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 peak performance and 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!

  • http://twitter.com/findotitihere Otiti

    I totally relate to this post! I felt stuck in a rut for many months because I felt I should be out there doing ‘something’ but WHAT exactly remained nebulous and out of reach. Until I discovered I just had to listen to my heart and follow my gut. Until I discovered I had to get intimate with my fear and push through it anyway. This post reminds me of that time in my life which I just exited, and now I’m trying real hard not to fall back into my comfort zone. Because doing so would be stifling, and tragic, and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing this. So glad we connected through Twitter! :D

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       Thank you so much, Otiti! The fact that you’ve done it before means that you have it in you and you know what you need to do to do it again! Don’t settle and keep on pushing!

  • Christine Bailey

    Love this post

  • Christian

    Hi Travis-  great post.  So many of us, myself included get stuck in a conditioned mindset of what we feel we “have” to do.   Right now I am in the fearful but courageous stage.  For me to get out of the “rut”, I was blessed to have an epiphany which is rare.  Gave me the push to begin on my own.  Instead of looking back and feeling bad for how long it took, I am simply grateful. Scared sometimes, yes but I think that’s good.   Thanks again for the this post and the reminder to keep moving forward, no matter what. 

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       Thanks, Christian! I’m with you – I think fear is a good thing because it means that you’re doing something that pushes and challenges you. We’re never afraid in our comfort zones. :)

  • http://twitter.com/citylifematt Matt Saunders

    Great post Travis – I feel fortunate to have escaped phase 2 a few years back. Now, while I haven’t yet achieved some of the higher goals I have set for myself, I have had a blast getting were I am so far. I barely watch TV, I consume as much new info as I can to enhance myself and I’m excited to network with my peers.

    My father taught me to just worry about following your passion, and the money will flow just fine from there.

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       That’s great to hear, Matt! I love that you’ve cut out the time wasters like TV and that you’re filling your time with education. If only more people were that proactive in their lives! Keep it up and I have no doubt you’ll reach the goals you set for yourself.

      • http://twitter.com/citylifematt Matt Saunders

        Thanks Travis! I do actually have to admit though, regarding TV, I still can’t get away from my SFGiants games… LOL.

  • http://blog.sunwaptsolutions.com/ Doug Wagner

    Hey Travis, very good post and very timely. I think everyone does in fact get into a rut once in a while. The big thing is awareness and the courage to change something.

    Just the other day I realized I had settled into a pattern that was not really taking me forward. Reflection to understand. Now I am shifting and trying new things to get the momentum going again. If that doesn’t work then try something else and move again. 

    This is a completely natural process as we grow; personally and as a business.

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       Love it, Doug! That process of reflect then refine is a great way of explaining what we each need to do in our lives! I may actually steal that for a blog post. :)

      • http://blog.sunwaptsolutions.com/ Doug Wagner

        Love to hear your take on it. Wish I could claim royalties on that concept. :-)

  • Seth229

    really good post Travis. Really appreciate your work and effort. Keep it up buddy, keep spreading the positiveness  Thanks

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       Thank you so much!

  • Jackie

    Travis, I love this post.  I’m seeing more and more of my clients feeling this because the market has picked up and they are spinning to the urgency of everyone else’s demands and not working their ideal day, week or month.  The lack of forward motion is almost debilitating for some.  I heard a quote at NAR’s Strategic planning meeting last week in DC.  My paraphrase of that quote is: Create the change that you want to see, or endure the change that you get.  I think that’s part of your wonderful message in this post.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • Crystal_morley

    We often let fear holds us back from achieving what we want. I am nineteen years old and it is going to be a year in June that I have been out of school. My parents dont want me to work while i’m in college,but seeing that I didnt take up the summer semester I decided to get a job. I was very fearful and I also placed limits on where I could go to work. My major is culinary and I searched for bakeries I could work in. I called and send my resume to small businesses,but was afraid to step higher to businesses that were more upscale. I stopped and think why not give it a try although I felt fear I thought what could go wrong its just a yes or no. I gave it a try and guess what? I got the job. Reading this article is so true and very helpful, it is opening my eyes to try different things although I might feel fear because stepping out brings great opportunities.

  • http://www.30yearoldninja.com/ Izmael Arkin

    Hi Travis, awesome site :)
    I used to wait for inspiration to cause change in my life. But then I had a job that I hated. It was so overwhelming and stressful that I never slept all the way to my alarm clock while I worked there. Every night I would wake up aroun 2 am and lay in bed with my eyes closed running through all the events of the upcoming day.

    That experience really forced me to step back and start questioning everything about my life. I didn’t want to continue living that way. I realized the only way to change my life was start living differently. My father calls it the theory of 1 percent change. He says If I want my life to be different than “Make a 1 percent change today.”

    I have loved this idea and continually implemented it at different times throughout my life.

    • http://travisrobertson.com/ Travis Robertson

       Thank you so much, Izmael! I have been there in my life as well. The 1% rule has been huge in my life and it’s allowed me to realize that big changes rarely occur overnight – they occur over time. Thanks for jumping into the conversation!

  • http://www.destinychurchjacksonville.com/ Destiny Church of Jacksonville

    I once heard the acronym for p.a.s.t. as previous accomplishments stopping tomorrow. It seems many people get stuck in a rut b/c they are content with their level of success. Good writing. Glad I stumbled upon them.