How to Get Out of a Rut (Here’s the 10 Things That Worked Best for Me)

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 11/19/20 •  17 min read

Here’s a reality of life: we all get stuck in a rut occasionally.

Sometimes the ruts are deeper than others.

Sometimes they take longer to climb out of.

But no matter where you are in life, how successful you are, or how great things seem on the surface, we all have our moments.

Those moments where nothing seems to go your way, or even things are going your way, but you can’t seem to shake the funk. Whenever convenient, could you create an image for How to Get Out of a Rut (Here's the 10 Things That Worked Best for Me)

Sometimes getting stuck in a rut can be due to major changes in your life.

Sometimes, it’s because not enough has changed. <–This was a good reminder for me to re-read.

And other times, as has been the case for me recently, you’re not entirely sure why you feel that way.

Hint: It’s probably COVID 🙂

For me personally, by all accounts last year was a phenomenal year.

But this year, and specifically the last few months, motivation has been tough to come by.

I’ll get a couple hours of “urgent” work done, but then when it comes time to do the “important” stuff – I lack the focus to do it.

If you’ve been following this site for awhile, you know this isn’t anything new.

Focus, follow through, discipline – they’ve all been struggles.

And sometimes when you hit an extended period where you can’t break through – it can be difficult.

After recognizing the trend a few weeks ago, I’ve been more proactive about getting out of it.

I’m not quite where I’d like to be, but every day I’ve been slowly building new habits, finding little tricks, and doing other small things that are helping me to get re-motivated to do the work that I know I’m meant to do.

How to Get Out of a Rut in Your Life

This list is by no means a be-all, end-all solution.

I just know that if I’m going through this, chances are you have (or maybe currently are) as well, and a fresh perspective can often be helpful.

You might find this video helpful:

1) Take Pride in the Things Around You

I’ve never been a neat freak. In fact, I’m a pretty messy person. My house, my car, it’s often got stuff strewn about it, that can lead to a really cluttered environment.

You know the old saying “cluttered space, cluttered mind” – it’s absolutely true. Especially if you’re now spending more time quarantining or working from home.

But I’ve found a more useful way for me to look at this is to take pride in my things and my environment,.

For instance, I use a $3,000 laptop every single day to do my work. Yet, the screen is covered in smudges from months of use without wiping it down. My car has clothes, receipts, and old drinks in the cup holders.

There’s a clear relationship with how I treat those things, and my mental well being.

When I cleaned up my office, spent an hour tidying and washing my car, and gave my laptop an overhaul (both the outside and the dozens of files on my desktop), I started to feel pride in everything else about me as well.

Often my problem is getting started on an action. And the simple action of wiping down my computer screen, led to me removing all the files off my desktop and so on.

By taking pride in the items and spaces I use most often, I shifted from being surrounded by negative reminders to positive ones.

Action Item: What is one thing in your life you’ve been neglecting. What can you do today to show it some love?

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2) Focus on Trigger Habits

I’ve talked in the past about what I call “trigger habits.”

What I mean by this, is there are certain actions that trigger me to do other actions.

For instance when I wake up and drink a big glass of water, it triggers me to want to do another positive action. So this leads to me making a healthy breakfast. On these days I’m more likely to go to the gym, and because my morning routine was dialed, the rest of the day falls into place.

Here are just a few examples of potential trigger habits:

ACTION ITEM: I’ve been re-reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s might be the most valuable book I’ve read in the last two years. Everything in it is both easy to digest and to act on. If you’re looking for a specific action to take after reading this post, I’d recommend picking it up.

3) Bring the Sub Conscious, Conscious

It’s easy to coast through life on auto-pilot. In fact, most of us do it. And when this happens, unfortunately we often fail to address underlying issues that might be causing some of the obvious stuff on the surface.

This month I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about things I might be worried or anxious about sub-consciously, so that I can bring them to the surface and address them.

A few examples of this are:

Actually thinking about these and bringing them to the surface can be difficult, but it also allows you to start addressing things weighing you down, and just that alone can help your mood.

Simply feeling pro-active about things in your life can go a long way.

ACTION ITEM: Take 10 minutes today and feel your stress or anxiety. Make a list of the things that are coming up. When you address them, they become easier to act on, and help you reduce the stress in your life. Read this post on how to relieve stress for additional help.

