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Last Updated on February 7, 2019

How to Get Out of a Rut and Start Living the Life You Desire

How to Get Out of a Rut and Start Living the Life You Desire

Life comes in waves of novelty and familiarity. When things are new to us, whether they are goals, living situations, or jobs, they give us this rush of excitement and fear that pushes us to continue forward. Through the good and the not so good, these waves of novelty give us the opportunity to start anew and fuel our desire to enhance our lives.

When things become too familiar, on the other hand, it’s easy to fall into old habits and to feel as though we are not getting anywhere. This feeling eventually becomes something that begins to consume our days and we fall into a rut.

Once in that rut, it can be hard to get out, despite though you are well aware that you have trapped yourself in a cycle of doing the same things and getting no results.

The good news about being in a rut is that it is entirely possible to get yourself out, it will just take a little bit of strategy and self-exploration. If you’re one of the many people who feel that life has become bland or repetitive, take a look at this guide to help you get out of your rut and back into the life that you should be living.

1. Figure Out How Deep Your Rut Is

Not everyone’s rut is going to be the same. Some people may come to the realization that they are feeling trapped, make a slight adjustment in direction, and quickly put themselves back on track.

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Others, however, may be in a rut for several years before they figure out exactly what’s wrong and by that time, it is a little harder to change your course so that you can head in the direction that you’re wanting to go.

When you first begin to notice the feeling of being stuck or trapped in your current situation, hold onto that feeling and evaluate it. How long has this feeling been going on? Is this something that has recently appeared or is this something that you have been dealing with for ages but are only now noticing? More importantly, what type of feelings are being brought about with this shift in thinking?

Although being in a rut may feel relatively similar across the board and point to a lack of happiness with one’s life, there are different emotions that may be experienced when you come to the realization that you are in a rut. Some may be angry, some may be frustrated, and others may simply be going through a funk that they can’t shake.

It’s important to note this last part as some people may have everything they want but could be dealing with a major mental health issue such as depression. Depression manifests itself through symptoms such as a lack of interest in daily activities, fatigue and feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and avoidance of work and other responsibilities.[1]

If you’re not dealing with depression, the good news is that all you need are some life alterations to feel like your happy self again. If you are dealing with a form of depression, it’s important that you seek the help you need and if it is needed, you can take care of any life changes after you tackled your depression.

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2. Determine Where in Your Life You Feel Discontent

Being trapped in a rut may be a sign that your whole life needs re-working but that isn’t always so. Sometimes we may feel in a rut at work but could feel perfectly fine when we are out with friends or at home. Instead, we may feel stuck in a rut in our personal lives and may very happy with the progress that we’ve made in our professional lives.

Regardless of whether your rut signifies a whole life issue or just a problem in individual or several parts, you have to take a comprehensive look at your current life situation to determine where you are not getting your needs met.

The easiest way to do this is by using a goal-setting tool such as Zig Ziglar’s Wheel of Life, which identifies some of the major sections of life that people may wish to improve upon in order to experience balance in all aspects of their life.[2]

This resource specifically focuses on the following categories:

  • Physical/Health Goals
  • Personal & Social Goals
  • Work & Career Goals
  • Family Goals (Relationship and friendship goals can fall in here as well.)
  • Spiritual Goals
  • Financial Goals
  • Mind/Intellect Goals

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    Start by going through each of these sections of life and asking yourself, am I 100 percent happy in this given area?

    If you are, congratulations! That’s one less section that you will have to work on to get yourself out of your rut.

    If the answer is no, however, take some time to jot down ways you can improve that section. For example, if you feel as though the work and career aspect of your life could be improved, maybe that means that you need to change your job completely and work towards what you love or maybe you just need to figure out how to get a raise or promotion.

    Whatever ideas and visions make you happiest, write those down so that you can reference them later on when you begin working towards what you want.

    3. Start Off Small and Gradually Set Goals

    You can’t change your life overnight and trying to do so can bring about as much frustration and stress as being in a rut can. Look over your goals each day and ask yourself, how can I work towards this today?

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    For the smaller goals like breaking a bad habit/creating a good habit or simply squeezing more you time into your day, you will be able to make these changes rather easily.

