Why You’re Stuck in a Rut (And How to Get Out of It)


Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of occasional bouts of insanity.

As a business coach, I see this most clearly in the work I do with my clients. One of the more common phrases I hear is, “I feel like I’m in a rut.” It’s a better way to begin a conversation than, “I think I’m insane.” Either way, the result is the same – people are stuck and they don’t know how to get out.

Maybe that’s how you feel right now – stuck in a rut.

So you grind it out hoping that something will eventually catch, your wheels will stop spinning, and you’ll be pushed free from your rut. You do the same things over and over again and keep expecting the results to change.

In my post on The 4 Phases of Living Your Mission, I wrote about a phase of life I call “Phase 2” in which you are likely to at some point find yourself. Phase 2 is characterized by a gut feeling that you have a mission or calling on your life – a purpose – but for whatever reason are unable to discover it.

Phase 2 can be extremely frustrating when you are in the middle of it. In fact, there are some of you who, if you spend too much time in Phase 2, will throw in the towel and settle for a mediocre existence. The feelings of frustration become so overwhelming you begin to believe you’ll never figure out what you’re supposed to do.

How do I know?

Because for about 10 years, I longed for a mission in life that would make me feel alive and fulfilled. But for 10 years, I also did the exact same things day in and day out. On the one hand, I wanted to launch and run my own business. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I knew what I was supposed to be doing.

The biggest mistake you can make while you’re in Phase 2 is thinking that you’re supposed to know what you should do before you take action. This is where I screwed up. Because I didn’t know the specifics of what I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t do anything new. As a result, I was never in a position to actually make progress. And, because I was never in a position to progress, I kept on showing up for my routine of death each day.

I was in a rut. Every day, I would wake up and plod through my routine – hoping and praying that inspiration would strike and things would change.

That is until the day I realized I had it backwards. I discovered that waiting around for inspiration to strike so that I could change was not the way change actually takes place in our lives.

You see, you don’t wait around for inspiration to strike so that you can change. You change so that inspiration can strike. (Tweet this.)

Yet most people don’t change in advance of inspiration. They get stuck in a rut and keep spinning their wheels. But, as anyone who has ever been in a car that’s stuck in a rut can tell you, simply grinding it out and “trying harder” often makes the problem worse. Instead, you have to grab a plank of wood or something that you can leverage off of to gain some traction.

In life, the principle is the same: If you’re stuck in a rut, you have to throw something new at the problem. You have to pick up a 2×4 and take it to the head of complacency.

Will it scare you? Absolutely. Because your rut is comfortable. Your rut is familiar and predictable. You may not like what you keep getting, but at least you know what you’ll keep getting.

Change brings fear and we don’t like fear. Most people would rather have predictable misery than fear-filled fulfillment. (Tweet this.) In fact, the idea of fulfillment requiring fear doesn’t make any sense to us.

We want to believe that fear and fulfillment are mutually exclusive. Our society, our friends, our media tell us that, we’ll be truly happy when we have no fear, no pain, no want, and no need. And all we have to do to get fulfillment without fear is drive this car, buy this house, wear this suit, and live this lie.

However, if you look at anyone who is truly fulfilled in life, they did things that scared them to death. We call them “trailblazers” not “path followers.” It’s time for you to blaze your trail.

Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be challenging? Yes. Will you be afraid? Yes. Is this a good thing? Yes.

Because it’s in the face of fear that we are able to gain courage.

That’s the crazy thing about courage: if you want to be courageous, you must get used to acting in spite of your fear. Where there is no fear, there is no courage. (Tweet this.)

So where do you begin if you’re in Phase 2? Well, a good place to start is by changing something in your routine. Step out of your comfort zone. Try joining a new networking group or speaking at your local chamber. Volunteer at an organization you’ve never done work with before but think is interesting. Experiment with a project you’ve thought about trying. Remember, Facebook didn’t start out as a billion dollar idea but as a way to rate the attractiveness of coeds.

Don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out before you take the first step. Trailblazers don’t know what’s around the corner until they get there. Your life will often follow the same pattern.

If you’re in a rut right now, look at your routine and ask yourself what you could do to mix it up a bit. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering (such as quitting your job all of a sudden). But don’t go too easy on yourself either. Courage is like a muscle that has to be built up so make sure that what you do scares you a bit.

Then, share your step with the community in the comments below or cheer on those who are brave enough to post their next steps!