4) Detach from your Phone

This simple action has been one of the most important things I’ve done. When I’m procrastinating and beating myself up for not doing the work, my default action is to scroll through my phone.

There are some days where I’ve literally spent hours doing this. Nothing about that is going to make you feel good.

The simple fix? Put the phone someplace else. By adding friction to the process and making it more difficult to pull it out every time I feel the urge to, I’m spending much less time on it.

The “screen time” app for IOS shows exactly how much time you spend on each app. I’ve found it valuable to review this once a week, to see which apps I need to be cutting down on.

And here’s a message for 99% off us right now: We can all stand to spend less time on our devices.

ACTION ITEM: Consider taking a digital detox. Here’s a bit about how I approached it:

5) Create a “Healthy Home base”

This is going to be different for all of us, but recently I wrote about how I joined a new Club that had the potential to make me both more productive and more active.

And two years later, I’m happy to say that it’s been everything I’d hoped it would be.

3-4 days of the week I’ll head there in the morning and work for about 4 hours, and then I’ll go workout.

It’s easy to get cold water, or healthy smoothies and lunch items, so when I’m there, it’s easy to get into healthy routines which makes me feel good about myself and what I’m doing.

NOTE: Obviously this routine is a bit different during COVID times 🙂

That said, your healthy home base can be any number of different things.

It could be a certain area of town where you’ve got a favorite place to work (like a coffeeshop or coworking space), a spot to get exercise (a gym, bike path, running trail), and a place to get food that makes you feel good.

I can think of numerous spots here in Portland where I can get all of that within a one block radius.

It may even be a dedicated space at your house.

But finding a place where you’re only focusing on things positive for your goals has been really effective for me.

But at the same time…

6) Break the Routine

I’ve learned that too much routine is a bad thing for me. It can kill my creativity, open to the door to bad habits to add more interest to my days (overeating or drinking being big ones).

So it’s important to understand which routines and in what amounts are the most helpful.

The morning routine I shared above has been really effective for me. I can do this everyday and feel good about the trajectory it’s putting me on.

But for instance if I work all day everyday at my Club, I get burnt out and it stops being as effective.

Different coffee shops, work spaces, areas of the house are all beneficial for my work routine.

Also regular travel or days away from work are important for me as well.

I used to always work weekends, and I’ll still often do some work. But as much as possible I try and use those days to break the routine.

On the diet the 4 Hour Body Diet, Tim Ferriss recommends a cheat day once a week. On this day you eat as much junk food and unhealthy stuff as you want. This is supposed to reset your brain so that it doesn’t get too accustomed to the diet. When done right, it also helps you curb your cravings for unhealthy food for at least a few days afterward.

Not working on weekends has the same effect for me. I reset my routine, and after not sitting at my computer for two days, it leaves me excited to dig back in on Monday morning.

This is one of the reasons Mondays are my most productive day of the week.

7) Make EVERYTHING as easy as possible

This dovetails a bit with the first tip of taking pride in your things.

Because I tend to be a bit of an unorganized person (to put it delicately), doing simple tasks can often take far more time than they should:

“What happened to my keys??”

“Where are my gym shorts?”

“Where’s that stupid dongle for my SD card”

Not only does this lead to frustration and wasted time, but it can often stop a positive action dead in its tracks.

Take too long to find those gym clothes? Eh, I just won’t go. You know you’ve had some version of that happen before!

So lately I’ve been planning ahead to make things as easy as I possibly can.

When I make doing the positive thing easy, I’m more likely to actually do it. The more positive things I do? The more I want to keep doing positive things. 

And when I’m in a routine of doing that, I feel happier and less stress.

More happiness and less stress? Less funk.

This video is all about how Asana helps me do this:

8) Write a list of recent experiences that made you happy

Last month when I was deep in my funk I was trying to write a blog post and it just wasn’t happening. It lead to me thinking about how I want to approach my annual review for December, and then getting a little overwhelmed by the thought of having to do something so in depth, when I couldn’t even get myself to write a measly 250 word about anything I wanted.

However, what it did lead to was me beginning to write down a list of all the places I traveled last year.

Sean and Tate in Tokyo

My wife Tate and I in Tokyo last year.

In trying to remember what all of those places were, it forced me to go back through my phone and look at all the photos I’d taken.