    For much larger goals that will take time, remember to break them down, set specific end goals and establish time frames, and remain mindful in your daily life so that you don’t end up drifting throughout your days and ending back where you are at the current moment![3]

    Final Thoughts

    The most important thing to remember is to not feel bad or bully yourself. Everyone goes through ruts, big and small, at some point in their lives. How your life goes from here depends entirely on what you do once you realize you are in one!

    Make the right decision by using the tips in this guide so that you can live the life that you want to lead in the future. If you need any additional help to guide yourself through some of the sections above, feel free to go through the following resources:

    Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Dylan Buckley

    Dylan is Lifehack's Motivation Expert specializing in self-development, with extensive experience working for life coaches and startups.

    9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams 25 Hard Work Motivational Quotes to Inspire You to Achieve More Think Your Work Sucks? 7 Ways to Deal with It 10 Reasons Why You’re Demotivated and How to Overcome It Why You Feel Stuck in Your Career After Staying in a Job Longterm

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    Last Updated on August 12, 2019

    Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

    Why Am I Not Happy? 5 Steps to Figure Out the Reason

    In our diverse world, where everyone wants to stand out from the crowd and has their own opinions just about everything, there is a rather universal idea we all – regardless of age, race, location, gender — embrace…

    We all want to be happy.

    We want to feel that we matter, are loved, appreciated, problem-free, care-free, and financially secure. And this has become one of the most obsessive quests of our society—to be happy, at all cost, by all means.

    Happiness has undisputed benefits—supported by countless studies—to about pretty much everything in our lives—from our mental or physical state, to careers, relationships, finances.

    Although the self-help industry is still having a sunshine moment with its advice on how to get to this coveted state, no one (that I’m aware of) has come up with The Magic Potion—that one thing or action or thought—that can make us all content and whole for good.

    Of course, we also all are knowledgeable enough to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that it’s often a combination of things that each one of us should intentionally do daily in order to reach that enchanted place where everything is intensely bright and upbeat.

    The reason that there are multiple antidotes to feeling gloomy is that there may be a million different explanations and their nuances of why someone is unhappy. It’s pretty much a different cause, path and experience for everyone.

    Top this with the “hedonic treadmill” phenomenon[1] —and you end up with an incessant (and rather tiring) pursuit of something that, quite frankly, no one has been able to define in concreate measurable terms.

    The second problem with happiness is that all of us become so hung up on the goal itself—that utopian state that we want to get to “one day.”

    Naturally, you can spend your whole life waiting for happiness to finally come knocking on your door, hoping, anticipating, existing in perpetual discontent—and the moment may never come.

    And then, looking back, you may ask yourself—was I truly that miserable or did I fall a victim of the happiness craze?

    That is—how can you know if you are really unhappy, if happiness means different things for everyone, it’s impossible to measure directly, and it’s rather fleeting?

    So, let’s start from the beginning— and examine the cause of why you’re unhappy, the symptoms and the treatment.

    Symptoms of Unhappiness

    According to the wellness site Mind Body Green, some of the most common manifestations you are not happy are:[2]

    • Feeling like you’re not as good as other people
    • Feeling like a victim of circumstances that are beyond your control
    • Feeling like your daily life is meaningless and task-driven
    • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or pessimistic
    • Protecting your heart with steel walls
    • Trying to fit in and belong, but rarely feel like you do
    • Feeling beaten down by the challenges you face in life
    • Feeling depressed, anxious, or chronically worried
    • Feeling like you’re not appreciated enough

    If this sounds like you, on a regular day, then you are not a happy fella, my friend.

    Reasons for Feeling Unhappy

    The most important indication that things are not great (at least in your mind) is the sense of “something missing.” You may not know what it is, but you feel hollow, incomplete. And you are aware that something needs to happen to make you come alive again.

    Of course, finding the reason for your woes is vital to prescribing (to yourself) the right steps to make it all better.

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    So, here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel heavy-hearted, or “like the joy has been sucked out of my life.”

    Lack of Meaning

    Everyone who’s someone in the happiness-advice trade will tell you that this is one of the main causes (of not THE biggest) of feeling blah. Especially relevant for our professional lives, lack of significance can be a dream-downer.

    An excellent piece in the New York Times talks about Harvard graduates who make $1.2 million a year in salary, but still feeling miserable and trapped in what they describe as “wasting my life” existence.[3]

    Simply put—you may feel unhappy because you need the “Why” in your life, as I also wrote in a previous post How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life.

