When I get into a rut, my instinct is to get caught up in unhelpful habits. I drink lots of diet Cokes. I eat big bags of orchard-variety Skittles. I binge-watch a TV show I’ve watched a hundred times previously. These habits cause me to feel lethargic, not like my best self.
I am learning new and better ways to break out of ruts – activities that are pick-me-ups rather than rut-enhancers. I’ve begun to compile a list.
KEM’s List of Reliable Rut-Busters
1. Going for a REALLY long hike or run. Exercise is an incredibly effective antidepressant. But sometimes, when I’m in a rut, I can’t deal with even the thought of exercising.
I’ve noticed, however, that if I arrange some sort of extensive workout, it can help me to break free of inertia and have a fresh, energized restart. Usually, I enjoy exercise, but I’m NOT going to enjoy it when I’m in a rut.
Since it won’t be enjoyable, it needs to be an activity that I can’t do for five minutes and abandon. Going for a run that involves a looooong loop – that way, once I’ve run for just a few minutes, I’m partway into a loop and I’ve just got to keep going and finish it. Or, an extended hike; I was in a rut prior to Tee’s birthday this year, and she wanted to go for a long hike that day. Hiking is relatively easy (top-secret info – hiking is really just walking), but if you commit to hiking a long trail, it leaves you feeling tired-but-happy. Another great option for me, though harder to arrange, is a day of rock climbing – it doesn’t take a long time for rock climbing to exhaust me, thus leading to enervation and, later, that good, proud feeling that you get when you’ve used your muscles productively.
For other people, I imagine different kinds of exercise might be helpful. Going to an exercise class, maybe an extra-challenging one – getting dropped off at a gym and telling your partner not to pick you up under any circumstances until 90 minutes have passed- playing a sport with friends or with a young child. (I’m making all these up, because running or hiking are my go-to activities.)
2. Starting a new book. The best-case scenario is when an author I love has come out with a new book that I can read cover-to-cover. (Many a rut was busted by a brand-new Harry Potter book, purchased at midnight at my local Barnes and Noble store.) The second-best option is asking someone with similar bookish tastes to recommend a book. For the book to be an effective rut-buster for me, it needs to be an easy, fast read, compelling, usually suspenseful – we’re talking The Girl On The Train not War and Peace.
3. Laughing like crazy. Sometimes this can mean watching a great comedian’s stand-up act or re-reading Jerry Seinfeld’s Sein Language. Sometimes it means hanging out with funny friends. (We all have lots of different kinds of friends. But, you know who I mean – the friend(s) that can always, ALWAYS make you crack up about nothing and everything.)
4. Making a gratitude list. Often being in a rut means living in a den of self-pity. Writing down five, ten, or a hundred things I am grateful for can sometimes snap me out of my pity party!
5. Cleaning upmy house. This is my least fun option. And it only works if you can muster the energy to make your bed, to wipe down your kitchen counter, and to clear away some of your clutter. However, I am often surprised by how effective this is. Per Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project, outer order contributes to inner calm. It really helps me to feel calmer and more in control when my house looks calm and in control.
6. Having a getaway. This might be my most reliable option. When I feel stuck, changing my scenery is often the best way for me to feel like I have a fresh start. Since I’m not made of money, my getaway usually involves a day at a state park or a drive from Maryland to Philly – anything that helps me to change my routine and get some fresh perspective.