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How to get out of a rut: Improve the quality of your life through action

Updated on October 11, 2014
Although His Almighty here does take ultimate responsibility for your life, I reckon that (in the event that he actually exists) he probably takes quite a dim view of those who 'wash their hands' of their own share of the responsibility.
Although His Almighty here does take ultimate responsibility for your life, I reckon that (in the event that he actually exists) he probably takes quite a dim view of those who 'wash their hands' of their own share of the responsibility. | Source


In this hub I will attempt to identify some of the different ways one can bring about positive change when finding oneself living in a situation that is quite simply, rubbish. The quality of our lives go in cycles for the most part and our happiness in whichever particular stage of the cycle we’re at is entirely dependent on which bit of the cycle we’ve landed in. If we’re in the exciting new opportunities phase then all is good. If we are in the oh-my-god-I-hate-my-job-somebody-please-shoot-me phase then all is patently not good. Where we often come unstuck is that, for some reason, we often believe (or act as if we believe) that our behaviour has no influence on the situation at hand. We blame God, fate, our relationship, our parents (most of all our parents) and finally we blame ourselves. We blame ourselves in a pathetic, passive manor that is equivalent to a patronising pat on the head and a “There, there – you just couldn’t help being you, could you?”

What this attitude fails to acknowledge is that, yes while whatever awful rut you’ve ended up in may have your own handwriting on the ticket stub, it is entirely within your power to remove yourself from said situation. The world does not have to change. You do. In fact, I would go so far as to say that changing your behaviour is pretty much the only way to get out of your situation save a miracle.

The question remains then, how should I change my behaviour? What ought I do? It becomes at this point then, a very philosophical question because in essence we are asking ourselves ‘how should I live my life?’ No, further than that, ‘how should I go about the business of being me?’ Hmmm… That’s a biggie and no doubt about it.

So, where to look for an answer? Religion? Maybe… There are some answers there for sure, but they are often so layered in mysticism and metaphor that it takes a lot of legwork to get to the practical steps. What most straight-forward every day folk like you or me need is a step by step set of plain-and-simple instructions. I had a look around and didn’t find much that was pleasing to me. At least, I found either too much (huge lists of things to do with no central theme) or a request for my bank details, so I figured I’d do the research and the legwork for you – make a set of steps to success for turning your life around. I won’t claim that the technique I suggest is exhaustive and better than anything else you might find, but I’ve personally found it useful myself and it seems to make some kind of logical sense. So, here we go…

Now, while we may not all be destined for achievements like Nancy's Olympic gold here - that shouldn't prevent us from trying for our own gold standard. Achievement and a sense of success are important aspects of general wellbeing.
Now, while we may not all be destined for achievements like Nancy's Olympic gold here - that shouldn't prevent us from trying for our own gold standard. Achievement and a sense of success are important aspects of general wellbeing. | Source
Don't get trapped in cycles of negative thinking. It doesn't help your situation to be overly critical of either yourself or others.
Don't get trapped in cycles of negative thinking. It doesn't help your situation to be overly critical of either yourself or others. | Source
The old adage about acting happy leading one to actually feel happy...? Well, it turns out its true. Smile and the world will smile with you!
The old adage about acting happy leading one to actually feel happy...? Well, it turns out its true. Smile and the world will smile with you! | Source

