The Art of Getting Out of a Rut When You’re Bored With Life
People naturally want stimulation, challenge, and meaning out of life. But people also become used to their daily routines, and feel unfulfilled by things like a terrible commute, a monotonous job, and the free lukewarm coffee at the office that Ted always finishes off right before you’re about to get some anyway, so why do you even bother?
The point is: life can get boring. Everything might be “great” -- no layoffs or breakups, no money or health problems -- except it's not great, and there’s no explanation. You’re in a rut. If you can’t seem to get out of your rut, here’s your path to feeling more excited about things.
Don’t beat yourself up about it
Maybe you think of it as being in a rut, or having an existential crisis, or being depressed. Whatever it is, people often criticize themselves, thinking something like, “This is such a privileged-person problem. I'm embarrassed I'm even complaining.”
But you won’t get out of a rut by denying its existence -- it's just important to acknowledge it without beating yourself up for being in one.
How do you do that? Follow these steps:
1. Congratulate yourself for noticing you're in a rut. That means you have some level of emotional intelligence.
2. Give yourself permission to be in it right now. Life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Without ruts, we wouldn't know joy. Every person goes through ruts. It's human nature.
3. Ask yourself what the rut is telling you. Are you bored? Understimulated? Depressed? Morally conflicted? Disconnected? This is an important step. If your rut is telling you you're understimulated in your entry-level position and desire more challenge, it might be important to act on that. But if your rut is telling you you're bored in your relationship of 10 years, especially since your new assistant started, you might want to take a step back and explore that one a little bit before acting on it.
Check for your standard rut-inducers
If you were perpetually exhausted, and you went to the doctor, she'd asses for various nutrient deficiencies. How's your iron? Your thyroid? Your adrenals? Your sleep?
Psychological ruts aren't much different. If you're deprived of social connection, mood-boosting nutrients, fun, purpose, and so on, well, that’s a recipe for a rut.
Ask yourself the following questions to sniff out common culprits:
How's your social connection? Do you work a job where you feel connected to your colleagues? Are most evenings spent solo? Does a weekend go by where your most significant interactions are with the Seamless delivery guy?
When's the last time you had fun? Like, legit fun, where you forgot about the world and just enjoyed yourself?
When's the last time you got your endorphins pumping?
How's your diet? Are you subsisting mostly on junk?
Do you feel a sense of purpose in your day-to-day life?
How's your internal dialogue? Are you encouraging and supportive, or critical and punishing?
Remember cleaning up after throwing a rager in college? If you were one of those people who left the dirty work to others while you tried to piece together what happened between 3am and 6am, I can fill you in. You walk into your kitchen, which reeks of... ferment. Where do you start? By pouring out all the empty beer cans and putting them into a garbage bag? Hand-washing everything, as in everything, including all pots and bowls that were called into action the night before? Cleaning the carpet, which is covered in a rancid paste of chips and beer?
The answer is clear. You start with the cans. There's no way you have it in you to attempt cleaning the kitchen top down, or scrubbing the carpet. Once those cans are out of the way, you'll have some momentum, and the next task will feel less overwhelming.
Same goes for when you're in a rut and need to get some inertia. You may have been told to "eat that frog," but ruts and hangovers are exceptions to this rule. Eat the tadpole first. Lower your expectations and start with an easy task to get your morale up. As inertia grows, you'll feel more capable of the more daunting stuff.
Talk it out
Clearly I’m biased and think everyone should have therapy, but recruiting support and accountability from a counselor or coach may be just what you need to see a clear path out of whatever rut you’re in. People tend to get all Blair Witch Project on themselves and feel like there's no way out; enter counselor, who can just say, "Dude, there's a road right here." Even a friend can offer a new perspective, if there are no other options.
Focus on what you’re doing right now
This may not be appealing if the present feels, well, kind of shitty, but focusing only on what you’re doing right now can weirdly go a long way toward making you feel better about the future. There's no trick to it, really, other than to accept what comes up without judging it. It's nothing more than paying attention to what’s around you without thinking about what you'll have for your next meal or how to respond to the email you just received.
Not big on the idea of paying attention to grayish cubicle walls, if that’s your situation? You can create these moments elsewhere by doing something that requires your full attention, like sports, art, cooking a meal, learning or listening to music, or exercising.
Find a sense of purpose (or be cool with not having one)
Boredom with life can come from a place of existential anxiety, which has been around as long as, well, existence, and was mythologized by the Greeks a long time ago. It’s nothing new, and it makes the future seem pretty grim.
Of course, when you feel like you have a purpose, the future's not as bleak. How do you find a purpose? The easiest way is to feel like you play a role in society. Volunteer, ask a friend how she’s doing, organize a clothing drive. Other ways of gaining meaning are creating (art, writing, music), learning, and connecting to spirituality if you're into that. Or you could have a kid to bring you meaning, if everything else has failed. That always goes well (please don’t do this).
Since we’re getting all existential, it might be worth asking yourself, "How would things change if I decided there’s no 'point' to life? If I'm no more significant than that tadpole I ate earlier?” If you can rest with the anxiety this idea creates, you'll be less likely to totally freak during those times when you question your existence. Of course, people generally feel happier if they have a sense of purpose, so do aim to create some using one of the angles mentioned if that seems possible.
And if all else fails, remember that ruts, like everything else, come and go. Sometimes (I repeat, sometimes), you don't have to do anything at all. You just have to exist, and you end up spontaneously coming out of it. If that's the case, consider exploring what might have made you feel alive again, so you can have it in your arsenal for next time.
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Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC is a psychotherapist and wellness consultant who dug herself in and out of a few ruts in her day. Read more from her at OneShrinksPerspective.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.