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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again

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Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again

So it has come this far. You’re stuck in a rut and feel like you’re not living your life to the fullest. You can feel it, but you find it more and more difficult to get rid of this feeling…

That’s why you are here, right?

Some of your friends or colleagues might say to you: “just cheer up!”. But you already know that it’s not that easy.

So instead of offering shallow advice on what to do, this article contains a clear 6-step plan to get you out of your rut and to live a happy life again. These are actionable things you can do right now, that don’t involve anything bizarre or life-changing.

Step 1: Write down What’s Keeping You Down

This first step might sound rather anti-climatic. You’ve come all this way to find this article, and now you’re asked to write down your feelings?

Even though it might sound silly at first, writing down whatever is keeping you in a rut will allow you to become more familiar with the issues you’re having.

What to write about? Don’t think too much about it and just start writing! If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, you’ll probably feel unhappy right now.

Write it down! “I’m feeling unhappy right now”. That could be your first sentence. Now ask yourself why. Why am I feeling unhappy right now?

“Because I feel unmotivated and don’t have any ambitions or goals”.

Or maybe it’s “because I feel like my love life is slowly evaporating”.

It could be anything. What I want you to do is to just start writing and keep going. Be critical and curious about the things you are feeling.

Keep asking “why” and soon enough you’ll have a clear idea of what issues are causing you to feel unhappy and stuck in a rut.

Step 2: Create a Plan and Set Small Goals

So you’ve filled a good page with why you are feeling stuck in a rut? Good! Did you fill multiple pages? Even better!

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Now it’s time to create a plan based on the root causes of your negative feelings. This plan must be specific and should contain small goals.

Why small goals?

Because it’s more difficult to measure progress on a big goal.

Imagine you found out in step 1 that you severely dislike your job, so you’re thinking of a goal like: I want to find a better suiting job.

Now, that goal in itself might be great, but it’s better to slice it up into smaller, more attainable goals. Think about it like this:

  • Update my resume
  • Start looking for openings
  • Send out 3 applications
  • Schedule my first interview at a different company
  • Get hired at a new job

See how this is practically the same goal, but seems much more attainable?

Also, tracking progress is much easier when you create smaller sub-goals like this.

This is a vital part of your plan: it needs to contain measurable and attainable goals. This will help you stay motivated, instead of forcing you to become paralyzed by the shear size of your goal.

You’ll notice that you can find your way out of this rut by taking small steps like this. This brings me to the next step of this action plan:

Step 3: Accept That This Process Takes Time

After having written down your feelings in step 1, you probably found out that change won’t happen overnight.

The negative feelings that you’re experiencing right now are a result of a lot of things that may have already been going on for years. These habits that you’ve slowly built during your life won’t always be easy to change.

That’s why you need to accept that it takes time to get out of a rut like this. Finding long-term happiness again is a delicate process that cannot be rushed.

You have created a plan with actionable steps that you can take to get you back on your feet. Now do what it takes and move forwards, one step at a time.

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What if you failed to move forward after a bad day?

Don’t sweat it! We are all human, so we are eventually going to encounter some rough weather or bad decision-making along the way.

It’s crucial that you recognize this for what it is: small speed-bumps rather than complete failures.

What if you’ve had a bad day? Sleep it off, and start fresh again tomorrow.

Step 4: Prioritize Your Sleep

Now, this step might seem silly to you. How is sleep going to help me get out of this rut?

It turns out that sleep plays a gigantic role in our mental health. Even though you may not feel tired after sleeping only 5 hours for three nights in a row, you’ll be surprised by the potential lasting effects of this sleep deprivation.

The USA is one of the most developed countries in the world. A worrying trend that developed countries are showing is that the workforce is becoming more and more sleep deprived. Phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “work hard, play hard” are becoming more regular every day.

Anecdotally, sometimes when I mention I try to sleep 8 hours a day, I sometimes get strange looks from my colleagues. Like I’m some sort of loser that doesn’t know how to live life to the fullest.

“Sleep is for the weak!”

This kind of thinking is extremely flawed, and one of the reasons why chronic depression is on the rise. It shouldn’t surprise you now that depression rates are the highest in developed countries like the USA.

I’ve personally analyzed 1,000 days of my happiness and sleep habits over the last 3 years. I tracked my sleep every night and rates my feeling of happiness on a scale from 1 to 10. What I found out was very interesting:

  • I am constantly experiencing a social jet lag
  • I sleep much less than average on weekdays, and have to make it up on the weekend days
  • I have only been truly unhappy on days where I was heavily sleep deprived

These where the biggest lessons I learned after analyzing my sleep and happiness.[1]

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your feeling of unhappiness is a result of bad sleep habits, but if there’s one thing that most people seem to neglect, then that’s sleep. Don’t make that same mistake.