    Happiness Disruptors

    Even perceived problems can feel quite real to many of us. Undeniably, though, any personal, financial, career, physical complications can make your happiness aspirations plummet.

    The constellation of all the issues or walls you can run into can be quite vast. For instance, you don’t like the way you look, you don’t make enough money, don’t have any friends or significant other, your health is fragile.

    All these can be serious impediments to an undisturbed-joyfulness type of life.

    Lack of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

    Few years ago (2003), a paper by the psychologist Roy Baumeister rocked the science world. Titled “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” it presented the idea (supported by research) that self-esteem and happiness are linked.[4]

    Specifically, high self-esteem leads to greater happiness.

    In addition, according to the famous American author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk, the main reason people are unhappy is because they lack self-respect—that is, they value others’ opinions above their own. Of course, it makes sense—and surely, it rings true with many of us too.

    Personality

    Linked to the above is another hindrance to becoming relentlessly upbeat, which may prove slightly challenging to overcome, if even possible—your personality.

    Of course, not per the self-help industry which thrives on the assumption that you can, with your own willpower, become a different person altogether. Namely—a much better version of the current you.

    But what the Wise Men also tell us is that you are either born to be a silver-lining kind of person or you are not.

    You can, of course, work on yourself to start seeing the glass half-full (vs half-empty). But you may never reach the gregariousness of someone who is just born with a more care-free temperament.

    Unreasonably High Expectations

    Having high expectations of yourself can be beneficial, according to research.[5] It leads to higher performance—a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect.

    Having too high expectations of yourself, though, may be counter-productive. You can run into all slew of mental health issues—depression, self-sabotaging, self-punishment, etc. And it can spill over all areas of your life.

    It’s certainly a case for future investigation.

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    Social Trends

    It will take perhaps at least few articles to list all the reasons why we can feel unhappy (a book even!).

    So, some of the other causes of being disgruntled with your life can be: long hours at work, “always-on” culture bread by the internet, increased screen time,[6] or boredom with one’s life (i.e. lack of excitement).

    Addiction to Unhappiness

    Apparently, you can also develop an addiction to unhappiness[7] —that is, some people like negative feelings and are “happy to be unhappy.” Rather disturbing, indeed.

    Unexplainable Reasons

    Or, sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on one thing, or on anything, for this matter—you don’t know for sure what makes you feel unhappy, nor what will make you happy. It feels like it’s everything—your whole life is a mess.

    But that’s not the end of the story. The most important questions you should be asking yourself are:

    Why? What’s the cause of my unhappiness?

    Because you can’t fix it when you don’t know what’s broken, right?

    5 Steps You Can Take to Figure Out The Why

    So, if you tick most of the symptoms above, it’s very likely that you are not living in Dream-land right now.

    Here is my advice on how to find your lumps in the batter.

    1. Mull over What “Happy” Means to You

    Happiness can take different shapes—hedonic pleasure, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment.[8] All of these—separately or together—can deliver to us sprinkles of joy.

    And because our lives are so diverse, the above will translate into different pursuits for each one of us.

    For instance, my hedonic weekend happiness means reading a book or writing, while for someone else—it’s socializing, taking a walk, or going on a shopping spree at the mall.

    Or, my life satisfaction can be to have a big family and leave a mark in the world this way. For others, it may be going after fame and fortunes. But either way, don’t fall for the society’s “narrative traps”[9]—that a bigger pay check, house, a certain job, person, etc. will give you a never-ending stream of bliss. It won’t, science confirms over and over.

    So, once you know what your happiness vision board looks like, you will have a better idea of what’s “missing” in your life.

    2. Re-Visit Your Expectations

    As I already mentioned, unreasonable expectations you or others have set for yourself can be deterring you from feeling gleeful.

    For one thing, aspirations often can become outdated. What you wanted ten or five years ago (or even six months ago) may not be relevant to your situation today and will need to be filed into a mental cabinet.

    Another issue is that our culture is putting an exponential pressure on all of us to perform more and better, to try and stretch the 24-hours a day into 30, to chase kudos and recognition. Any outcome that has earned less than the gold is punishable by exclusion for the cool crowd, by receiving less in perks, bonuses, and appreciation even.

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    As a result, anxiety, depression and all their dark friends start creeping into our minds and tint everything else that may be giving us joy and satisfaction.

    So, taking periodic audit of your expectations—their validity and importance place on your happiness list, is pivotal to stopping unhappiness spread into your life.

