Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

By Gail Barker, B.A., C.P.C.C.

“The difference between a rut and a grave is simply a matter of depth.”

I wish I could remember where I first heard this quote, or to whom I should attribute it. Because I think it’s brilliant and it always makes me chuckle a bit (sometimes, the chuckle is more of a snort of laughter — either way, it brings a smile to my face).

The fact is, the feeling of “being in a rut” is something we all experience from time to time. Things start off innocuously enough; we settle into a familiar routine. The familiarity feels good. We find ourselves enjoying the predictable nature of our world and things are generally easy to work with. So we embrace our routine as something that serves us well.

The challenge is that at some point, what started out as familiar and predictable becomes monotonous and onerous. It’s no longer simply a routine; it’s not just a comfortable rhythm. It’s a rut. Ruts can keep us stuck, and being stuck is never a good thing.

What exactly is a rut? In the context of living life, a rut is any routine or habit that’s getting in the way of you living fully, and optimally. Examples of ruts can be as simple as taking the same route to work every day, eating the same foods for particular meals or at specific restaurants, or getting caught in the habit of spending too much time on social media. If you ponder your daily life, I’m sure you can think of someth Save ing in your life that feels as though it could be teetering on the edge of a rut.

On the surface, ruts seem like they’re not a bad thing. I mean, is it really so bad if you drive the same route to work each day? Or if you eat the exact same meal for breakfast? Or if you hang out on your favorite social media platform for an hour each morning? These sorts of routines and choices can make life so simple and comfortable, right? Well, here’s the question I would invite you to consider in response: what’s the impact of your “routine” on your level of engagement in your life? If your routine causes you to numb out in any way (think about driving to work and not really knowing if you ran through that stop sign or not) or if life feels dull, then I would suggest that your familiar routine is not serving you as well as you might think. Instead, you’re likely headed towards being in a rut.

So how do you break out of an ill-serving pattern? How do you ensure that you don’t keep traveling in a rut — any rut — to the point that you are in so deep it may as well be a grave? Follow these simple steps:

  • Pay attention. I know, this seems like a no-brainer. The trap of a routine, however, is that you don’t have to pay attention. When you are in a routine so deep that you’re just engaging in your tasks by rote, the fact is you won’t notice any potential negative impact of your routines on your life. When you pay attention — to how you’re feeling, to what you’re accomplishing (or not), to results — it’s easier to notice when you’ve settled into a stuck space. When you’re feeling stuck, it’s time to shake things up, and make a change.
  • Make a commitment. It’s not enough that you WANT to make a change; you have to actually commit to the effort involved. Often, it’s best to make the commitment in the presence of someone else; this way you don’t let yourself off the hook. As human beings we do best when we hold ourselves accountable. Which brings us to the next step…
  • Find an accountability partner. As much as we like to think that we can be accountable to ourselves, being accountable to someone else can often serve us better. It’s an incentive, of sorts, a motivation. And it’s very helpful to know that someone else has got your back. In other words, your accountability partner is someone who will champion you and cheer you on without shaming you (shame isn’t particularly helpful when it comes to facilitating long-term change).
  • Get clear on the result you’re trying to achieve. If you’re talking about losing weight or changing eating habits, don’t just settle on a specific number to see on the scale. Dig deeper, and ask yourself, what is the intended impact you’re going for by making this change? What will be different for you, in your life, as you change things up? Will you have a greater sense of well-being? More energy? Better sleep? The more clarity you have on this, the easier it will be for you to change your habit, whatever it is, and the easier it will be for you to recognize when you’ve truly achieved what you want. The gauge won’t simply be the number on the scale (which is a great visual), but the actual quality of the life you’re living.
  • Create a structure to support you. Use a chart to keep track of your success, or place a note in a prominent place to remind you of what you’re aiming for. Structures can be an invaluable support when you’re trying to make a change.
  • Get comfortable with discomfort. As you work to change things up, things might seem hard after the initial excitement. You might be tempted to go back to the familiar. This is normal. As human beings, we like the familiar — but remember, this particular “familiar” thing you’re working to change is something you’re doing in order to feel better. It’s about infusing your life with a greater sense of fulfillment. So expect and embrace the discomfort — and don’t let it push you back to what you once knew.
  • Bonus: Cut yourself some slack. Don’t expect that you will immediately get yourself out of a rut permanently. Getting into the rut took some time; so give yourself permission to take time getting out of it. Be okay with the occasional setback. Tackle whatever task you’ve set for yourself consistently, and don’t let slip-ups derail you.

It’s important to remember that any rut isn’t the problem in and of itself. However, if you don’t notice it and change it, you will not experience your life as fully as possible. You will not succeed to the degree that you want.

Bottom-line: everyone gets into a rut from time to time, both personally and professionally. Realizing you’re in a rut, however, doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck forever. You can get out. Set yourself the objective of creating a new routine, something that will increase your level of fulfillment. Do this knowing that when you get out of your rut, whatever it is, you’ll get your groove back. And finding your groove is always where it’s at.


Gail Barker is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. She specializes in supporting leaders to lead powerfully and meaningfully. Here company, Stellar Coaching & Consulting was established in 2003, and through that platform, she has supported hundreds of leaders in elevating their leadership game. A few of the additional hats she wears professionally are author, speaker, and radio show host. Personally, she is deeply committed to her family, loves to read, and finds deep restoration when walking along the beach (even in the winter).


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