Stuck in a Rut

Are you stuck in a rut... stuck in a rut... stuck in a rut…?

Are you dissatisfied with the status quo? Do you need a change in your life? Are you repeating the same routine over and over, like a broken record? Are you stuck in a rut and can’t get out? If so, you need to ask yourself how can your life change if you are not willing to make changes in your life? Obviously the only way we can get out of a rut is by doing something different, by changing. Those who don’t learn how to change are not in a rut; they’re in a grave. So, if we don’t want to be counted among the living dead, we’ll have to learn what is preventing us from moving forward. Let’s look at three possible causes and how to overcome them.

1. Inertia

What would happen if you were to stop using the muscles of your body? Without use, they begin to waste. Eventually, you’ll experience muscular atrophy. You’ll become immobilized, unable to move. The same applies to our mental health. Suppose I begin to slack off. What if I were to stop practicing self-discipline and neglect my tasks? If I were to stop my activities, wouldn’t I develop intellectual atrophy? Wouldn’t I wind up in a rut? Leonardo da Vinci thought so, for he wrote, "Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind."

In 1687, Isaac Newton described the law of inertia. He explained how a body in motion tends to remain in motion while a body at rest tends to remain at rest. The only way to get a resting body to move again is to apply a force. I am an example of a body at rest when I doze on the couch. My wife kicking me in the behind and telling me to mow the lawn is an example of a force propelling me to action. Kicks in the behind, however, can be self-directed. That is, we can kick ourselves out of a rut. We begin by reviewing our situation and recognizing its seriousness. At first we may think we’re just standing still, pausing for a rest. But once we realize the rest of the world is moving away from us and we’re falling behind, we’ll recognize the need for action.

What is the cure for inertia? Simple, action! However, trying to start a project after a long spell of inactivity is like trying to start your car on a freezing winter day. It’s difficult. If you want to succeed, the trick is to do something that is EASY and will bring you closer to your goal. For example, let’s say I have to write a letter to Aunt Matilda and I hate to write letters. To accomplish my goal, I create a plan that is so easy to do, I cannot fail. Here’s an example. Today I will fill out the envelope and put a stamp on it. That’s easy enough, I can do that in five minutes. Tomorrow, I will make a list of six subjects to write about in my letter (another five minutes). The day after, I will write paragraph one. And so on, until the letter is completed and dropped into the mail. Each small action that I take is grease that unclogs the cogwheels of inertia and gets me back on track.

Although the plan I made to write Aunt Matilda should take a week or longer to complete, I would perform the task in half that time or less. Why? Because, as Isaac Newton explained, once a body is in motion it tends to remain in motion. Another way of putting it is, the small action steps I take generate the energy to take further action steps. Once started, the project almost completes itself. So, start lifting yourself out of the rut today. Pick a goal and divide it into EASY action steps. This is a prescription for fun and success and may be all you need to do to turn your life around.

2. Resistance Syndrome

The Resistance Syndrome is a coping device we develop in childhood. For instance, as a child we may be told to keep our room tidy or mommy will be angry. How can children understand why being organized and tidy is important? They can’t. But what they do understand is that they need mommy and daddy to survive. They can’t survive alone. Fearful of being abandoned and denied love, they are forced to comply with mommy’s wishes. Understandably, children don’t want to yield their wills completely. They want to retain some independence, some identity. They don’t want to be reduced to slaves with broken wills. So, what are they to do? They do what has to be done, but not completely. They resist to protect their individuality. They may clean up the room, but deliberately place some items in the wrong places, or perhaps clean up most of the room but leave a corner undone.

Over the years, the Resistance Syndrome becomes an ingrained habit. We take it to school and later to the workplace. What once helped us to retain our identity in childhood, now prevents us from doing what we want to do for our own good, such as working out in the health club or making repairs on the house. Understand that your boss, your spouse, and others are entitled to make legitimate requests. Don’t misinterpret everything as an attempt by others to control you. You stopped wearing diapers a long time ago, now it is time to stop carrying around the Resistance Syndrome and accept responsibility for your own happiness. By becoming aware of the problem you will loosen its grip on you, and by taking small, easy action steps you will be able to overcome it.

3. Avoidance of Discomfort

Primitive man avoided pain and discomfort and was attracted to pleasure because his survival depended on it. If our ancestors were uncomfortably cold, they could freeze to death. If they were comfortable before a fire, they would survive. The pleasure of eating and discomfort of hunger were powerful forces that enabled them to endure. Today, we no longer have to hunt for our food or make fires to keep warm. Yet, instinctively, we continue to avoid discomfort. This is why we avoid anything that requires effort and take refuge in anything that gives pleasure. But if we allow ourselves to follow our instincts, we will become trapped in our comfort zone, stuck in a rut.

The cure for this problem is the same as the cure for the Resistance Syndrome: awareness and action. The principal component of which is action. For as American folk hero Ben Stein said, "You must take the first step. The first steps will take some effort, maybe pain. But after that, everything that has to be done is real-life movement." It also helps to change your perspective. The next time you feel uncomfortable, don’t flee from it but embrace it. For discomfort is an indicator that you are going in the right direction, outside of your comfort zone. And that is the road of change and the path to a better you, so welcome it and enjoy the journey.

© Chuck Gallozzi
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