was one small step in helping me feel a little better about turning 35 and where I was in my life. My cousin Eric suggested I buy a money tree to attract the energy of wealth and prosperity in my new apartment. I found those at BB&B, too. If you need some financial feng shui, maybe a tree will help you as well!
Shake up your daily routine. Try going to a different coffee shop, gym class, or hangout spot after work. Breaking out of your normal flow forces you to say hello to new people, learn something new about yourself and experience what your neighborhood, commute, and community have to offer. Plus, you never know who you could meet by restructuring your day.
Channel your inner Elsa. When my sister was pregnant with my niece, I went to Washington, DC, to keep her company while my brother-in-law traveled for work. All I wanted to do was see Frozen. My favorite line then, and still to this day (after hundreds of screenings with my -- now -- three nieces) is from when Elsa is singing “Let It Go”: “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small.” It’s true. When we are in a rut, every problem feels huge and every setback feels extra crushing. That’s why distance helps us put things into perspective. To help you rise from your rut, you have to let things go. You may be someone who likes to hold a grudge. This will not do you any favors. You also have to let some people go and stop saying yes to everything. What does that mean? No more meeting with every person who wants to meet with you. If someone wants to introduce you to a family friend who is looking for a job, internship, roommate, boyfriend/girlfriend, new friend, whatever, see if you can deal with them over email or on the phone instead. You are not being rude. You need to reinvest as much of your time as possible back into you. There will be plenty of time to meet with people and help them once you are feeling a little less like Humpty Dumpty. It’s more draining than you realize when you’re trying to get out of a rut and you’re spending energy you don’t have on random people. Someone I was trying to help once said, “My mom told me to call you, but I don’t know why.” WTF? So be sure to save your effort for your to-do list and help people, when time permits, in a more efficient way.
Step out of your day. If you need some distance from your life, focus on your relationships, whether it’s with the people you love or your pet. On good days and bad days, when I was dating and building my business, my niece always made me light up. Whether in person or FaceTime, seeing her brought me so much joy. So make sure you surround yourself with people you love, and who love you, because interpersonal relationships are so powerful (and because toddlers couldn’t care less if you missed a deadline). This is also a good time to reconnect with nature or your favorite workout routine. SoulCycle, yoga, and Orangetheory Fitness were my go-to places to clear my head.
Pay it forward. If you’re craving connectivity, look into getting involved in a cause you can contribute to. While your time needs to be spent on healing whatever is causing your hurt, rediscovering what makes you you, donating your time to an organization that means something to you, and spending time with people who will appreciate you is a wonderful use of your time and talent. Nonprofits need so many team players to put on events, fundraise, and support the people they are helping. Your gifts can help others, and using them can help you, too. Not only will you know you’re making a difference, but you also will have an opportunity to interact with new people. Who knows?
See the world. Whether you get in your car and drive an hour outside your city, get on a train and explore a neighborhood you’ve been meaning to check out, or book a flight to somewhere new, traveling has amazing healing benefits. I truly believe that “wherever you go, there you are,” so don’t expect once you arrive that you’ll feel like a completely different person. But do get ready to breathe some fresh air, eat great food, learn something new, and take some time to regroup.
Accentuate the positive. If you’re not feeling positive vibes within you, you have to bring more positivity to you. The first thing we need to do is mentally create some distance from you and your negative feelings. Find quotes that you connect with and write them down. Hang them up in your apartment, put them on a small piece of paper, and stick them in your wallet. Put these quotes anywhere you will see them or have access to them when you need them. Feel free to ask family members, friends, and colleagues to share their favorite quotes with you, too. This is a time when social media can be very helpful. Follow positive people with inspiring content, so more positivity pops up in your feed.
Start to live out those positive ideas you put on paper in your everyday life and pay attention to how you feel when you do. One of the affirmations I put on my wall when I was going through this exercise in my own life was, “What you take for granted, someone else is praying for.” Another motto that made it onto my wall was, “I will let go of the people and things that no longer serve a purpose in my life.” That meant I would no longer make plans with people I felt guilted into seeing, attend every networking event for the sake of building my business, or go on every blind date in hopes of finding The One. It also meant I would start purging the clothes, papers, and “things” I had crammed into my studio apartment and saved for far too long. The third motto I put on my wall was, “Be a fountain, not a drain” to ensure the people I kept around me weren’t energy zappers.