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

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.

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.

The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life 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

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Live Your Best Life Starting Today

How to Live Your Best Life Starting Today

As human beings, one of our deepest-rooted desires is to have a meaningful and happy existence. You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Live your best life.” It’s good advice.

We all want to feel connected to both ourselves and others. We want to feel that we’re part of something important and that we’re making a difference in the world.

We want to look back at our lives and our achievements and be proud. In short, we want what the saying says: to live our best lives.

But what does it really mean to live your best life?

You are a unique individual, so living your best life is exclusive to you. Your best life will reflect your true values. It will be made up of what makes you happy and will be colored by what making a difference means to you.

What Stops You From Living Your Best Life?

While living your best life is all about you, what other people think can have an impact on your quest to live your best life.

Social media, for example, puts us under a lot of pressure. There are specific expectations of what “happy” looks like, and we’re under pressure to conform to what society expects.

For example, we are pressured to look a certain way, wear the “right” clothes, have exciting adventures with eye-catching friends, eat ethical and healthy food, and do charity work.

These are only a few of society’s expectations. It’s a long list.

Social media claims to connect us, but often it can do the opposite.

We can spend so much time worrying about what other people are doing, trying to live the life that society expects of us, that it can be easy to lose track of what makes us happy and what our best life actually looks like.

Start the Journey

What does it look like to live your best life? The following are some practical tips and tools to move from living your current life to living your best life.

1. Be the Best Version of Yourself

To live your best life, you must be the best version of yourself. Don’t try to be something or someone else. Don’t try to be what other people want you to be.

Focus on who you want to be. Play to your strengths and be proud of what makes you different. You are brilliant.

Gretchen Rubin, in her book Happiness Project, created her own commandments. The first one was “Be Gretchen.” This gave her permission to follow her gut feeling and make up her own rules.

For example, she stopped forcing herself to enjoy parties, cocktails, and fashion just because that’s what she thought society expected.

So, inspired by Gretchen, create your own commandment: “Be more YOU,” and remind yourself of this every day, unapologetically.

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2. Observe Yourself

To work out what the best you looks like, you must get to know yourself better. It’s your best life after all – not anyone else’s.

Start to notice how you respond to various situations. What are your habits? What makes you happy? What frustrates you? How do you behave under pressure? What gives you energy? What drains you?

Spend a week simply noticing. Write your observations down so you remember.

3. Identify Your Bad Habits

As part of your observations, start to notice your bad habits. Consider the things that don’t ultimately make you feel good.

Does scrolling mindlessly through Instagram make you happy? For 5 minutes, perhaps, but for longer?

That last glass of wine was delicious, but do you pay the price later?

That chocolate was enjoyable at the moment, but now that the sugar high is over, are you feeling regretful?

Observe yourself first. Then, start to deliberately do more of the things that make you happy and give you energy.

At the same time, work on reducing then eliminating the habits that squander your time, drain your energy, and ultimately don’t make you happy.

Need help conquering your bad habits? Read How to Break Bad Habits Once and For All.

4. Set Intentions

After having thought about what makes you happy and what drains your energy, focus on what living the best life looks like for you.

One of the keys to this is being intentional about it. When you deliberately set intentions, you are more likely to act with purpose and drive.

Setting intentions is different from setting goals. Goals are your list of things you want to achieve. You can set them daily, monthly, yearly, or a combination.

A common practice is to define goals and write them down. This makes them more tangible and makes you more accountable, therefore, making the goals more likely to happen.

The subtle yet important difference between goals and intentions is that when setting intentions, you decide what kind of positive feelings and emotions you are seeking.

For example, “This week, my intention is to approach my admin tasks with gusto in order to complete them more quickly.”

Intentions can be more motivating than goals because if you don’t achieve your goal, it can feel like a failure and can ultimately hold you back.

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If you don’t achieve your intention to approach something in a specific way, you can more easily regroup and have another try.

Write down your intentions every month, week, or day, using whichever time frame works best for you.

For example, “I intend to enjoy going swimming three times this week” or “I intend to assertively build my network in my local area this month.”

Setting intentions gives you something to focus on, and it also helps to manage the feeling of being overwhelmed that often happens when we set ourselves goals.

5. Visualize Living Your Best Life

Visualization can help you to cement your intentions. It involves visualizing how it would feel to live your best life once you achieve it.

It can help you to further establish what you want and allow you to settle into a positive mindset.

To visualize, first choose your focus. Choose a specific intention and how you will feel once it is accomplished. Then, take the time to daydream and allow your imagination to wander.

For example, if your intention is going swimming three times a week, imagine what you will look and feel like:

  • What will you wear?
  • How do you get there?
  • What time of day do you go?
  • How do you feel when you’re in the water?
  • How do you feel afterward?

Ask yourself these little questions and allow yourself to feel the same feelings you would feel if you were currently fulfilling your intention.

10 Ways to Live Your Best Life

Now that you’ve decided and visualized what your best life looks like, let’s look at some more practical steps you can take to achieve it.

