When early settlers moved west in covered wagons, ruts were a rudimentary road map: They marked the best-travelled routes and made easier work for the animals pulling their loads. Until it rained, that is. Then the very rut that had been a blessing became a sludgy curse, trapping wagons in knee-deep muck. Fast forward several hundred years and we’re still navigating ruts—the deep, entrenched tracks we lay down in our minds that guide our daily decision making, attitudes and routines. And at times we still become overwhelmed trying to extricate ourselves from the mire and the murk.
Trying to pull away from those deep, self-made grooves requires the bravery and stamina of the western pioneers, and maybe some luck too. When we always do what we’ve always done, laying down new tracks is a daunting task. Where to even start?
Rut reboot 1: Decide if it’s rut or routine. Some ruts are good ones: You work out every morning before heading to the office; you and your partner designate Tuesdays as date night. Regular exercise and time with your significant other are positive forces in your life, so these tracks don’t need to dynamited and rebuilt. But even constructive routines can start to feel boring, so focus on how you can infuse them with newness. Switch out one morning at the gym for a Pilates session, or take an early morning bike ride. Instead of dinner and a movie every Tuesday, grab a bottle of cheap wine (Trader Joe’s Shiraz: just two bucks!) and watch the sunset, or maybe take a few spins around a nearby go-kart track. Or hey, why not go big: switch out three Tuesdays for a long weekend in a town you’ve always wanted to explore.
Rut reboot 2: Take comfort in others. Sure, you’re pretty darn special, but face facts: there’s no single human condition you might encounter that hasn’t already been experienced by millions of people. Take heart that you are not the first person to feel “stuck” at this point in your life. A quick Google search will land you on countless inspirational blogs or articles that offer good-to-great advice on shaking up your routine. And if you know someone who is decidedly “un-rutted,” go ask ‘em for advice on how they managed to get that way. (Go ahead. We’ll wait.)
Rut reboot 3: Make new friends. Sometimes well-meaning aquaintances keep us in our ruts with the same unproductive conversations running on an endless loop. It’s like Groundhog Day without the laughs (or the groundhog). If that’s the case, resolve to move in different friend circles for a while. Expose yourself to fresh conversations and different scenery. New pals can be a refreshing complement to the comfort you feel with your long-time buddies.
See also: Conquering Her Fears on Kilimanjaro
Rut reboot 4: Sign-up for a class, any class. Yes, you can take a different route to work, or eat Chipotle for lunch instead of Wendy’s, but these changes are not significant enough to constitute a life revival. Committing to a long-term endeavor, like art classes or learning a language, will keep you from gravitating back to your rut. If you pursue a skill you’ve always wanted, it will enrich your life in other ways as well: Once the class is over, you’ll have more ways to spend your time joyfully and be less likely to default to your old way of living.
Rut reboot 5: Ask for help. Clinical depression and substance dependency can become overwhelming forces that keep us down, and you may not be able to pull yourself out of these potholes alone. It’s OK to ask for and seek help—you’ll get back on track a lot sooner if you enlist the assistance of experts (and remember what we said earlier, you’re not the first one to get stuck here).