It comes on suddenly.
For months, I’m obnoxiously giddy about my life and what I get to do for a living. I’m on a roll. No, not just on a roll: I’m on fire! #Unstoppable.
Until, one day, I wake up feeling…doomed. Life is relentless. I have to do this till I die? I hate my industry. Everyone’s a dirtbag, and I’m pandering to them. I have no good ideas. I’ve lost my edge. My posts on Instagram aren’t getting many likes. I’m not “resonating.” Nobody likes me anymore. It’s time to step aside, make way for the new kids, take up decoupage. I’m tired. I can’t even go near my laptop, need to lie down and watch streaming shows on my iPad. All of the latest season of Real Housewives of [Current Location], even though it now sucks. Or maybe start The Sopranos from the beginning again. The Wire? No, Breaking Bad. That’ll keep me stupefied for at least a week, give me a sense of purpose. See you on the other side.
Yup, I’m in it…
It used to hit every April. Sometimes, in November, when it’s getting darker and feels like dinner time at 4pm. And often, it would last for weeks or even months.
The rut happens to me less now that I understand that it’s cyclical – just like dry, itchy skin. I don’t get down on myself for that; I just slather on the lotion. (Or, scratch till I bleed. Too lazy for lotion.)
I’m also able to crawl out of my rut faster – sometimes within the day – now that I know what works for me. Maybe something here will work for you, too.
Before I share, a few notes.
Note 1: These aren’t entrepreneur-specific, but I’ll admit they’re filtered through my entrepreneur lens. That is, the lens of working for myself and being able to shape my day…and destiny, no biggie. (If that sounds smug, guilty! But remember, my smug spirit crashes periodically like anyone else’s.)
Note 2: I’m not addressing clinical depression here. This is more about a general malaise where you feel like your mojo’s gone, and you’re not productive or motivated like you used to be (last week).
Note 3: Some of these address writer’s block, but I’ll need to do a dedicated post for that. It’ll overlap a little, is that OK? I say it is.
Ready? Here are my tested rut busters.
1) Lean into it.
Stop fighting the urge to watch every episode of a 10-season show on Netflix (instead of doing what your life requires of you), and give it your 100%. Binge away. You won’t be able to stop till the end, but you’ll actually be eager to finish so you can get back to your life. Plus, you’ll see what you can get done when you’re into it! 10 seasons, straight? Look at your focus and stamina!
Major cliche, but it’s true. Getting off your tuchus and physically moving changes the chemicals in your brain. And, if nothing else, at least you exercised. When I’m feeling creatively useless, I give up and go for a long walk. Even if I still feel useless when I come back, I can say, hey – I exercised.
3) Listen to some self-help-y woo shit.
You have to be at least woo-curious, or woo-adjacent (that’s how I label myself), to get with this one. If you’re not, skip to the next idea because otherwise, you’ll judge me, and I AM NOT IN THE MOOD TO BE JUDGED. K. When I’m feeling stuck, I like to walk and listen to Abraham Hicks videos on YouTube. They just make me feel good, even when they’re a little “out there.” I stay away from the ones on reincarnation or human tragedy, but I love the ones about money and success. There are tons of them. You can look for a particular topic. Lately, I like to search for “Abraham Hicks on writing a book.”
I actually upgraded to YouTube premium and an unlimited data plan so I could pork out on these videos without worrying about using up my MBs.
4) Start a new habit.
I wish I’d written the book “Make Your Bed” because going from someone who doesn’t make the bed to someone who makes the bed first thing every morning was a game-changer. (Actually, I don’t have a whole book’s worth to say about it, but I love the title.) I had it in my mind that I couldn’t change as a person, and simply changing that one thing proved to me that there was possibility for more change.
I also became someone who unpacks the minute I get home from a trip. I used to watch my husband do that and think, “I wish I were that kind of person.” One day it finally occurred to me, “Oh, I could be that person. It’s my choice!” I proved that by doing it.
That helped enormously to convince me that I don’t have to live with wishing I were a different kind of person. I can become one. Who knew???
Even if you’re “not a writer,” writing fires synapses in the brain (or some science-y thing like that) and gets you thinking in new ways. That’s what you need to get out of your cyclical, stuck thinking. Even if those are the exact thoughts you write down. You can write in a physical journal, an Evernote doc, a google doc, any doc. I like 750words.com. It’s helped me create a daily writing habit. Writing + new habit: two in one!
6) Help someone.
