Four Ways To Get Out Of A Rut
By: Louise Stanger
Two summers ago I lived a dream. I had the opportunity to pack all my worldly possessions into a storage unit and live as a free-range traveler. I hopscotched through 10 cities and half a dozen countries in Europe, a sojourn I had envisioned since I graduated college. After tasting the finest foods and meeting people from all corners of the globe, I found myself back in LA. And in a rut.
It’s not like I had planned it this way. My life took a jarring mental turn from exploration, wonder and awe to the day-to-day grind of work and responsibility. The only thing longer than traffic lights were the lines at Coffee Bean to get that much needed caffeine boost before I met with a student.
In addition to a return to daily living, the hard work I had put into a creative writing project met another rejection. Then another. And yet another. My creative passion was zapped from my body. It’s like I was a hollow vessel moving along predetermined pathways with the only goal to survive. And to top it off, when I returned to LA I found a new place to live in a house in a quirky neighborhood I had always wanted to try living in. Turns out my landlord had lied to me about a number of missing or broken amenities and wouldn’t even let me use the refrigerator! This added fuel to my already growing fire of anxiety. It felt like the empty vessel was about to explode.
But I wanted to live. I wanted to breathe fire from my lungs. I wanted to feel the weight of purpose in each step I took.
Though ruts like these can feel like you’re climbing a stairmaster to nowhere, each foot heavier than the last, there are many positive actions you can take to break free from the cycle. Moreover, my experience with being in a rut has taught me that a huge piece of the puzzle is our mental health and the ways we emotionally and psychologically work through tough times.
Feeling like you’re in a rut? Try these tips to reclaim your purpose:
- Volunteer & be of service. Doing good work for others takes us outside of our heads and puts us into the shoes of others. The optimal word here is empathy and it’s a powerful way to rediscover gratitude and give thanks for all the blessings in your life. I have a friend who is an aspiring actress but waits tables to make a living while she chases after her dream. On her days off, she volunteers for a non- profit organization that provides food and water to the homeless in Los Angeles. It’s her way of keeping her fiery passion burning bright.
- Try something new. Part of what makes us feel like we’re in a rut is because of routine and doing familiar activities. If you’ve never joined that intramural sport team, bowling league, book club, extension course at the local community college or explored a new neighborhood or local town, then make the time to try. To get out of my rut when I returned to Los Angeles, instead of sticking to the same coffee shop near home, I tried a new coffee shop once a week to broaden my horizons. This took me to new neighborhoods where I met new people, walked new paths and experienced new environments. The new can be scary but with persistence it can open a window where a door closed.
- Exercise. This takes many forms - from taking a yoga/pilates/barre class, to jogging the local park and spinning with your friends to the vocal stylings of Lady Gaga. For me, there is a park near my place with hundreds of steps that lead to the top of the hill. I hiked up these steps a handful of times a week and strolled the paths that snaked through the park and hills. The experience got my blood pumping and muscles burning, a great way to stay healthy, fit and active. Exercise also helps take our minds off worries and anxiety and focus on moving our bodies.
- Share your feelings. The best way to express your worries, fears, anxieties and emotions is to tell a friend/mentor/parent/therapist or loved one. When we share, we release what only exists as a thought so that we can make sense of it and take real steps to alleviating the pressure. For me, my favorite form of this is writing down my thoughts and feelings in a journal. The lines, pages and pencil will never judge you so you’re free to write exactly as you please. My book shelf at home contains nearly a dozen journals filled with my feelings over the years. These journals have helped me through ups and downs, ruts and messes, joys and tragedies.
It’s easy to stay inside and forge ahead in the rut. Don’t take the easy way out - refuel your passion with the things that you love, take deliberate action and experience life outside the rut.