I love being in the mountains. But one of the realities of being in mountains is dealing with the ruts in the dirt roads that take you there.
When I was a teenager we had a white Toyota Corolla – a car that sits low to the ground. Don’t tell my parents, (though I suspect they figured it out) but since it was what I had available, I oftentimes took it four-wheeling in the mountains.
Here’s what happens with dirt roads. As cars drive on them, they create small indentations in the road. Then when it rains, water flows down those indentations, creating ruts. And oftentimes a single big storm can turn a simple, navigable rut into a chasm that’s way too deep, with edges way too steep, for a car like a Toyota Corolla to get out of.
Toyota drivers on mountain roads learn very quickly that ruts are dangerous, you need to avoid getting into them, and when that doesn’t work, you need to get out of them as soon as possible.
If you don’t, you’re going to get high-centered, a condition that oftentimes creates permanent damage and certainly takes time and effort to resolve.
Unfortunately, getting stuck in ruts happens figuratively too.
We find ourselves in situations where we’re feeling trapped, out of control, going in directions we don’t want to go. If we're not careful, we're going to high center. And when we high center, we can't go anywhere. We're just… stuck.
Of course, there are good ruts: good habits that are ruts you want to actually stay in.
But unfortunately, many of the ruts we find ourselves in are bad ones - the ones we definitely want to get out of as soon as possible.
To complicate matters, most of us deal with multiple different ruts in different aspects of our lives, all happening at the same time. Business ruts, relationship ruts, emotional ruts, spending ruts, eating ruts, etc. Many of them are small, low-cost ruts, but each takes its toll, and in combination, our personal collection of ruts can affect us in major ways.
This raises the key question – since trying to avoid them doesn’t always work, how do we get out of the ruts we find ourselves in?
Here are several ways I’ve found to get out of ruts and to prevent yourself from getting into new ones.
Remove the triggers that cause you to become rut bound
Awhile ago I discovered that I’d developed a habit that was costing me around 20 minutes a day, It was a stupid little habit, but 20 minutes a day is more than 2 hours a week, made worse by the fact that it was happening in my most productive part of my day.
As I analyzed this situation, I sought to figure out what was causing me to fall into those behaviors and realized that those activities tended to happen after a certain trigger event.
So, I made the decision to not allow that trigger event to happen. Most days I succeed and get back those 20 minutes for more useful activities.
Because the trigger never happens, the rut never happens.
Here’s an example of how this works. I’ve found that somewhere around 4:00 each day I hit a moment that’s a combination of low blood sugar and “I’m tired of working.” When that happens, I’m tempted to give myself a moment of relief from that pressure by clicking on Twitter and Facebook to see what’s going on in the world. That click is the trigger that incites the behavior.
When I fall for that temptation 30+ minutes of my life disappears into useless drivel at best, and doom scrolling at worst.
I tried different solutions, until I discovered that when that moment happens, instead of pulling that trigger (clicking over to social media,) if I get up out of my chair, walk downstairs, and grab two stalks of celery, a couple of radishes or two leaves of romaine lettuce. (Yes, I know I’m weird. I literally never thought of lettuce as a snack food, but you should absolutely try it, it’s got a combination of crunchy with a slight amount of sweetness that’s quite satisfying.)
5 minutes later I’m back at my desk, refreshed, state changed from the physicality, and (this is important,) less hungry!
The result, I trade 5 minutes for 30+ minutes of emotional-rollercoaster doom-scrolling. And I feel better physically and emotionally as a result.
By eliminating the trigger, I eliminated the rut.
It’s worth diving into an important distinction here for a moment: technically, the low blood sugar and fatigue is the cause, but the thing that triggers that behavior is clicking into social media. I can eliminate the behavior by solving either one of those factors. In this case, it’s easier for me to focus on avoiding the trigger (clicking into social media) than avoiding the blood sugar and fatigue.
What are some of the triggers that get you into ruts in your life?
Get outside help
Sometimes we get myopic and short-sighted. Because sometimes it’s hard to see some things clearly and to take the long view, we get stuck in what we're currently doing, what we're currently believing, and the way we're currently acting.
Sometimes the best way to solve that is to get outside help.
A little while ago I called my old performance coach who I haven't worked with for two years and said, "Hey, it's time for us to work together again." I hired him on the spot to come help me out.
Part of that is to help me get out of some of the ruts that I'm in. I know that he has helped me in the past. With one call and a few dollars a month, I got outside help to help kick me up to the next level.
Who could you hire, or create a mutually-beneficial agreement with, to give you regular outside perspective on your business, your actions, your attitudes, and yes, your ruts?
Somebody recently said to me, "Don, you're always wearing a collared shirt and you always looked like dressed up."