    3. Examine Your Way of Thinking

    At the heart of the so-called Rational Emotive Behavior Theory (REBT),[10] which was established by the American psychologist Albert Ellis in 1956, is the idea that it’s never the actual event that upsets us.It’s our interpretation and thoughts about it. By inference, changing our thoughts will reduce (and hopefully remove altogether) our anxiety.

    Let’s take this a stretch further. Positive (not delusional) thinking has been long proclaimed to be a winner when it comes to mental health. If you find yourself going down the spiral of negative inner dialogue, you must stop yourself immediately. It’s unhappiness trap.

    But it’s not easy-breezy, of course, to do such conscious policing all the time. It can become a habit, though, psychologists tell us. We can teach ourselves to quell negativity, and there are many things that can be done: How to Have Happy Thoughts and Train Your Brain to Be Happy

    And don’t forget to be grateful. It’s the best happiness shot there is.

    4. The Good Old Pros and Cons

    Although it may appear to be a less fascinating way to figure out whether you are unhappy or not, the pros-and-cons list has been around for a long time—and it’s still an excellent tool to let you examine things closely, evaluate alternatives and come to satisfactory answers.[11]

    Interestingly, as history tells us, this invention is credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century. Notorious for his productivity, he applied the pros-cons exercise to almost everything in his life.

    The beauty of the method lies in its simplicity too. So, go back to the drawing board and start penciling down the things that you like and don’t like (make you unhappy) about your life, and the things that you know with certainty to make you happy today.

    Of the “things-that-make me-unhappy-about-my-life” subset, have a think what you can do to move these along the continuum—to the brighter side.

    You may be surprised to discover that you have much greater say in the building of your own happiness than chance, circumstances or others.

    5. Mental Cleansing

    Mental health is in the limelight quite often these days. And rightly so.

    The way we care about our bodies and minds directly links to many of our life outcomes.

    Mental clutter can become a well-being stumbling block. Overthinking, old grudges, past events, can all make it very challenging to feel elevated and content.

    Doing a mental cleanse once a month can be the remedy to set yourself on the path to happiness recovery.

    Pay a visit to the past to confront your fears, get rid of the people who bring you down, free yourself from any emotional baggage. It will help you silence the bully in your head.

    Take a periodic stock of all the things that make you anxious and declutter. Why hold on to the things that you know to bring you grief anyway?

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    Unless you are one of those unhappiness addicts I mentioned above (which calls for a more radical intervention), carrying emotional baggage without doing anything to unload it, is a anti-glee behavior.

    Bonus Advice

    Finding our Achilles’ heel of happiness can sometimes be a tall order. It takes time, conscious efforts and an honest desire to make it better. It also alludes that we are ready to take the plunge into the self-help territory and take actual steps to improve our situation.

    But it’s not a lost cause, the research tells us. It’s possible to make yourself happy on a consistent basis.

    Here are few universal suggestions:

    One of the things you can do is to inject some meaning back in your life. And the best way to go about this is to flip the narrative. Case in point—the story of John F Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. He ran into a janitor and when asked him what he was doing, he replied: “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

    The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin tells us that there are two major path that lead a more fulfilling life:[12]

    One way is through our relationships—having strong bonds and feeling that we belong.

    The other route is through developing better self-knowledge—i.e. what things make us us, or glad, or sad. And base our way of living on our own values and goals, not others’.

    The feeling that we are not making progress is a definite joy crusher. We should compare wisely, find our passions, and diversify our experiences. These are not magic pills but more so opportunities to make our time here worthwhile and fulfilling.

    Final Thoughts

    Happiness is notoriously hard to pin down.

    There is no one definition of contentment, nor one way to ‘fix’ it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quantify and it’s idiosyncratic.

    More and more we hear a murmur from the science world that perhaps the best way to happiness is acceptance—of your failings and shortcomings, of the fact that life is imperfect.

    Knowing what makes us disgruntled is, of course, needed to find the right remedy for each one of us. Feeling constantly unhappy is not good and necessitates closer examination.

    Finally, beware of the narrative trap that if you are unhappy, there is something wrong with you. It may be normal, for a while at least. Otherwise, how would you appreciate the highlight moments of your life if you don’t see them against the backdrop of the gloomy times?

    Or, as the great singer Leonard Cohen tells us:

    “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

    More About Staying Happy

    Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com

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