Feeling in a rut? Stop beating yourself up!
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 to start reflecting back on the year that is nearly over before it began. How many things that haven't been achieved that you said you were going to may be at the forefront of your mind, and you may use this to mentally punish yourself and call yourself a failure. 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 you, usually by yourself. How you respond to certain events, or maybe a lack of them, can create a feeling of being stuck on a hamster wheel, just going around 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 your life. You can then interpret this as boredom, failure, or simply not knowing what you can do about it. 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 you allow yourself to get stuck in a rut, 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 that I've seen in the therapy room over the last few years.
- Placing unhealthy demands upon yourself - if you have demands that include "I must be perfect, I must not fail, I must have control or I must have certainty", you place unachievable boundaries upon yourself, so when you inevitably don't meet them, you beat yourself up. Having more flexible beliefs, such as accepting failure as an option, not always being 100% certain, or not having total control, you can create room for yourself to grow, learn, and move on from those boundaries.
- Self-sabotage - if you tell yourself something isn't going to work out, you're already creating a situation where it's more than likely not to. Just so you can have the satisfaction of saying to yourself "I told you so". How mean to yourself is that? By keeping an open mind and not judging yourself before we've even started, we're more likely to accept what's going on and respond appropriately.
- Trying to do it all - sometimes, you’ll feel you 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, you may even like the fact you put others above yourself, as you can use it against people in the future. Having good boundaries and tolerance levels can help you to know what you're willing to do for others, but also to help you look after yourself.
- Unhealthy behaviour gives you what you want - this is a tough one to crack! When having demands gives you what you want and what you need why would you stop? 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.
- Your past experiences - you act in accordance with your beliefs, and these don't just magically turn up in your mind. Everything that happens to you gets recorded in your memories and gets filed away nice and neatly until such a time when you need to use it again to either your advantage or disadvantage. Any adverse experiences have the potential to hold you back as, of course, you 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 a lasting emotional change and achieve what you set your mind to.