3 Signs You Are in a Rut — and How to Get Out

woman sitting in desert
Crime shows have always been my thing. While the characters and plots differ from series to series, the recurring “whodunit” question keeps me hooked.

At one point “NCIS” was my favorite. I checked out a couple seasons from the local library and watched episodes often. By “often” I mean every evening and also on weekends. Other responsibilities were left to wait. And wait.

I was in a rut. (One could argue it was actually an obsession, but we won’t go there.)

Back when covered wagons roamed the prairies and cowboys earned their spurs, being in a rut was no joke. Rains turned dirt roads and fields into mud, and wagons left deep tracks as they plowed through it.

Once that mud hardened, other wagons could get stuck in the ruts left behind. And when a wagon was stuck, it would take more than a little effort to get back on the right path.

These days when we talk about being in a rut, we may be referring to anything from low career satisfaction to eating too many fried foods. We may not feel stuck (yet), but we could still be locked into patterns and routines that are holding us back from new experiences.

Three Signs of a Rut

Today’s ruts may not be as obvious as the muddy wagon trails of yesteryear, but here are three general characteristics to look for in identifying them.

You spend most of your free time the same way.

If I spend each weeknight at home reading a book or watching TV, I’m probably in a rut. On the flip side, if I’m always racing to the next coffeehouse or hangout searching for a party, I am also in a rut. Doing the same things over and over does not a balanced life make.

You typically do everything with the same people.

Always hanging out with the same friends or family members can develop close relationships, but it also limits you. By all means treasure and invest in your closest relationships, but be willing to look for someone new to get to know.

You usually choose entertainment over experience.

This one may not seem as obvious as the first two. During my “NCIS” binge season, I consistently chose entertainment over several more important life experiences: public events with friends, reading or study, outdoor activities and even responsibilities like chores.

Living life takes action and intent. When we consistently choose entertainment over real-life experiences, we’re choosing to be passive instead of active. And we miss out on so much.

Rethink That Rut

There may be nothing inherently wrong with the ruts we’re in. Spending time with family and friends is good.  So is reading or exploring a city’s coffeehouse options. But when we find ourselves doing the same things with the same people over and over and over, it may be time to try something new. We don’t have to stop our favorite activities completely, and please don’t walk away from any relationships just to find something new, but carve out a few hours here and there to venture out of your normal playing field.

Of course it’s easier to coast along comfortably with no disruption, but then we aren’t growing and learning. We may still be going somewhere, but only where the ruts may lead us.

Get Out of That Rut

Take a few minutes and think through the last week. Did you do anything out of the ordinary? Did you step out of your comfort zone? Evaluate how often you spend time doing the same things. Is there anything in your life that’s taking too much of your time? What areas of your life need more of your attention?

If you had a real wagon stuck in a real rut, you might need to find a neighbor to help you get out. Even today, it can be helpful to ask others if they’ve noticed you fall into (or stay in) a rut. Ask a trusted friend what they think.

If you think you may be in a rut, here are a few new things to try:

  1. Make an international dish from scratch.
  2. Volunteer at your church’s youth program on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights.
  3. Join a local sports league.
  4. Go jogging or cycling.
  5. Take an online course or a class at a local college (some universities offer community education classes on a wide range of subjects or skills).
  6. Find someone at your church or workplace who you don’t know very well. Make a plan to meet for dessert or coffee (or do one of these activities with them).
  7. Introduce yourself to a neighbor you’ve never met.
  8. Make a list of activities you have never tried. Pick one and try it.
  9. Choose one day of the week (or month) and make it a try-something-new day.

Keep your eyes open for new opportunities, and be careful not to dismiss ideas too quickly just because they’re outside of your normal activities.

Be willing to break through your comfort zone. Pick a couple new things to try, and leave those muddy ruts behind.

Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Lauren Dunn
Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is a writer and toddler teacher, and she blogs at These Traveling Days. She loves to read books that are so good they make her want to crawl into their stories, and she can never have enough of her favorite Pixar movies or chocolate chip cookie dough.