What to do when you are stuck in a rut
I have several readers who have emailed me lately about being unhappy with their current state and not knowing what to do about it. From unfulfilling jobs to toxic relationships, many people suffer because they feel stuck in a situation and can’t see a way out.
I’ve been there and, based on my experience, I won’t paint an overly rosy picture. It’s hard to break free from circumstances that feel hopeless.
But it’s not impossible.
You can pull yourself out of a deep rut if you are willing to be honest with yourself and commit to the work required. You will want to be systematic about this so here’s a 7-step process to employ.
1. Assess the situation
Describe your problem in great detail, identify your major pain points, and try to recap exactly how you came to be in this situation.
Depending on the problem, the driving issues may not be apparent on the surface. For example, you may be unhappy with your job but need to dig deeper to figure out if it’s because you are underpaid, not being promoted, under a lousy boss, or doing work that you don’t find interesting.
Being descriptive about your situation will make it easier to solve.
2. Admit your mistakes
Distinguish between external influences vs. what you specifically contributed to. It’s easy to point and place blame elsewhere. But in this step you need to hone in on where you went wrong.
For example, you may have taken a job because it pays very well but now, years later, don’t think the salary was worth the time you invested in an unfulfilling career. If that’s the case you have to own your short-sighted decision to put money over meaning.
Analyzing your self-limiting thoughts, behaviors, and decisions, will help you anticipate potential setbacks and avoid falling into another trap even as you work to pull yourself out of this one.
3. Accept what can’t be changed
Don’t waste your energy on what you can’t control or on things that played out in the past. You’ll have a lot of barriers to break to get out of your rut and there is no use exerting yourself unnecessarily.
Figure out now what you have the power to change — putting all else aside so you can be focused and efficient.
4. Figure out what you want
Now that you’ve thoroughly assessed your situation, you need to figure out a way forward. So you don’t act mindlessly, make sure you devote some time to soul-searching.
While attempting to become unstuck it’s critical that you act with intention. It would be a shame to put a lot of effort into changing your circumstances only to hit another dead end.
5. Silence self talk and naysayers
When you are feeling down and out you are especially vulnerable to negativity. So before going further, tackle your own unhealthy rumination and deal with anyone in your life who may be excessively pessimistic.
6. Develop your game plan
This is where you’ll get into the nitty gritty as it’s the process of actually developing and carrying out the solution to your problem.
First, find a trusted partner, if possible, who can offer support and accountability. This can be a family member, friend, life coach, or therapist.
Conduct some research by finding others who have gone through similar situations and learning how they tackled them. No need to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
Now, brainstorm your own potential solutions to the problem. It’s good to get advice from others but, as a unique being, you may have to fine-tune these inputs to make them more relevant and suitable to you.
Narrow all the options down to the most feasible solution and run it by your trusted partner. Once you firm it up outline a detailed strategy for implementing this solution. What are all the things you need to do to carry this out?
Finally, implement against a timeline. When you declare a deadline, as New York Times reports, you psychological prime yourself to achieve the goal you set.
7. Monitor progress and stay motivated
Break your strategy down into more manageable, less overwhelming parts, and create check-in dates between your kickoff time and deadline. This allows you to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your plan.
This is likely going to be a long-term effort. Try to appreciate the journey and don’t get too caught up in the destination. Yes you want to get from A to Z, but this is also a major life change for you.
You have the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself so don’t cheat yourself out of the personal growth that comes from the process itself.
Years ago when I was completely over my finance career (thankfully spurred by the 2008 financial crisis) the framework above is very similar to what I used to figure out what to do next.
It took about a year to work through steps 1-5 culminating in a decision to attend business school (my soul-searching strategy was a critical part of this period).
It took another year to pull off steps 6-7 which was the lengthy process of researching universities, preparing my application, and applying. There was no guarantee I would be accepted anywhere, but by this time I had a clearer vision for my life and saw graduate school as just one potential path to getting there.
Breaking free from the chains of discontent and making significant life changes is not easy. It takes clarity, intention, and discipline.
However, when you come out on the other side (no matter where the journey leads you) you’ll be more self-aware and in a better position to handle other challenges that life will inevitably throw your way.