Have you ever felt completely STUCK in a rut with where you are in life? Like no matter what you do, you just aren’t making any progress? Like you are working your buns off but nothing is changing? It is SO frustrating.
Maybe you have been trying to meet a weight loss goal. Or perhaps you are like us, and trying to pay off some BIG debt, and it is not going as quickly or effortlessly as you’d hoped. Or maybe you started a business and it hasn’t really taken off. Maybe your having a really hard time getting ahead at work. Or maybe you are trying to have a baby and it is also not happening quickly or effortlessly.
Can I be real raw with you for a second? I have been struggling with each of the aforementioned experiences for over a year now. And quite frankly, I’m frustrated. But, at some point in life, we will all go through things that don’t go exactly our way. My above referenced experiences have left me asking myself one important question lately. How do you make progress in life when you feel completely STUCK IN A RUT?
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR SITUATION.
The first and HARDEST thing you have to do to make progress when you are feeling stuck in a rut is to take responsibility for your own situation. Especially if it feels like the situation is someone else’s fault. Try to see your role in the situation. In Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he breaks down the word responsible into “response” “able” in other words, you are ABLE to RESPOND. It doesn’t matter what your situation is. What matters is how you RESPOND to that situation. So whatever has happened to you, take a moment to reflect on how you may have been at least partially responsible for whatever has happened. Could you have done something differently? Better? What will you do now that it has happened? How will you improve the situation? Whatever it is, own it. Take responsibility for it. Nothing will help you progress more.
For example, Danny and I chose to go to law school and dental school. While we can blame the system for charging students too much to attend professional school, we are the ones who chose to go. We knew it would cost a lot of money. We can’t change the fact that we have the debt, but we can change our approach and or attitudes about how we will pay it off. We can do things to start earning more money and we can stick to our budget to help us reach our goal to pay it off.
When my son was about one, he was trying to accomplish the important task of throwing rocks into the ocean when we were at the beach. As a wave would come up on the shore close to him, he would throw a rock in. To his frustration, the wave would recede and the rock would STILL be there. So he would try again. The wave would come in, he’d chuck a rock as hard as he could in the water. The wave would recede, and the rock would still be there. He did this over and over and over again. Until he finally realized that this was NOT WORKING. So, he picked up two big handfuls of rocks and shells, ran as fast as he could, and dove head first into the ocean to get his rocks to stay in the water. As a mother, this made me both proud, and terrified that he was going to die.
What do these beach rocks have to do with you?
Well, it is possible that one of the reasons that you can’t make progress is NOT because you aren’t working hard enough, but because you aren’t working smart enough. You are throwing rocks into the ocean when the wave is high. And you might be doing it over and over again, working really hard, but getting nowhere. If you have been throwing rocks in the waves and you aren’t getting anywhere, STOP. Take a look around you. Use your time more efficiently. What tasks could you eliminate that take up a lot of time? What tasks could you focus on that help move you forward? What will help you metaphorically dive head first into the ocean and get your rocks in there?
CREATE SPECIFIC GOALS.
Many times when we can’t progress or are otherwise stuck in a rut, its because we don’t have a specific target that we are aiming at. You can’t just say “I want to get better at ____.” You have to enumerate HOW you are going to progress. You have to create mini goals to help you achieve your bigger goals. For example, if you are trying pay off big debt like us, you have your overarching goal of paying off debt. But be specific. How much debt will you pay off this month? How much debt will you pay off this year? How will you do it? What are you going to do every single day to help yourself move towards that goal? Be as specific as possible.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.
One of the most important things you can do to progress when you are stuck in a rut is to BELIEVE that you actually can do it. Not only have I never had debt before, but I have never had HALF A MILLION DOLLARS in debt before. And so for me, it is really hard to imagine paying it all off, especially in our goal of five years or less. But I try to do exactly that– imagine what it will be like to be out of this massive student loan debt. And that helps me to believe it is really possible. There is true power in positive thinking.
BE HONEST AND REALISTIC.
On the other hand, in addition to believing in yourself, you need to be honest with yourself. Perhaps you are frustrated by your weight loss goal. Maybe you want to weigh 100 pounds. But if you are 6’0 tall… weighing 100 pounds is NOT a realistic (nor recommended) goal. Maybe you want to earn a million dollars this year. While that is an achievable goal, you need to set realistic, honest goals that will get you there. Your goals are not magically going to come into fruition. It is going to take HARD work.
APPLY YOUR STRENGTHS, NOT YOUR WEAKNESSES.
So often when we try to improve ourselves, we focus on making our weaknesses better. In the book “Now Discover Your Strengths” the author postulates that instead of trying to improve your weaknesses, you should actually focus on your strengths. Sit down and write out what your strengths are. Then, get up and USE those strengths to help you progress.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR.
You have most likely heard the old adage “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results.” Well, to some extent, that is true. You can’t do the same thing again and again and get a different result. So start doing something else. If you are trying to progress at work and not getting anywhere, do your work different. Stay later if you have to. Come in early. Try to do something to think outside of the box. If you are trying to pay off big debt and you don’t have the income you need to achieve your goals, make cuts in your budget. Do things to increase your income. Get a different job if you have to. But don’t keep doing the same thing over and over. You have to change your behavior to make progress when you are stuck in a rut.
If you are stuck in a rut, you don’t have to do everything on your own. If you truly feel STUCK, like you aren’t making any progress whatsoever, GET HELP. Ask friends, family members, acquaintances, colleagues, superiors at work, ANYONE who will talk with you for advice. If you can’t find anyone to talk to, there are plenty of us on the internet throwing free advice at you. I had a friend in law school who was AMAZING at this. When she didn’t understand something, she would just start asking around. She would ask our classmates, upperclassmen, teachers she had, teachers she didn’t even know, anyone at all who would talk to her, until she was able to figure out what she didn’t understand. She didn’t worry about whether she was bothering anyone (like I know I sometimes do). And she was right not to worry– most people love to help when they can. So, if you are feeling like you simply can’t progress, start seeking out people who can help you.
Sometimes in life, just before moments of great success, we experience great darkness. It feels like nothing we are doing matters and we should just give up. But remember, the night is always darkest just before dawn. Sometimes if you hold on just a little longer and keep persevering GREAT things will happen. Stephen King’s first novel got rejected more than 30 times– he literally threw it in the trash! Fortunately his scrappy wife dug “Carrie” out of the trash and he kept working on it and sold ~4 MILLION copies. So if you feel like you are stuck in a rut, keep working at it, keep going. You never know what great things are about to come your way.
Having a good attitude is KEY to making progress when you are stuck in a rut. But trust me when I say that I KNOW that it is hard to be happy when you are struggling. One thing that I do, is right when I wake up in the morning I either think or say out loud that “today is going to be a great day” and I try to smile. And then I try to go out and make it a great day.
Feeling like you are stuck in a rut is SO frustrating, especially if you have been stuck for a long time. But, the good news is that you CAN progress. Start by choosing one thing off of this list and working on it for a little while. When you have made some progress, start working on another item on this list. Pretty soon, you will find yourself PROGRESSING way out of the rut that you’ve been stuck in.
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What things have you done to progress when you’ve felt stuck in a rut? I would love to hear from you.
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