Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Are You in a Rut? Take the Test

Your exit strategy for getting out of a rut

Ruts are a common part of everyday living. You may feel in a rut in one part of your life. Your rut may involve big parts of your life.  Whatever, if you feel stuck in a rut, you can work your way out.

From time to time, practically everyone gets into a rut.  When you are there, what might you expect? (1) You’ll feel in a monotonous, frustrating state.  (2) You’ll feel stuck, bored, or trapped.   (3) Your rut may mirror conditions such as an ongoing down mood, recurring fears, self-doubts, or various combinations of these conditions.  (4) You may feel like Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Zeus condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustrations. Each time Sisyphus rolled a boulder up a hill, it rolled back. That’s a quintessentially depressing state. Fortunately, you are not stuck in that way. You have choices.

Let’s start with a seven-item rut test. Then, I’ll describe a seven-step strategy for exiting your rut.

Your Rut Test

This informal measure points to a process I found in people who complain about being in a funk, spinning their wheels, and getting nowhere fast. This test can help you identify (or rule out) factors associated with a rut. 

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Your Rut Test uses a three-point scale where 1 = rarely, 2 = occasionally, and 3 = often. For each item, check the number that you think best describes you.

                                                                    Frequency Scale

                                                                     1         2          3

1. I don’t challenge myself                            ___     ___      ___

2. I’m not going anywhere in life                   ___    ___      ___

3. I feel bored                                               ___    ___      ___

4. If it’s uncomfortable, I’ll avoid it                 ___    ___      ___

5. I don’t believe I can change                      ___    ___      ___

6. I put off taking a new direction                   ___    ___      ___

7. I feel trapped in endless monotony            ___    ___      ___

 

Practically everyone is likely to have unique rut features. The test may inspire you to think of special factors that apply to you.  This extra step helps isolate factors that you can work to change.

If you have one “2” score and you scored the rest a “1”, you may not be in a rut. Nevertheless, you may be able to use the information to help a friend who is in a rut, find an exit in the direction of adding more meaning to life. If you have three or more “3” scores, that part of this rut process squarely applies to you.

Let’s see what you might do to work your way out of your rut.

Change the Pattern

It often takes more than mapping out a rut pattern to break the cycle. You may pin down the pattern and then sit on your laurels. This can be like sitting on a nail. You know the source of your pain. You still feel stuck. Now comes the challenging part. Taking concrete steps to break from your rut.

On an item-by-item basis, let’s look at how to use my flip technique to change your rut pattern:

1. I don’t challenge myself: Practically everyone periodically avoids meaningful challenges.  If you do this often, you are likely to continue in a rut. Use my flip technique to start to break this pattern. What is the most important challenge that you’d wisely undertake? Within the next 24 hours, direct yourself to take the first step toward meeting that challenge.

2. I’m not going anywhere in life: A belief, such as “I’m not going anywhere in my life” is a depressing thought.  Use the flip technique to turn this overgeneralization to something more specific. If you were heading in a more satisfying direction, what actions would you take?

3. I feel bored: If you are in a depressive funk, boredom and disinterest may both reflect and contribute to discontent. Use the flip technique. If you were engaged in a formerly pleasurable activity, what would it be? Start by acting as if you could still engage in the activity by engaging in the activity.

4. If it’s uncomfortable, I’ll avoid it: If you want to dodge the discomfort of being in a rut, and dodge the discomfort of changing the pattern, your goose is cooked, so to speak.  Flip things around.  Accept that discomfort is a normal part of breaking any unwanted pattern.  Force yourself to start to engage the change activity. You may soon find that you can tolerate the discomfort that you don’t like.

5. I don’t believe I can change: That idea is a real bummer. It’s also another of those annoying overgeneralizations. You may feel in a down mood. You know you can’t change in an instant by snapping your thumb.  Nevertheless, you can take steps to change what you do.  As a byproduct, you may eventually feel better. Use the flip technique.Schedule and do something that was previously productive to do. Do it now.  Then examine this contradiction: “If I can’t change, then how do I explain making this change?”

6. I put off taking a new direction: Procrastinate on self-correction, and you’ll keep going around the same circle of unfulfilling sameness. Use this version of the flip technique.  Pick a task—any task—where you can exit one part of your morass. Give yourself a short timeline, such as “I’ll start change activity X within the next 15 minutes and will work on it for at least five minutes.”  Push yourself to execute that plan. You are now on your way past your procrastination barrier.

7. I feel trapped in endless monotony:  This resignation thinking may represent how you currently feel more than the broader scope of reality.  Use the flip technique to change you language to “I believe I am trapped in endless monotony.” Beliefs are not necessarily the same as facts.  Raise this question.  If I believed I could engage in purposeful activities, would I still believe I am trapped in endless monotony?  Now find something purposeful to do and then do it to change that belief.

The point of using flip technique exercises is to change perspective from rut thinking to coping and challenge thinking.  A realistic change in perspective may be a preamble to a productive change in feelings and actions. Changing actions can result in a positive change in perspective. Check it out and see.

If you believe that you are in a troublesome depressive funk, click on my free CBT Depression Workshop. Click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition) for evidence-based techniques for combatting depression.

© Dr. Bill Knaus

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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