1. Focus

Whatever you do, focus. If you swim, swim. If you study, study. Multitasking is a myth. It’s not possible to do more than one thing at a time well. Focused work is the least tiresome and the most productive type of work.

Michael LeBouf, the author of The Millionaire in You, said,

“Winners focus, losers spray.”

2. Take Responsibility for Taking Action

Taking action can feel scary. We fear failure, but we can also fear success. It can be easy to feel too busy to achieve your intentions.

However, you have the choice to take action and live your best life or stay the same. It’s up to you, so take responsibility to take action.

3. Live in the Present

Every day is a new opportunity to live your best life. We so often get stuck because we put things off.

We can think, “When I’ve lost 10 lbs I’ll go swimming,” or “When I feel more confident I’ll look for a new job,” or “When I get my new running shoes I’ll start running.”

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How about starting from where you are? How about using what you already have?

We often put off taking action until we have the newest phone/camera/game/course/book/shoes as if they are the keys to happiness. In the process, we forget about what we already have.

Grab the camera that you have, put on your old running shoes. Go and do something interesting today with what you’ve got. Fancier gadgets, better clothes, or a slimmer body won’t make you better.

Action will.

4. Declutter

This applies to the environment you live in as well as the people you spend time with. Use Marie Kondo’s decluttering method of asking, “Does it bring you joy?”[1]

If your answer is yes, you keep the item. If you hesitate or say no, you donate it or throw it out. Simple.

This also applies to people. If there are people in your life that make you feel bad, drain your energy, and don’t bring you joy, let go of them.

Instead, spend time with the people and activities that give you energy and make you feel good.

5. Relish the Simple Things

When we’re busy, we can forget to appreciate what we have. Take time to focus on the simple things. Even when you’re feeling low, there’s always something to be grateful for.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.[2] Be deliberate in being grateful for what you do have, rather than resentful of what you don’t.

6. Journaling

Journaling

is simply writing your thoughts down.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper not only helps you get your thoughts in order, but it can also help ease symptoms of depression and manage stress and anxiety.[3]

In the chaos of life, it is easy to overthink, feel anxious, or not appreciate what you do have. Journaling can help you manage your thoughts and feelings and productively cope with life.

Be curious and keep learning. Ask more questions and keep pushing yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and learn.

What are you interested in or curious about? Perhaps it’s learning more about where you live, or reading up on a particular topic? Maybe it’s traveling to a new town or country?

According to Dan Pink’s research, learning is a key motivator.[4] Whether you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in a boring routine or you’re stressed by the tasks of daily life, learning something new is a way to step outside yourself and your comfort zone.

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Create a bucket list of all the things you’d like to do and learn and the places you’d like to go to, and start ticking them off.

7. Make Someone’s Day

Being kind to others makes them feel good, and it also releases chemicals in your body that make you feel good. Think about a time you gave someone a gift that they loved. How did you feel?

You don’t have to start giving people gifts to make someone’s day. Think about small, thoughtful gestures: a genuine compliment, opening the door, offering to help someone.

All these things can make a big difference in someone’s day.

8. Look After Your Body

Eat what nourishes you, including plenty of vegetables and fruit and food that’s natural and unprocessed. Drink plenty of water.

Exercise because you like it, not because you’re supposed to go to the gym.

Reject the idea that you have to push yourself really hard at exercise, and instead try out a variety of things – for example, walking the dog, gardening, yoga, swimming, or dancing.

Find what you enjoy. When you enjoy something, you’ll be motivated to do it more.

Get good rest! We’re all different in terms of the amount of sleep that we need. However, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep.

If you’re not getting that much, then check out healthy sleep tips from the Sleep Foundation.[5]

More tips for staying healthy: Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthy and High-Achieving You.

9. Manage Your Inner Critic

Most people have an inner critic that tells them they are not good enough, that they’re a fraud, and that they are going to be found out.

This happens especially when we step out of our comfort zone and change things. If you are living your best life, your inner critic likes to jeopardize that.

The next time it appears, acknowledge what’s happening and call it out. Whatever it is telling you, list all the reasons it’s wrong.

10. Be Prepared to Change the Plan

You may have set intentions to live your best life. However, life is not linear, nor does it work in lists. You must expect to be flexible and change the plan as life throws things at you.

The end game remains the same: to live your best life. It’s just the route to get there that will inevitably change.

Conclusion

Live each day like it counts, and remember, it’s your choice. Your best life is unique to you. Don’t compare yourself to others – focus on living your best life, and enjoy the learning, exploration, and experiences along the way.

More Tips on How You Can Live Your Best Life

Featured photo credit: Juliana Malta via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Kon Mari: Tidy your space, transform your life
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: In Praise of Gratitude
[3] University of Rochester Medical Center: Journaling for Mental Health
[4] Daniel H. Pink: Dan Pink on Motivation
[5] Sleep Foundation: Healthy Sleep Tips

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