This brought up a lot of happy memories that I’d forgotten about, so I started making a list.

I was shocked at just how many things I wrote down. I had close to 50 and could have kept going. Even this year where travel has been limited and COVID has changed life as we know it, I still had a lot of memorable experience that bring me joy.

Even amidst happy times it can be easy to find yourself in a rut, but looking at just how many amazing experiences, memories, and friendships I’ve had this year put a big smile on my face.

I found this exercise to give me some perspective and to be a well-needed reminder of just how fortunate I am. Depending on how my annual review process evolves I may publish part of this list later this month.

ACTION ITEM: Write down a list of 10 things in your life that make you happy. Write even more if you feel compelled to.

9) Write

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I started writing this post while I was still deep in the middle of my funk.

I vowed not to publish it until I’d snapped out of it, and established the healthy routines that would give me the best chance of staying in a positive head space..

The day I wrote this was one of the most positive days I’d had in months.

I did everything I talked about here. I was a beast of productivity, and I felt good about it.

It’s a bit of a dichotomy, because often when you’re in a rut, motivating yourself to write can be really difficult.

Yet every time I do, it acts as a bit of a breakthrough.

I personally like to write things with the intention of publishing them. Not only is it cathartic, but then it also feels like I’m taking a positive step towards productivity.

But writing anything can be very therapeutic. It’s one of the very best ways to do what I mentioned above, and bring the sub-conscious, conscious.

It allows to to explore your feelings, concerns, struggles, and ideas – rather than keeping them all jumbled around in your head.

So whether it’s blogging, journaling, or just jotting down notes, if you’re in a funk commit to 5 minutes of writing.

Chances are once you do 5 you’ll go much longer, but I’m willing to bet just by doing it once you’ll feel a little bit better. Do it on a regular basis, and you’ll feel a lot better.

Action Item: We have a lot of resources to help with your writing goals. Here are some of my favorites:

10) Focus on Process, Not Results

I’ve often found that when it comes to getting out of a rut, it isn’t about the results.

Sure if I get a bunch of work done, I feel better about myself in the end, but that isn’t the sole factor.

You see, when I go through the processes I’ve listed above, I tend to feel better regardless of the results and output at the end.

Sure, usually the right process leads to better results, but by not worrying about them in the first place, it frees up headspace to work on the underlying issues and develop those systems.

This entire blog post is an example of the process I’m talking about.

Rather than focusing on getting that sales funnel done, or sending out those sales emails, I’ve shifted my focus to the process that involves:

If I do those things on a regular basis, the results will come and I will break out of my rut. I’m better off not dwelling on the fact I didn’t check off that to-do list item one day, and instead putting effort into establishing the system that will get me there the next.

The Downside of Solopreneurship

I just want to leave you with one more thought.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve come here because you’re looking to make a change in your life. After all, that’s what Location Rebel is all about.

You might have a grass-is-greener mentality, and starting a business, a blog, or otherwise working for yourself is going to magically make everything in your life better.

Here’s the thing: It won’t.

It can help with a lot of things. When I was in my day job, my blood pressure was 165/102 as a 24 year old.

Within 6 months of moving to Thailand it dropped back down to a normal range without medication.

But my entire life I’ve struggled with focus and procrastination. It’s why my grades were average in school. It’s why I was only average at my day job. And honestly, it’s why in the grand scheme of things my businesses have just been average in relation to what they could be.

Working by myself has simply exacerbated that problem.

By not having people to collaborate with on a daily basis, and by having a lack of real deadlines – it makes it extremely easy to procrastinate.

Doing this leads to getting down on myself for not being able to focus and get more done.

Extended periods like this? Lead to the rut that I’ve now been talking about for 3,000 words.

We all have issues, and while building a business can lead to wonderful experiences and a wonderful life – there’s no such thing as perfect. Any underlying conditions, bad habits, or addictions will come with you when you start – and in some cases be amplified.

So while the tactics above can make a huge difference, and they very much have for me, my best advice is two-fold:

  1. Don’t start a business to run away from your problems.
  2. Seek professional help when necessary.

If you do those two things, then your entrepreneurial journey is likely to be positive, transformative, and lasting. If you don’t, you may find yourself constantly be chasing something that simply isn’t attainable without major changes.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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