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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.

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Published on April 1, 2020

Why an Attitude of Gratitude Is Essential (And How to Develop It)

Why an Attitude of Gratitude Is Essential (And How to Develop It)

There is one way to make sure that you wake up every single day feeling calm, joyful and blissed-out, and that is to adopt an attitude of gratitude.

When you make it a conscious habit to express appreciation for your life, the Universe listens and responds with more love. Let me be clear… this doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person if you aren’t able to see the good on a bad day.

Life is far from perfect. Sometimes things happen that cause us to react negatively. Having a pity party is okay now and then. However, it does nothing good for your mental and emotional well-being.

An attitude of gratitude forces you to get outside of your problems and look at the bigger picture. In turn, you are better able to bounce forward when challenges occur in life.

What Is an Attitude of Gratitude?

An attitude of gratitude means that you operate from a place of abundance instead of a place of scarcity and fear. Each of us always has a choice of what we will focus on.

Grateful people give thanks for everything in their life, even on the days when it feels like nothing is going right.

To turn an attitude of gratitude into a sustainable habit, your foundation for feelings of gratitude must be independent of your circumstances.[1]

Hence, even on the days when it feels like nothing is going right, you have to find the silver lining and give thanks for what is working.

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As Melody Beattie says,

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, and confusion to clarity.”

Why Is Gratitude Important?

We all know how important it is to have a positive attitude. We’re taught to look at the world as a half-full glass, rather than a half-empty one. There’s good reason to adopt this mindset.

Studies show that if you express gratitude, it raises your happiness by 25%.[2] When you take a moment to give thanks for what you have, instead of ruminating on what you don’t have, it fills you up.

If gratitude is so good for your mental and emotional health, then why do so many people struggle to practice it? As humans, we are hardwired to dwell or fixate on the bad.

Psychologists have found that negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones, referred to as the negative bias.[3]

As a result, a lot of people tend to move farther away from gratitude, which is an essential precursor to happiness. As Lewis Howes says,

“If you concentrate on what you have, you’ll always have more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll never have enough.”

4 Simple Ways to Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Let’s look at 4 simple ways that you can develop an attitude of gratitude.

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

If someone were to ask you right now what you’re grateful for, would you be able to answer, without overthinking?

We often experience things that we should be grateful for, only to forget about them the next day. This is why writing down what you are grateful for is a good idea. By doing so you are rewriting your brain to focus on the good.

Gratitude journaling is the habit of recording and reflecting on things (typically three) that you are grateful for regularly.[4]

When it comes to practicing gratitude, consistency is key. Get into a routine of writing in your journal daily, preferably in the morning. This is a great way to start your day with a grateful heart.

Here’s How a Gratitude Journal Can Drastically Change Your Life

2. Express Your Gratitude

Once you have developed an attitude of gratitude, you are free to share that love with others. How often do you take the time to tell people in your life how much they mean to you?

Research shows that on the days that individuals strive to express their gratitude, they experience more positive emotions and are more likely to report helping someone and to feel connected with others.[5]

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Think about the people in your life who have made a positive impact on you. Reach out and tell them how much you appreciate them. There are plenty of ways to express your gratitude.

Start writing thank-you notes to anyone who has helped you along your journey, give out meaningful compliments, and celebrate the joys of others as if they are yours, too. Now, more than ever before, we need to uplift and inspire one another.

3. Celebrate the Small Things

We are conditioned to focus on and celebrate our big achievements, instead of our small wins. However, if you fail to ignore the small things and keep rushing from one thing to the next, you will quickly become demotivated.

Who you become isn’t determined by the end goal. Rather, it’s determined by the person who you become along your journey to success.

When you celebrate the small things, what you’re doing is celebrating your habits.[6]

Take time to pause, slow down and savor the small things. Instead of obsessing about the future or dwelling on the past, be more aware of the present moment. It’s all you’ve got. Relish in it.

4. Meditate on Gratitude

Meditation is a powerful practice in self-awareness. The goal isn’t to silence your thoughts. Rather, it’s to become an active observer of them. The process of meditation is all about allowing the mind to do its thing and accept it as it is.

I’ve always struggled with meditation. Sitting in silence for long periods of time isn’t my cup of tea. However, once I started combining meditation with gratitude, the game changed.

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I began the process of transforming my inner and outer world. Today, meditation has now become a non-negotiable ritual in my life.

Through meditation, we can build up areas of our brain and rewire it to enhance positive traits like focus and decision making and diminish the less positive ones like fear and stress.[7]

When you master the mind, you master your emotions. All of a sudden, everything in your life flows with more ease. You become less reactive and are better able to handle life’s challenges with grace.

The beauty of a gratitude meditation is that you can practice it anywhere. Take a few minutes out of your busy schedule each day to reflect upon the things and people whom you are grateful for.

If you’ve never tried meditation before, this guide is for you: How Do You Meditate? 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

Watch your mood change instantly. It’s powerful.

Final Thoughts

It’s never too late to start cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

What are you grateful for? Give thanks for whatever that is every single day. Life is beautiful. Take the time to stop and appreciate it. Gratitude has the power to transform your entire life.

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More Ways to Practice Gratitude

Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com

Reference

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