I don’t mean sign up to volunteer somewhere. That’s a great idea, but if I were in a rut, I probably wouldn’t follow through. I’d get overwhelmed by the volunteer sites online; spend all day trying to decide between teaching underprivileged kids to read, chopping onions in a soup kitchen, and helping build affordable housing; give up, and buy myself something on Shopbop. Being honest here. Again, I’m not saying don’t do this. You totally should; I’m a bad person.
What I’m talking about is easier and more immediate: Facebook groups. Whether it’s a work-related group (Badass Bookkeepers) or a personal one (Women Who Date Douches), I can guarantee someone in there will post some struggle or question or cry for help – “The guy said he loved me naked, but now he’s not texting me back! I don’t understand!” – that you can comment on helpfully.
Being helpful can break the spell of thinking you suck and have no good ideas.
7) Hide or unfollow people you’re jealous of or who make you feel “behind.”
If comparing yourself to someone sends you into a tailspin of feeling behind (and then into the quicksand of paralysis), unfollow that person. I know the common wisdom is, “if you envy someone, that’s an indication of potential in you.”
Yes, sure. But if it doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel good. I’ve been guilty of continuing to follow groups and people who, whenever they show up in my feed, make me feel frantic and a little depressed. I don’t unfollow because I think, “They might post something I need to know about” or “If I don’t know what they’re up to, I’ll fall further behind”, or “keep your friends close, and your frienemies closer” etc.
Nah. Just hide them. You can always unhide.
8) Take a shower.
That’s right – bathe, dirty bird! Kidding. This one’s only good for my temporary, one-day ruts, when I’m not getting anywhere with my work, and I’m dicking around on Instagram and Facebook and can’t seem to shift into gear. Getting in the shower resets me. Gives my day a (literally) clean slate.
9) Cross off an incompletion.
Incompletions: those little to-dos that stare at you from every corner of the house. A sloppy stack of mail items you can’t throw out because you need to deal with them; an underwear drawer that won’t close all the way because there’s a bra stuck behind it; an alert that keeps coming up on your computer (that you set up and keep closing): “BOOK FLIGHTS FOR MARCH TRIP.” Oops, that’s me.
If you’re in a rut, try getting one of those things done. Pick at random. If you’re like me, trying to decide an order of attack will keep you right where you are.
10) Phone a friend.
More likely, you’ll text a friend. However you communicate, reach out to a friend who’s good at reminding you why you’re awesome. Not everyone has this friend, so this one might be unfair. I can text or call my friend Susie and ask, “What’s great about me?” and she’ll give me an immediate list. That always helps.
11) Create and publish.
Write something, paint something, photograph something, sing something, say something, and hit post or send. This sounds counterintuitive if you’ve got writer’s block or any other kind of creative block. Like, “Thanks a lot, that’s the problem, I can’t.” Yes, you can. It doesn’t have to be epic or great. It can be short and stupid. If it touches or helps or changes the mood of just one person, then it was worth it. Even if no one responds to it, that’s fine. You’ll be doing someone else a favor: giving them permission to post something that no one might respond to.
12) Use prompts.
If you can’t think of anything to say, look up prompts. Any time I google “writing prompts,” I come up with new ideas of things to write about. I did it just now, and the first one is: “No! Write about a time you said no to someone or something and were glad you did.” I’m a rebel, so I’d probably write the opposite: about a time I should’ve said no, or regret saying no. I have a 2-in-1 story – the time I said no to a trip to Cuba because I had a date with a guy from college whom I barely knew. (But he was really hot, and he was coming in from Connecticut to see me!)
Bet you’ve got something to write or create just from that, amiright?
13) Take a course.
When’s the last time you learned a new skill?
One reason I’m obsessed with my house dance class is that it gives me that feeling you get every day as a child, but less as an adult: the feeling of “I got it! I’m doing it!” I’m not a psychologist, but I think that’s an important experience for your well-being.
There’s so much available online, lots of it for free, that you don’t even need to leave your house or spend a dime to learn something new. Hip hop dance, cartooning, speaking Italian, spatchcocking a chicken. (Please admire the third item here – makes for a perfect triple because “chicken” is a funny word and “spatchcock” is even better.)
You could learn to tweak your own sales and website copy. This starter course spurs my Shrimpers into instant action, making quick, money-making improvements all over their websites: homepage, about page, services page, you name it. Taking action is the best (well, only) rut-buster there is.
Do you get in a seasonal rut? What do you do to bust it?
Which one of these would you try first?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.