The method


  1. Assess the situation. You need to know where you’re at before you can start thinking about where you may want to go. Sit yourself down with pen and paper and go through the basics. Where do you live? Who with? What do you earn? What does your social life look like? What interests, hobbies do you spend time on (if at all)? What music are you listening to – is any of it new? What books are you reading? What films have you watched? Have you been out for anything other than going to a bar at night, if so for what purpose? Are you in contact with family? When did you last buy new clothes, and do you like how you look in them?
  2. Right. Ok. Now what we have is a list. A list of statements describing your life as it stands to date. Go through the list now and ascribe each entry with one of three ratings: G, A or U standing for Good, Acceptable or Unacceptable. Once you have done this you have a starting point from which to proceed.
  3. Take responsibility. This is the point at which you’re going to have to face up to the fact once and for all, that (barring circumstances involving loss of a loved one or financial issues due to economic factors) for the most part the reason you are in the situation you’re in is due to choices that you have made somewhere down the line.
  4. Let go. Now you have confronted your own culpability in your circumstances, you must learn to forgive yourself for past mistakes. The life you have lived, the world around you and the upbringing you had, even down to your genetic make-up all influenced your decision making process. This does not absolve you of responsibility – rather it should solidify your resolve to take more control of your destiny. Why let mere circumstance dictate the direction of your life? If you are aware what your ambitions are, then the only one who can help you achieve them really, is you . Take your life by the reigns, don’t let temporary desires distract you from your goals. Instant gratification is short lived.
  5. Identify a long term ambition. Yup, it’s this old chestnut. Where do you want to be five years from now. Don’t worry about the how for now, just let your hunger for success warm you with exciting visions of possible futures.
  6. Break it down into manageable portions. The biggest cause of people failing to make progress is because they set their sights on the end goal and scare themselves out of it. Their ambition seems so huge to them that it appears impossibly far away. Why should I even bother? One thinks miserably. It’s all so far away it might as well be a thousand years off! The problem with this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t bring the goal any closer. That’s a whole lot of effort being wasted on frustration, self-doubt and regret which could be going into improving your situation.
  7. Look back at the list you made in step one. These are a good basis for subdividing your long-term goals. They can be further split into sections as follows. Social Life, Career, Relationship, Family life, Personal Interests and development. Once you have identified those items on your list which leave a little to be desired, split them into the categories mentioned.
  8. Now it is time to set goals for each item in each category. It might at first seem that all your problems stem from you being unable to get that promotion at work you wanted. This could make you reluctant to focus on any other issues. You’d be surprised how interlinked they all really are.
  9. Don’t ignore the little things. If your personal interests are a bit lacking i.e. you have no hobbies, read no books, see no shows, visit no attractions then you not only have less to talk about, you are less mentally stimulated than those who are doing those things. Lack of stimulation is a problem that creeps up on people unawares. Most people don’t even realise how mind-numbingly bored they are by living the same uninteresting routine day in day out. They continue on with it because it is the route of least resistance – it costs nothing of themselves to do it. However, less risk means less possibilities. Less enjoyment. Less life. Developing outside interests creates common ground with other people at work who might follow the same or similar interests. Your ability to hold your own in social situations is dependent both on having confidence (something gained through successfully achieving things, which hobbies are great at providing opportunities for) and having something to talk about. Two birds, one stone.
  10. Set a time frame. It is essential that the goals you set are achievable. Start small and work your way up. Maybe its organisational to start with. Change your daily routine to include some exercise. Once you’ve managed this for a week and seen you can do it, begin to build upon it.
  11. Don’t beat yourself up and give in if you don’t fulfil your targets all the time. You aren’t perfect – you’re allowed to make mistakes now and then. Go back and have a look at the target again. Was it overambitious? What stopped you from achieving it, and how can it be overcome?

Chocolate may seem a lame reward, but it boosts your seretonin levels and will actively reinforce your body's motivation for repeating positive behaviour.
Chocolate may seem a lame reward, but it boosts your seretonin levels and will actively reinforce your body's motivation for repeating positive behaviour. | Source

To conclude


If you take one thing away from this article, make it these three words: Assess, Plan, Act. These are the three most basic steps to improving any situation. Look at the circumstances and assess what your sphere of influence is (you’ll be surprised how big it is). Make a plan based upon a set of goals that you’ve decided upon. Put the plan into action.

Make certain too that you reward yourself beyond the raw satisfaction of reaching your goals. I know it sounds silly, but decide upon a treat that you’ll give yourself if you reach your target then make sure you give it to yourself when the moment comes. The human subconscious quickly picks up on where it should be looking for gratification. You’ll soon find yourself feeling more motivated to carry out your action plan than before.

