Break Out of a Rut 2

Dear Claudia,
How do you break out of a rut? I never make New Year’s resolutions any more because they never work. But I still think people should try to break out of a rut. How do you do it?
Mother of three

Dear Mom,

Look it’s very simple, really, to break out of a rut. It’s like the Nike ad says, “Just Do It!” There you go — that’s the formula!

Of course, this really won’t work though if you are in a DEEP rut. In fact, some people are in such deep ruts, they don’t even realize they’re in a rut. You’re one of the lucky ones though, because you’re still curious about what life could be like outside whatever rut you’re in. Congratulations!

A good way to think about a psychological rut is to imagine a physical rut, like a slushy snow rut, if you are in a car. What you need at those times is a push. So you get a guy to push you, and maybe, it’s not enough. So ideally, you get another guy, and then another guy, until you have enough guys to get you out. And then, you’re free! You go, go, go! And it feels great.

When it comes to a psychological rut, the same principle holds true. It may take one, very convincing part of your brain push you out of the rut, or it may be necessary to engage a few parts of your brain, or even an outside brain, to set you free.


For starters, many people usually engage the Cheerleader part of their brain to give them a good push. Cheerleader brain says to you “OK, come January first, you are going to start to EXERCISE! Yea, yea, yea, let’s do it!” You feel excited about this possibility because come January first, you are going to feel better and look Fabuloso.

Now, you’re no dummy. You already know yourself and you know that Cheerleader brain has good intentions, but she is not enough. So you bring in Organizer brain. Organizer brain says: “OK, you are going to get up at 5:30 every morning. You’re going to put your sneakers on and walk for twenty minutes and then lift some weights, before you even have your coffee. You’re going to write the results in your new exercise journal with your spiffy new pen, chart your progress and get a nice latte reward on Thursday. With whipped cream.” 

With Cheerleader and Organizer brains activated, you think you’re set to go. Sometimes, in fact, they are all you need. January first rolls around, and you do it. Fabuloso!

All too often however, January 2 rolls around, because January 1 was too soon to start, and it’s 5:30 am. Cheerleader brain is nowhere to be found. Turns out, she likes to sleep late! Nothing can rouse her.  Organizer brain is wide awake though. “Come-on, get up” he says. Unfortunately, he is such a slave driver, and so unpleasant, that you don’t respond to him at all. Then, organizer brain starts to get frustrated “Come, on, you lazy bum, GET OUT OF BED” he nags. This is ridiculous. You think: “If I get out of bed now, this is going to end up making me sick.” Organizer brain really can’t relate to your being sick and tired so he just keeps nagging you so that your return to bed is really not that enjoyable. You may feel tired and deflated.

With both Cheerleader and Organizer brains rendered ineffective, people usually run out of resources and stay stuck in a rut. At these times, however, what is really needed is to engage the services, if at all possible, of more brain guys.

One of the best ancillary brain guys is Therapist brain. Therapist brain is very intelligent. She diagnoses the problem. “5:30 is way too early!” she explains. Try 8:30. She goes a little deeper: “It’s hard to break out of ruts. You will feel stressed, not motivated. You need to work through that and be prepared to follow your goals, not your feelings.” Often, Therapist brain provides enough of a push to help you work through your unique resistances to getting out of your rut because you can now anticipate, realistically, what you have to push yourself through, and develop explicit strategies to break though.

For some people, however, Therapist brain has limited hours. All insight and adjusted expectations, when she is not available, fly out the window. At those times, you just don’t care. Life is too short to stress out so much. It actually feels healthier, both at 5:30 and at 8:30 am, to stay in the comfort of your rut. You make your excuses to Therapist brain. She is very understanding and once again, you allow yourself to call it quits.

At this stage of the game, because Organizer brain has gotten so frustrated and called us names, many people don’t consider bringing in Nurturer brain. Nurturer brain has the power to help you remember that it feels good to love yourself. She can also help Organizer brain to stop hurtling accusations at you and to become more flexible, and get Cheerleader brain back in shape.

Unlike Cheerleader brain, who imagines that everything is going to be fun, fun, fun, however, Nurturer brain knows that in order to change, you have to suffer. Nurturer brain is not as harsh and severe as Organizer brain, and she helps Therapist brain to continue thinking and growing instead of adding pressure. She is flexible and compliments you for just getting out of bed that first morning. She inspires Cheerleader brain to wake up and inspire you so that on the second morning, when you walk for five minutes, all the brains are pleased. Nurturer brain can train all the other brains, who want an instant revolution, to take their time.

Nurturer brain, however, is sometimes blocked by Organizer brain because some Organizer brains are perfectionists. If this is true, Organizer brain says “Don’t be so lenient. You are too wishy-washy. I can do a better job.” When Organizer brain and Nurturer brain are busy fighting, the brain is stalled. At that point, another, outside brain might be called upon who can help all the different parts of the brain to work together cooperatively and effectively.

A good way to help all the different parts of your brain along is to invite them all to tell their story. Have a major all-brain pow-wow. If you feel too frazzled, weary or disorganized to schedule the pow-wow, schedule a retreat – anywhere pleasant where you can get out of the house. Pay attention to what they all have to say. Are they all in gear? If not, why not?

All that being said, notice that the question is posed by a mother of three. I wonder if nurturing lots of children, with all the routine activities involved in their care, requires accepting staying in a rut. It is important to find the right time to break out of a rut. It is OK to camp out in a rut, sometimes. In that rut though, you can dream, plan, get your brain in gear and look forward to that elusive, but never impossible, “someday” where making things happen can be real.

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