Have you been feeling unmotivated and restless in activities that you normally enjoy? Do you push through your to-dos and multiple tasks, but never feel like you are doing enough? Or perhaps, have your life these days feel like a replica of Groundhog Day – a cycle of stagnancy with no end? Either way, a possible diagnosis to your struggles might just be that you are experiencing a rut.
As someone who has went through ruts like it’s the staples of growing up, it is safe to say that being in one really seems like one great ordeal. I like to describe ruts as an enemy who can shapeshift – constantly plotting ways to pull you down, in all sorts of forms and disguise you might not be able to see coming. They pick from typical modern-day struggles like burnouts, stress or even the observation of stagnancy in life, and shape them into effects of creative blocks, restlessness, mental fatigue and all sorts of feelings that make you relate to every wet blanket of a character before they go through a “change my life” montage.
However, while being in a rut does feel like a tunnel with no opening, that is not to say there is no way out of this seemingly never-ending pit.
Get yourself to complete tasks you are familiar with
Rather than interpreting ruts as a sign for you to try something new or to start pushing yourself harder in your work, it might just be your brain signaling to you that it is struggling or uncomfortable in your current state of life. Forcing yourself back to your work desk or to run difficult errands would only cause further mental fatigue, and at times even dig deeper into this pit when you experience failure or challenges in such tasks. Thus, daily if possible, to complete a task you are familiar with, or in any activity that your brain has been accustomed to doing might just be the solution to improving your mental being instead.
After all, humans are beings of familiarity, where our attraction to comfort propels us to be more confident in environments where we know we won’t find harm. For example, having been the one responsible for the dishes in my family since young, washing them has been my space of familiarity, and gradually an activity that I can zone out in when I’m mentally drained, while still getting my body to tick off to-dos. Studies have shown that a comfortable workplace produces enhanced productivity within their employees, since a positive environment generates motivation and better moods.
Similarly, activities within our comfort zones – those that our body has been functioned to do even without thinking – can act as a breather for our brains after any strenuous tasks, and at the same time, a form of motivation within the prompts of capability in such activities. Your mental state, like you, needs its doses of comfort and encouragement too.
Change something that you see regularly
There is always something empowering within a change; it is after all, the nemesis to the dullness and restlessness caused by stagnancy. Considering how ruts, many a times, result from the lack of movement in work, relationships or even just life in general, it is not surprising to see how effective switching something up in your usual lifestyle can propagate still water to start moving again.
From a few decades back, media outlets have been promoting acts for people to “Reset your life”, or to “Try something you never considered before”, as much as pop culture has been romanticizing and popularizing the “Makeover montage”, where characters go through physical changes in their lifestyle routines or looks to get over a traumatic event or pitfalls.
Similar to the current phenomenon of cutting your hair after a breakup to indicate the end of a chapter – as Terrace House puts it, “Feelings linger in the tip of your hair” – such changes performed, as shown in research, are for people to find comfort in an immediate sense of relief. This is why we vow new goals every new year, or to be a changed person every time we enter a new environment – physical changes do result in a different perspective, new lessons and the likely chance of new hope.
However, that is not to say everyone should start drastically cutting their hair, or go through a huge character transformation; small changes, like switching up your phone or desktop’s wallpaper, your bedsheet covers or simply your daily coffee mug, can beget as equal a push to your life’s motionless as any large dramatic impulse would.
Voice your worries and troubles
It is one thing to feel vulnerable from bearing your heart out and wearing your feelings on your sleeve, but it is another to avoid pent-up emotions and cooped thoughts gradually shape your character. Many a times, ruts appear out of nowhere – which is also what makes it as frustrating a liability.
Whether it is repressed anger or worries, or simply the smallest bit of dissatisfaction, any forms of pressure or unhappiness can easily lead up to the eventual notion of “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, again.” As obvious as it is to open the windows of a room when it gets too stuffy, it is shocking how often we forget that the best solution to counter these bits of repression within ourselves, is to open up about them.
Voicing your thoughts and worries without format or organization, as many like to put it “to word vomit”, not only helps to clear your head to figure out the cause of your rut, but it also removes all the built-up tension that might distort decision-making and the clouding of your thought process. It is understandable that many might feel uncomfortable from piling everything on their chest to someone right away, but to open up does not always necessarily require company. To simply write out thoughts or to draw what you are feeling could provide an equal relief as it is to pour your feelings onto another person.
For me, as odd as it might look, I like to talk to my own reflection or to my stuffed animals whenever I experience a rut from stuffed up worries and thoughts – in which somehow, I always find clarity from this form of relief and the eventual humor after I finish my rambling. As Murakami puts it beautifully in his book, Norwegian Wood: “What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”
Note down all your to-dos and future tasks
Similar to the ideology behind voicing your worries and opening up about your troubles, to put everything you need to get down on paper (or desktop) allows you to free up and relief the tension in your brain. Only this time, it requires organization. Just like how a game plan is required before every sports match, every rainbow after the rain still requires a map – else, all you get is a pretty view but no way of reaching the pot of gold.
Dedicate a day to put down what you need to get done: errands, projects, phone calls, and if feeling ambitious, maybe even long-term and short-term goals; and always remember to break them down into simple steps, to avoid overlooked forms of overwhelming when actually performing the task. One good thing that came out from my stationary hoarding habits and having Monica Geller as my favourite FRIENDS member, is a personal genuine interest towards planning.
Rain or shine, and especially during experiencing a rut, I fill my notebooks up with my goals, the steps to accomplishing them, and everything I need to get down – from needing to take my phone for repair next week to emptying the trash on the day itself. Whether you are ready to take it now or later, planning opens paths for you, giving you the directions on how to tread it.
With ways that fits you best – be it scheduling and noting down to the core, or simply writing any task that pops up in your head – being able to see and expect what needs to be done, acts as an assurance and perhaps even motivation, that the road after the rut is not a messy one. After all, the best victories come out of game plans that happen during points of despair.
Take a break
A person sleeps to let their body rest, eat to counter hunger, and treat a wound when he is injured. It is a normal instinct to solve an issue by taking care of what is missing – the same ideology applying to overcoming a rut. At the end of the day, while there are many alternatives to help tackle an issue, not every solution has to come out from a fight.
With all the four precedents in mind, it is also as simple as it is important to note: If you are experiencing fatigue, take a break. Productivity culture has caused the current generation to believe that taking a “zero” day – a day where you don’t do anything – is wrong and to be avoided. As a result, many tend to look for activities they can engage themselves in to counter a lack of motivation, mental or creative blocks and burnout.
However, just like how you would apply medication to a wound as compared to exercising it, taking a break when experiencing a rut is also a feasible solution rather than a form of sinful pleasure. If you could, take a few days or a week off to catch up on your sleep, watch shows or read books that you have been meaning to, cook or draw – allow yourself to rest in a space you find comfort in.
Moreover, breaks not only eases exhaustion, they also inspire better moods and creativity, and listening to your body might just provide you with clearer answers to your struggles, even after the rut. You know how almost every technical issue can be solved by shutting down and restarting? Now, try that with yourself.
If the strive for productivity and efficiency is a man’s best friend, then being in a rut is our greatest enemy. However, by taking things slow and gradual, acting with a plan and most importantly, to simply rest, this dark pit might not seem as invincible as it introduces itself to be.
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