This advice is a broad and sweeping general view and it does not attempt to explain ways to deal with personal tragedy, grief or illness. If, however, you have simply either through poor decision making or a mere lack of choice, ended up in a rut - then the steps I have laid down may prove to be of use. Get back to me if they do…

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    • Dan Barfield profile image
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      Dan Barfield 3 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you for the comment B.A. Williams! I have used this method to break writer's block myself more than once :)

      Thank you also for your comment savvydating! I'm glad you found this interesting. We all get into a rut sometimes - having a strategy has always helped me break free :)

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 3 years ago

      It's great how you created these bite size nuggets of instruction. Your advice was not at all difficult to read. Only 11 simple but effective steps to a fuller life. Furthermore, you are so right in reminding us that we get into a rut, but the good news is--with some specific effort on our part, we don't have to stay that way.

      Up, useful, interesting.

    • B. A. Williams profile image

      B. A. Williams 4 years ago from USA

      Interesting hub great motivator and well written. This also can be directed as a writer's block motivation, well done. Oh great pictures too!

    • Dan Barfield profile image
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      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thanks for the comment MarleneB :)

      I agree with you absolutely - emotional states don't just cause you to behave in certain ways - consciously choosing certain behaviors makes you feel the corresponding emotions too. Thus you can consciously choose to be happy through enacting certain behaviors and re framing negative thoughts in positive terms.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      Awesome tips. What works for me is letting go of the past - forgive and forget. Then, taking ownership of my own actions. And, it really is hard to be angry when you're smiling. When I start to get sad, I smile and within a very short time, I'm not sad anymore.

    • Dan Barfield profile image
      Author

      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you for the kind comment tammyswallow! :)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      This is very beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting. When we are in a rut, it is so easy to stay in it. I think you are going to inspire many to take some positive action. Great hub!

    • Dan Barfield profile image
      Author

      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you for the kind comment midget38! I have been away for a while due to marriage and whatnot - it's good to be back and see folks again :)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Love this, and wrote about it in an earlier post on one of my blogs too! Great share. What we need are simple instructions we all can follow, though some may have more complex issues at hand. Thanks for sharing this, Dan.

    • Dan Barfield profile image
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      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thank you for the kind comment poshcoffeeco! Happy easter to thee and thine also :)

    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 4 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Some good information provided here. I agree that you are the only one who can get you out of the rut, but you have to choose to do it and follow through.

      Voting up and sharing this.

      Happy Easter.

    • Dan Barfield profile image
      Author

      Dan Barfield 5 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thankyou faisalb87

    • faisalb87 profile image

      Muhammad Faisal 5 years ago from Pakistan

      Very nice and helpful hub.

    • Dan Barfield profile image
      Author

      Dan Barfield 5 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      My thanks m'lady Conservative

    • Dan Barfield profile image
      Author

      Dan Barfield 5 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thanks for the comment Daniel, you've raised a valid point. What can you do if you cannot motivate yourself because you have slipped down to the bottom of a well of despair? In that case I'd suggest that one must bite the bullet and seek outside help. If you cannot help yourself, you must squash what pride remains to you and open up to someone honestly. Find someone who can act as a catalyst. Other simple steps like change of location help also. Often people associate feeling a certain way with being in a certain place. I will think on this and try putting together some steps for those encountering this situation.

    • Conservative Lady profile image

      Sheila 5 years ago from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State

      Nicely done Dan- and right on target. I find that it helps me to like my job better if I define what my purpose is at said job i.e. as I am a nurse then my purpose is to help those in need to feel better, more comfortable, and less stressed by their illness or injury. Voted Up, useful and interesting!

    • profile image

      Daniel Romani 5 years ago

      Well written and easy to read. You come across very conversational (rather than preachy, which is easy to do with an article like this) and it adds a really nice human touch.

      Most impressive however, is the content! Amazingly simple, practical, useful steps to take back control =D) And based largely on sound, down to earth foundations.

      Now, what about those times when you're so down deep in that rut that you can't even motivate yourself to take step one? I know I've been in that part of the cycle more than once.

      Or what about those people who just can't figure out what their ambitions are? Plenty scope for more articles there!

      If I could add one thing to what you've said, it's that any given situation is neutral: The job is the same when you were excited about the prospects as it is when you'd rather cut off a limb than go to work. It's the meaning you ascribe to the situation, and the contents of your mind that are responsible for where you are in the cycle.