What To Do When You Get Stuck in a Rut

by | Aug 12, 2020

I got stuck in a rut this weekend.


Mother Nature dumped 8 inches of snow on the Windy City and my back tires were inconveniently parked in one of Chicago’s infamous potholes, which on this day happened to be filled with a thin layer of ice and snow.

A few minutes of desperate tire-spinning later, I felt helpless. But emboldened to get to my destination – my favorite burrito joint in town – I grabbed the wheel and started jostling. I broke free.

What an obvious metaphor for the inevitable ruts in life. Helpless tire-spinning, purposeful wheel jostling, and all.

Ruts. We all experience ‘em. And they leave us feeling helpless. Stuck. Sometimes defeated. Ugh.

I recall one such rut myself. I was on the losing end of a few bad bounces in my business —among them, a big deal we lost, a key person that found another job elsewhere— and pretty soon, nothing seemed to be going right. It set in motion this nasty vicious cycle.

I felt inadequate as a leader, which started to become self-fulfilling. Turns out, I was a decidedly less effective leader when I was in this place.

It felt like I was going through life with a thin layer of haze following me wherever I went. I couldn’t see clearly. I was down on myself, and it showed up in my leadership.

What did I do?

Well, I turned to my coach for help. She helped me to realize that I was creating the very circumstances I felt like I was beholden to, and helped me get my hands back on the proverbial wheel.

Find yourself stuck in a similar haze? Let me pass along 4 things I learned:

First, if you find yourself in a hole, first, stop digging. When your tires are stuck in snow, the first thing they tell you to do is to stop spinning them.

Likewise, in a rut, each feeling of inadequacy, negativity, self-consciousness feeds the beast and deepens the stuckness. If, for example, in your rutted state you feel like you stink at public speaking, and you limp into your next speech crippled by these feelings of ineptness, it will probably show in how you present. Your audience will understandably respond poorly to your guarded, insecure delivery. You’ll see it in the looks on their faces. And voila, you’ve confirmed to yourself the fact that you are a lousy public speaker.

But you’re not actually a bad public speaker. You’re just stuck in a nasty self-affirming belief that you are.

So… the first key is to STOP. Just stop. Once you are able to pause and recognize these emotions, you’ll have a much better ability to create a new way to respond to them.

Second, lean into a growth-mindset. The growth mindset holds that nothing is set in stone. That people can change, grow, and choose new ways of living and leading. That our habits, mindset, and personality are flexible and able to change. Once you realize this, it empowers you to grab the wheel again.

Third, remember that the words you use create your reality. If you want to overcome a rut, start paying attention to the language you’re using – both externally and internally – and the thoughts and beliefs that they are forming.

We talk to ourselves constantly, though much of this self-talk is unconscious. To break the vicious cycle of negativity and create positive change, you need to understand that your sabotaging beliefs you’re carrying around are shaped by nothing more than… words. So, examine the words you’re using and replace the ones that are keeping you stuck.

Let me share an example: I was coaching a CEO who kept using the word “stressed” to describe how he had been feeling. I reminded him that “stress” isn’t some invisible force that descends upon us against our will, but rather, is an emotion that is self-created. One that we choose to subscribe to. I encouraged him to replace the word “stressed” with “invigorated” – in his internal monologue and externally – and see what happened.

And fourth, examine the beliefs that these words are forming, and choose new empowering ways of thinking. Once you have embraced the ability to change and identified the words and thoughts that are keeping you stuck, then you’re in a position to question, analyze, and reframe these beliefs. The beliefs that you subscribe to dictate the outcomes you get! So challenge these self-limiting beliefs, and opt for new, more empowering ways of thinking.

That crummy presentation? It can be “An painful demonstration of just how lousy of a speaker I am.” OR “A great opportunity to get more practice at something that I know I can be good at!” Same experience. But a wildly different—and way more empowering—perspective to embrace towards it.

Is the belief actually true? What evidence is there? Is there an alternative explanation? Is what I’m thinking/believing useful to me? Are there other ways of thinking that would serve me better?

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