Am I Stuck In a Rut?

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
— Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

PART 1: Recognition of Being in a Rut

There comes a time in everyone’s life where we feel we are floating through a sea of fog. We cannot see where we are going and everything seems sort of grey, so we stay put, just waiting for the fog and that feeling of ‘blah’ to pass. We are officially in a rut. It’s an easy albeit unpleasant place to stay. 

For the longest time, I didn’t even realise that I was in a rut. I work hard each and every day and during this time, I would come home from work exhausted, distracted and irritable. My children would tell me about their day but my mind was simultaneously obsessing over unnecessary thoughts so I never actually heard them.

All I wanted to do was to be left alone. I spent long periods of time just sitting in the bathroom so no one would bother me. When I was in the shared living space, I’d be stuck on my iPhone, like a hypnotised zombie just flipping through the most unnecessary content or obsessing over a silly game. Any time I was challenged about my behaviour, I would easily erupt into arguments to justify my behaviour. When you wake up in the morning already exhausted for the day ahead it might be time to pay attention.

The first step to pulling ourselves out of a rut is recognising that we are in one.

Most people do not even recognise that they are in a rut. The people around them do, but they often don’t understand it. Many family members just think we are being lazy or irritable or difficult. There are a range of symptoms that accompany this stagnant state of being, which include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Dysthymia — that depressed sensation of feeling nothing, not wanting to do anything or see anyone. Even though we may function well in our job and with our friends we have an absence of joy in our lives. We often want to be alone and zone out.

  • Self-doubt — questioning ourselves constantly: “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” or “What’s the point of me being here?” or “Why am I feeling this way?” or “Why am I not successful at what I’m doing?”

  • Carelessness and Laziness — there is a lack of passion and emotions in the work that we do or the responsibilities that we carry out. We lack the energy and the drive to do anything interesting with our free time. We are constantly tired and unmotivated.

  • Anxiety — a moderate uneasiness or a persistent nervous mood that something is wrong with us for not being good, productive or at least more connected enough, or that something is going to go terribly wrong for us and that we can never get out of it. This can at times be more extreme and paralysing.

  • Negative Self-talk — this is different from giving ourselves a pep talk. This is the conversation within ourselves where we shame ourselves for feeling the way we do. The voice inside that that tell us that we are pathetic for feeling stuck or for not meeting our expectations of success. The voice compares ourselves to other people (usually through social media channels) and we become disappointed in ourselves for not reaching a certain standard of living or being popular on our feeds.

When we recognise some of these symptoms of being in a rut, our first reaction is to desperately get out of the rut, but frankly we lack the motivation and the direction to pull ourselves out. While it’s not always easy, it’s definitely possible.

Begin by starting to become present with your emotions without judging them. This is an effective way to determine whether you are in a rut. If it is helpful, journal about your feelings. This is a yogic practice of witnessing your mind — the first step in mindfulness. When you can see that you are in a rut, you then develop the power to do something about it. If you don’t recognise it, you’ll remain stuck. 

The next blog post will cover the next step in getting out of that rut.


Hersha Chellaram