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Step 5: Spend More Time with the People You Love

Almost everybody has a small circle of people that they trust and love, whether that’s a partner, family or friends. These people have a positive influence on your happiness.

I want you to focus on spending more time with these people. When you’re feeling stuck in a rut, you are more likely to postpone activities that require you to be outgoing. You’d rather be lazy and watch Netflix all day than to go outside and meet up with your friend.

You must try to break out of your comfort zone and spend more time with the people who actually have a positive influence on your happiness.

These are the people that can help you to get out of your rut. You can even share the plan that you’ve made in step 2 of this article.

If these people truly love you, then they can act as a support net for the moments when you’re feeling down. This might sound intimidating and scary, but it’s a step that should not be underestimated.

Even when you don’t feel comfortable sharing your plan with these people, there’s another thing you can actively do: be grateful that these people are in your life:

  • Be grateful that you have parents who support you, no matter what you do.
  • Be grateful for the friends with whom you can laugh your ass off.
  • Be grateful that you have a healthy and loving partner.
  • Be grateful that you have a kid that looks up to you and thinks you are the best.

Being grateful might sound like a rather pointless thing to do. Why would being grateful help me become happier again?

Well, the answer is simple.

Being grateful forces you to think of the positive things that you already have in your life. This allows you to face your issues with optimism. People that actively practice gratitude are better able to deal with toxic emotions.[2]

So what do you have to do?

Go out there and meet up with the people you love, and be grateful for having these people in your life. Even better: add these things as actionable and attainable goals in your plan!

Step 6: Try to Spread Happiness to People Around You

Wait. What? You’re asking me to spread my happiness, even though I’m looking for ways to be happier myself? Where’s the logic in that?

Well, it may surprise you, but happiness is a funny concept in more than one way.

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My personal favorite is this:

When you are trying to make others happier, you will paradoxically find happiness yourself.

How does that work? Here are some examples:

  • When we make somebody else laugh, we tend to laugh ourselves as well.
  • Giving something to others can give us a feeling of having a positive influence on another life.
  • Focusing on helping others allows us to not worry about our own problems for a moment.

These are just a few specific examples that you can probably recognize yourself. Even though they might sound simple and painfully obvious, it doesn’t change the fact that spreading happiness can have a positive influence on your own life as well.

It will definitely help you to break free from your rut and find happiness again.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that this article is different from other “get happier” articles that you have come across already. This list includes steps that you can take and plan for right now. No bullshit advice such as “just cheer up”.

It all starts with a plan, though.

I can’t stress this enough:

Write down what your issues are, and make an actionable and realistic plan to get back on top.

Set small goals.

Accept that this process takes time, take it one step at a time.

Prioritize your sleep.

Spend time with people you actually care about. People who have a positive influence on your happiness.

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Spread happiness, even though you might feel like this is not possible because you’re stuck in a rut. Happiness can be shared in many ways!

More Resources to Help You Get Unstuck

Featured photo credit: Paul Gilmore via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Tracking Happiness: The Effect Of Sleep On Happiness
[2] Greater Good Magazine: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

More by this author

Hugo Huyer

Author at Tracking Happiness, lifelong happiness tracker and passionate about all things mental health and well-being.

13 Ways to Seize the Moment and Enjoy Life More How to Think Positive and Eliminate Negative Thoughts Stuck in a Rut? 6 Steps to Break Free and Live a Happy Life Again 8 Tips for Coping with Anxiety During the Midlife Crisis The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

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How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

The Four Quadrants of Change

There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

The four quadrants are:

  1. Internal individual – mindset
  2. External individual – behavior
  3. Internal collective – culture/support system
  4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

First Quadrant — Internal Individual

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.

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Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
I want to swim = I am a swimmer

This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

Second Quadrant — External Individual

This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]

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Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

Negative Environmental Design

This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

Positive Environmental Design

This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.

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The Inner Ring

These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

The Outer Ring

The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

The same rules apply to companies.

One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).

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Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.

Leave

You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.

Persevere

This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.

Neglect

This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.

Voice

This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

Putting It All Together

When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

  1. Internal individual — mindset
  2. External individual — behavior
  3. Internal collective — culture/support system
  4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.

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Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via unsplash.com

Reference

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