As the darker mornings and evenings draw in, the leaves fall from the trees and Christmas food starts creeping onto supermarket shelves it's natural we start reflecting on the year that is nearly over before it began. How many things we haven't achieved that we said we were going to seems to be at the forefront of our minds and we use this to mentally punish ourselves and call ourselves failures. The gym kit that's still in the bag, those holidays you didn't go on and the boring job you're still in.... sound familiar?
What is an emotional rut?
Feeling in a rut is an emotional reaction to an underlying demand that is placed upon us. How we respond to certain events, or maybe lack of them, can create a feeling of being stuck on a hamster wheel just going round in circles with no way of stopping. It's the feeling of doing the same thing day after day and nothing happens or changes in our lives. We can then interpret this as boredom, failure or simply not knowing what we can do about it. This sometimes comes into the therapy room after a period of time when the client doesn't feel like they're moving fast enough or therapy isn't "working" anymore. Therapy itself can also feel like it's gotten into a rut but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
What causes a rut?
There can be a number of reasons why we allow ourselves to get stuck into ruts and you're certainly not alone if this happens to you. As with all things we all have the capability of getting ourselves into a rut. Below are a few examples from what I've seen in my therapy room over the last few years:
Placing unhealthy demands upon ourselves - if we have demands that include "I must be perfect, I must not fail, I must have control or I must have certainty" we place unachievable boundaries upon ourselves so when we inevitably don't meet them we beat ourselves up. Having more flexible beliefs such as accepting failure as an option, not always being 100% certain or not having total control we can create room for us to grow, learn and move on from those boundaries.
Self-sabotage - if we tell ourselves something isn't going to work out we're already creating a situation where it's more than likely not to. Just so we can have the satisfaction of saying to ourselves "I told you so". How mean to ourselves is that? By keeping an open mind and not judging ourselves before we've even started then we're more likely to accept what's going on and respond appropriately.
Trying to do it all - sometimes we feel we need to be all things to all people and that can allow others to take advantage. How often do you find yourself doing something that not only doesn't benefit you but you end up being worse off? Sometimes we may even like the fact we put others above ourselves as we can use it against people in the future. Having good boundaries and tolerance levels can help us to know what we're willing to do for others but also to help us look after ourselves.
Unhealthy behaviour gives us what we want - this is a tough one to crack! When having demands gives us what we want and what we need why would we stop? For the most part even I have to say this one stumps me sometimes! Having an unhealthy demand is called unhealthy for a reason! When it's good it's good but when it's bad it's the end of the world. Getting what you want at the expense of yourself or someone else isn't really getting what you want and doesn't last forever.
My past experiences - we act in accordance with our beliefs and these don't just magically turn up in our minds. Everything that happens to us we record in our memories and file it away nice and neatly until such a time as we need to use it again to either our advantage or disadvantage. Any adverse experiences have the potential to hold us back as, of course, we don't want to experience that again. However, can you be 100% certain it will? Behavioural experiments are a really effective way of demonstrating to yourself that just because it happened once, or even multiple times, it doesn't mean it's always going to happen that way.
How can I get out of a rut?
So how do you get through it? There are a number of ways that you can make small changes to your routine and your mindset that can help you move forward:
Identify what is keeping you stuck
Identify what your interpretation of each of the things keeping you stuck is. Are they healthy or unhealthy?
Look at the boundaries you're placing on yourself - are they preventing you from moving forward?
Accept yourself for where you are at the moment and who you are - nothing is permanent
Experiment - try something new, either behaviourally or emotionally
Learn to say no to people - boundaries aren't selfish, they're essential!
Set achievable goals to boost your confidence
Appreciate how far you've come so far in your life and what you've achieved
Be realistic with yourself and where you want to be in the future
Seek help if you feel you can't do it alone
Feeling stuck in a rut can feel permanent but, again, this is only because we allow ourselves to be limited by the demands we place upon ourselves. By challenging how you think, feel and behave you can make lasting emotional change and achieve what you set your mind to. If you feel you'd like some additional help to get out of a rut that you're in please feel free to view the rest of my site or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07801 331880.
Till next month
P.S don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @laurenstreetcounselling