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Rut Busting


WordNet defines a rut as a groove or furrow (especially in soft earth caused by wheels) or a monotonous routine that is hard to escape; as in "her job made her feel that she was stuck in a rut".

What is this thing that we call a rut? Is one man's rut another man's rapture? I. What is a rut?

In nature, weight and repetition form a rut. A wagon wheel travels the same path over and over and over again until the ground retains the impression. If you've ever driven a rutted road you know that once in the rut it becomes difficult to get out. On the other hand a rut may serve a useful purpose; before a road gets paved and straightened out, it often begins as a series of ruts. So a rut may lead you to a useful place; it may just need paving.

The elements of a physical rut on a road can be compared to our ruts in life. Our lives are full of repetitious activities from eating to sleeping to brushing our teeth. Our jobs require that we take the same road or train or bus. We take the same elevator, we encounter the same people, we do the same work, we go home, sleep and start all over again.

Some repetition is useful and necessary - too much seems to lead to the formation of a rut. Let's look at the emotions that being stuck in a physical rut cause. If you can't get your bike or car out of a rut, you quickly begin to feel trapped, frustrated and stressed. Sometimes you bow to the inevitable and simply continue to move forward until the rut runs out. You may not be carrying the equipment needed to bust out of the rut. You might need someone else to help you pull out of the rut.

II. How did you get there?

When you were a toddler you learned to walk often by falling down a lot. Sooner or later repetition had its effect and walking became second nature. You might remember the first time you successfully dressed yourself or tied your shoes and now these activities are second nature.

Our human selves are gifted with this ability to learn a task so well we don't have to think about it at all. This makes us more productive; consider how long it would take you to dress and get out of the house if you had to think consciously about each step of the process.

This learning process will eventually affect any behavior that we do consistently. And this can lead to ruts. If you get home at 6 p.m. every evening and lay on the sofa for an hour, you'll eventually find you've fallen into a rut. I guess you could say that a rut is a habit that we don't like anymore.

Look at the areas of your life you consider ruts - what activity did you do repetitively that got you into the rut? Why was it a good thing at first and not good now?

III. Do you want to get out?

But if we say we don't like the rut - are we sure we really want it to go away? We must sometimes examine the reasons for our ruts. It may be there to protect us from some pain we perceive that the effort to change would cause.

Most of us don't change (behaviors, attitudes, relationships) until the pain gets great enough. This doesn't need to be physical pain - psychological and emotional pain can cause us to change as well. The desire to get out of a rut - in our relationships, our jobs, our free time - will only motivate us when the alternatives become unattractive enough.

So your first task in rut busting is to honestly ask yourself if the pain you feel is sufficient to move you in some other direction. If the answer is "no" then the next task is to begin to add reasons to change. Start a list - write down as many reasons as you can to change and a second list of reasons to let the status be "quo".

IV. How to get out of the rut.

Move in a direction perpendicular to the rut. In daily behavioral terms, this means applying direct pressure in the direction away from the rut. It means going out and walking instead of sitting in front of the TV. It means confronting the jerk at work instead of knuckling under. Ever notice how loud an engine gets when it's trying to power out of a rut? This is hard to make ourselves do but probably the quickest way to get results.

Get a plank or some other tool to increase your traction. In life terms this means taking a class or joining a support group or reading a book. It may mean asking for help which, if you've ever been stuck in a rut, can be embarrassing.

Call a tow truck. Hire a coach or get some counseling. In this day and age it is not a negative stigma to establish a relationship with a professional who can guide you and provide you with the life tools you need to change. Email me at the address below for information on a free coaching session.

Get a more powerful vehicle. Go back to school. Strengthen yourself physically. Eat better, sleep more. One of the things I learned after I'd taken Time Management and Stress Management classes was that I was able to handle more "things" in my life which kept me out of a rut.

V. How to stay out.

Map out the road ahead to avoid the ruts. If you have no life goals or plans you'll tend to get back into ruts easily. Read Barbara Sher's book "I Could Do Anything in Life, If I Just Knew What it Was".

Get a guide who can show you how to stay out of trouble. Ole Steve, the Croc Hunter, never seems to need a guide - but most of the rest of us do. Again, the key here is a relationship with a coach or counselor or support group who can help you stay honest.

Conclusion: if you still don't know how to get out of a rut after reading this, then write me with your circumstances. I'll try my best to give you an objective evaluation of your situation - though you may not like the answers!

Hal Warfield is a professional speaker, teacher, and coach. Contact him at


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