July 3, 2018

So you bump into a friend you haven’t seen in a few months. Does this sound familiar?

Them: How’s it going? What’ve you been up to?!
You: Oh, not much! Things are good…I think? I guess?
Cue intense self-questioning over how you’ve spent every minute of the last three months

Because things can be OK, but at the same time, you might be feeling like you’re in a little bit of a rut. This emotion isn’t quite the go-go-go high you get when approaching a major life milestone like graduation or the start of a new job, and it’s not the low-low-low of sticky emotional situations like post-breakup vibes or feeling blue for months on end (a situation where you might want to consider seeing a professional).

Instead, the “things are OK, I think?” moments are what I call little ruts. You might be running on autopilot, but feel like taking back the wheel. Here’s how.

1. Shake Up Your Routine

Routines are lovely. Who would I be without my daily 6 a.m., 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. cups of coffee? (A monster, that’s who.) But occasionally routines can get a little, well, stale. Moldy. If every day feels exceedingly familiar, take yourself out on a solo date to spice things up. This idea comes from Julia Cameron’s creative guidebook The Artist’s Way. Cameron recommends taking yourself on an "artist date," but even if you're not an artist, a solo date can help you find some new inspiration. The best part: It only needs to last an hour or two.

If every day feels exceedingly familiar, take yourself out on a date.
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A few ideas: Go for a bike ride, plan a road trip, lie in a park, see a movie or play, walk a friend’s dog, wander a museum—basically any activity that enriches your creative self. You might come away inspired, or at least a little rejuvenated.

2. Think Back to a Past Rut (We All Have 'Em)

Maybe you felt like this at your last job, or during another semester. Maybe you felt like this last month. It’s easy to remember the lulls, but tricky to remember exactly how you got out of them. Jumpstart your mind by physically looking back on your calendar. You might find that you were much busier (or less busy) a few months ago. Did you feel in a rut then?

It’s easy to remember the lulls, but tricky to remember exactly how you got out of them.

Look at what you have coming up—would you like more items on your agenda? Plan some! Call up a friend or buy two tickets to a concert in a few months (because as we know, anticipating good things is even more fulfilling than the event itself).

3. Surround Yourself With Good Vibes

“You are the average of the five people you hang out with” is a saying I swear by, so take a good hard look at who’s in your orbit. Think about the type of energy they’re bringing to your interactions. And what you’re bringing as well. Emotions are so easily transferred to each other. We’re all little sponges! If you’re surrounded by people who are in their own ruts, it’s more likely that you’ll fall into the same trap.

If you’re surrounded by people who are in their own ruts, it’s more likely that you’ll fall into the same trap.
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That's not to say you have to completely ditch your rut-bound friends—just diversify your hangouts. Think about the most inspiring, let’s-get-up-and-do-this person you know. Sending them a text or hanging out over coffee may be the instant good vibes you need. (If you don’t have a friend like this, go on and say hi to me on Twitter—I love new friends!)

4. Ask Yourself: Do I Need a Push or a Pull?

Sometimes, to pull ourselves out of ruts, we need to push ourselves out of the hole ourselves. Other times, we might need someone to reach down and literally pull us out.

If you feel like you need a pull, look to the people around you for motivation.

But if you want to be pushed and feel like you can do it yourself, look at what you’re surrounding yourself with every day. What kind of books are you reading? What kind of shows are you watching?

A few years ago, I was in a little rut, and then realized I had been watching three episodes of Breaking Bad every night. Great show, yes. But I didn’t exactly feel sunny and ready to take on life at the end of every episode. So I stopped watching—midseason, I know, I know, I’m the worst!—but whaddya know, at the end of every night, I stopped thinking humanity was a dark bleak abyss!

Sometimes, to pull ourselves out of ruts, we need to push ourselves out of the hole ourselves. Other times, we might need someone to reach down and literally pull us out.
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5. Remember: Transitions Take Time

At my first job in New York, it took me an hour and a half to write 150 words. I agonized over every word. When I moved to my second job, speed was necessary. My editor told me to spend no more than 15 minutes writing up quick 150-word news posts. I was shocked. How was that even possible?! But I tried it and focused on two things: speed and accuracy. I began to write faster and faster, until I could dash off a post in 15 minutes.

The point is...getting better takes practice. And time. And more practice. When you feel like you’re treading water, look to small, repeatable habits. Writing 150 words a day. Going for an afternoon walk. Applying for one job. Calling home every week.

Even when they don’t seem like fun, and even when they don’t seem like progress, these small habits are churning and turning into something great. Right there, under the surface. Change is coming.


Read next:How to Create Your Own Opportunity