I do that because a while ago I got in a primarily emotional rut. My wife encouraged me to start dressing at a higher level, because that would make me feel more professional and subtly start shifting my attitudes in a more positive direction.
I shifted from wearing T-shirts and sweats to wearing a shirt with a collar and real live pants, and sure enough, I found myself feeling better about myself.
I feel like other people feel better about me when I dress up a bit.
And, even if no one even sees me. I know that I dressed up. That I fully came to work that day. That I am pulling out all the stops to perform at my upmost best.
As much as the laid-back lifestyle entrepreneur inside me may hate this, I think the way that we dress has a lot to do with the attitude that we have about where we are in our business and how well we're doing. This is especially true if you're feeling depressed, down, becoming reclusive, or pulling within yourself. Those moments (and everyone has them) are great opportunities to dress up and be all in.
We all know that there is a mind shift, a state change that happens when we move our bodies.
For several years I had an assistant working with me in my office. Whenever energy started to wane, both of us would do sit-ups to change our states. We’d do a hundred sit-ups and 30 or 40 pushups really quickly.
5 minutes later, we were back at our desk, refreshed, revived and excited. Over time we found ourselves doing that three or four times a day. You may want to try doing the same!
It doesn’t have to be situps and pushups if that doesn’t work for you. Turn on a dance party, jump on your treadmill, do some squats, jog in place, do jumping jacks, whatever works for you.
And those of you who don’t have a mailbox attached to your house, that’s a great excuse to go for a walk. Part of my afternoon routine each day is to go get the mail. Why? Because it gets me out of the house and as I go walk down the block to get the mail (my mailbox is at the end of the street) I get some sun, I see nature, and hear the birds. If I wish, I can do it all in 5 minutes (though I oftentimes turn it into a full-scale walk) and return back to work ready to go again.
Many of us are in a rut, especially with social distancing and isolation, that has caused us to get into bad eating habits. Perhaps we’ve put on weight.
Maybe it's time to eat differently.
One of the things I did to prevent that was to decide that one meal each day would be a big salad. It’s certainly helped. (And coincidentally, I now eat lettuce as a snack, who would have thought…)
Even if you are already eating well, I think there are other anti-rut kinds of things you can do around food.
For example, my guess is that there is a restaurant in your town that has a different ethnic food or a different style of food that would dearly love to have you get takeout from them. It’s a great way to try and discover some new food options, and get you out of a rut you’re in.
What scares you?
What is it that you're afraid of doing? If it's safe, perhaps you should do it.
Maybe jump out of an airplane, tell that person you’ve had a crush on for months that you’re interested, or learn to scuba dive.
I remember the day I literally walked off the edge of a cliff. There happened to be a rope attached and I was rappelling.
It was the first time I had ever rappelled in my life, but I did it because I had always been afraid of heights. So, I decided that walking off the edge of a cliff would be a really good thing for me. And it was!
When you rappel, there’s a moment when you're leaning back, you're holding onto the rope and you make a go/no go decision. All you have to do is to take a step back up to the top and you're done. Or, if you take the step down the cliff, you’ve just committed yourself.
I needed to take that step off. That was good for me.
Among other things - it’s good to be able to say and to have that part of my brain where fear lives know that I have literally walked off a 50-foot cliff.
I’ve been using this in my personal conversation with myself for decades – “I have walked off a 50-foot cliff, with really jagged rocks at the bottom, and didn’t die. I can certainly do this simple thing…”
Who could you call?
Who do you have on your address list who has a different perspective or who will challenge you, who will push you, who will ask you, "Why are you doing that?” Or, “What are you going to do differently to achieve what you need to?" Who could you call that can give you a different perspective and cause you to change?
What’s the one thing?
Finally, what's the one thing that's keeping you in a rut that if you just change it, it'll kick you out of that rut and enable you to act and be a different person than you were yesterday.
Ruts, despite what I described in the beginning about the nature of dirt-road ruts, are usually simply overblown figments of our imagination.
We think they’re huge, trapping, and virtually impossible to get out of.
But oftentimes the only thing you need to do to get out of a rut is to make a decision that you’re done with it, and you’re just going to behave differently.
Then stick to it.
I know that sounds simplistic, but you’ve done it before. Many times. Just take those same mental and emotional muscles that you used to recover from the breakup of your first relationship, the loss of your first job, the bad habit you were able to break, or the way you pulled yourself up out of that emotional funk you got in last week…
You can do it. I have faith in you!
I’d love to hear your secrets to getting out of ruts – let me know by leaving a comment below.
Ruts. They can be good things or they can be very bad. The last thing you want to do is get high centered in a rut.
This is Don Crowther saying, just go do this stuff.