Feeling Blah? 4 Secrets to Finding Joy When You’re Stuck in a Rut

I slide my vintage, neon cross-country skis down the side of the steep-ish hill behind my house.

It’s actually the side of a canal that’s drained during the winter months. Now it’s covered in snow—and the only thing separating me from the trail on the other side.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I had spikes, but my XC boots have as much traction as a pancake, so I’m sliding all over the place, clutching my ski poles to avoid face-planting.

Once I make it to the bottom, I climb a little way and then toss one ski at a time to the other side before I reach the trail.

It’s slow and tedious. Falling down. Getting back up. Making a little progress then slipping back down until I eventually claw my way to the other side. 

Life has felt kinda like that snowy climb over these past couple of years. Trying to move forward and then facing a bunch of setbacks. And at the start of the new year (yeah, 2022, I see you and I’m giving you the side-eye), I’m not feeling all that triumphant.

Pretty beat-up actually. Unmotivated and a little bit stuck.

Feeling blah.

 

How to recognize when you’re stuck in a rut

So, how do you know when you’re actually stuck? And what does this hypothetical rut even mean? Dictionary.com defines it as:

In a settled or established habit or course of action, especially a boring one. 

And there’s more than a few reasons you might feel bored with life:

  • Post-holiday letdown
  • Year 3 of the pandemic
  • Work from home / online school fatigue
  • Monotonous routines
  • Not enough social interaction
  • Career dissatisfaction
  • Lacking purpose or direction in life

Knowing when you’re stuck can be tricky—and as much as we want the answers to be obvious, most things in life are a shade of gray.

But if you’re simply going through the motions, you’re not living your best life.

And when you’re struggling with motivation, breaking old habits (and starting new, healthier ones) can be even more challenging.

Here are four actually helpful strategies to get unstuck and reconnect with yourself. 

Need extra support?

There’s a difference between feeling blah and struggling with depression. If you’ve noticed that sadness is your new norm or you have trouble engaging in things you used to enjoy, talk to a trusted friend or family member. And don’t wait to seek out mental health support:

Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline | 1-800-273-8255  

More Mental Health Resources from Everyday Health

 

4 ways to reclaim your life from “same old same old”

When you can’t shake that blah feeling? Waste time

Wait, what? Hear me out.

There’s a sickness in our society, and it’s spreading one big lie:

You must always be productive.

If you’re not producing something, if you don’t have something to show for that 45 minutes, if you did something (gasp!) for fun—well, better hustle harder tomorrow.

This is the ongoing dysfunctional battle inside my head. Don’t judge. Adulthood triggered a tsunami of never-ending to-do lists and here I am. There is ALWAYS something I “should” be doing. I have to consciously smack down that shaming, nagging voice and fight for my right to waste time.

That’s right, everybody should waste time. 

I’m talking about doing something you ENJOY. For no other reason than your enjoyment. You don’t even have to be good at it. (In fact, bonus points if you’re not.) Resist the urge to post it on Insta. And just do the thing. The end.

If you’re like me and need to shift your mindset around productivity, here are a few ideas and why it matters:

 

Play every day

“This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ~ Alan W. Watts

Have you ever known someone who is really good at play? They’re often the type of person who is up for anything. Someone who always seems to have a good time wherever they are. 

This is my dad.

He’s the guy who’s quick to start a nerf gun fight or play kick-the-can with the neighborhood kids. He still isn’t too old for sledding and jokes that he only needs to pack a swimsuit on vacation—because what else would he be doing besides living his best lake life? People often comment on how he’s such a great dad (and he is), but if you ask my mom, she’ll spill the tea: “The truth is he’s just a giant kid.” 

My dad doesn’t like to sit around. He wants to do all these things because they’re fun. He learned a long time ago that life is a lot more enjoyable when you get off the sidelines.

And he’s not the only one.

This guy re-discovered his old hobby of drawing. And managed his stress and mood by drawing his dish rack every night. For real.

One of our writers here on TVI, Ayo, writes that “finding a hobby you want to try is as simple as doing the thing you already know you want to do.” For him that was writing. And it ended up leading him to a new career. That won’t happen for everyone, but the point is that he didn’t agonize over his hobby—he knew what he enjoyed, so he did it.

 

Finding flow is a game-changer

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant shares his struggle with that blah feeling, what he describes as languishing. What got him through? You guessed it—play.

Long-distance Mario Kart games with his family helped Adam find flow—that critical state of being, where a person is completely engaged in whatever they’re doing. Flow is #worklifegoals (and the polar opposite of being stuck in a rut).

According to Adam, “The antidote to languishing does not have to be something productive. It can be something joyful.” Worth the watch. 👀👇

 

When you have no motivation, prioritize (quality) connection

Have you ever made plans, and you didn’t want to go when the time came?

But you rallied and went anyway.

When this happens to me, I’m almost always glad that I followed through. My mood is lifted, I feel re-energized, and I recognize how thankful I am for the good people in my life. More than just “nice to have,” those feelings of connection and belonging are essential to our lives.

via GIPHY

 

Your relationships impact your health

A recent study by the “Making Caring Common Project” released these concerning stats:

Alarming numbers of Americans are lonely. According to our recent national survey of approximately 950 Americans, 36% of respondents reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the prior four weeks. A startling 61% of young people aged 18-25 and 51% of mothers with young children reported these miserable degrees of loneliness. (source)

Yikes. The past few years have been isolating for many. But even prior to the pandemic, the pull of technology, social media, and our ability to shop and work without ever leaving home made it easier to neglect authentic, in-person social interactions.

Spending too much time alone—or even too much time on surface-level relationships—can harm your mental and physical well-being.

Loneliness can increase the risk of a wide range of health problems—including depression and anxiety, dementia, heart disease, and stroke.

Feeling lonely can also trigger a cycle of no motivation to change—so fighting against it takes extra effort. Which leads me to my next point…

 

Aim for quality over quantity

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. —Brené Brown

When it comes to relationships, more doesn’t equal better. Be intentional about making time for your favorite peeps. The ones who welcome your honesty about the everyday stuff and the bigger stuff—your struggles, fears, hopes, and wins. Embracing your true self and opening up to the important people in your life nurtures the kind of quality relationships you absolutely need.

The bottom line? If you’re feeling isolated or stuck in unhealthy relationships, be proactive:

  • Reach out to core family and friends on a regular basis.
  • Look for new ways to connect with others—a sport or hobby, faith community, or another common interest.
  • Ask yourself what holds you back when it comes to reaching out or making plans. Then think through how you can overcome those hesitations or obstacles.

 

 

Don’t forget to look up

In 2007, The Washington Post organized a fascinating social experiment with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. He posed as a street performer and played 6 classical pieces in under an hour at the Washington Metro.

The burning question: Will people pause to appreciate beauty?

Gene Weingarten elaborates:

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

It’s not all that surprising in our culture of busyness that few people acknowledged the music and even fewer stopped to listen. Of course, in defense of the commuters, many were on a tight timeline—it was morning rush hour after all.

The one group that consistently attempted to slow down? Children. But they were quickly ushered away by a parent trying to stay on schedule.

We all have schedules and commitments—and that’s not a bad thing. Our routines help keep our lives on track. But how do we tackle the everyday stuff without missing moments of gratitude and wonder? 

Here’s what I’ve been trying to do:

 

Take time for noticing

In my finite life, the mundane has begun to sparkle. The things I love—the things I should love—become clearer, brighter. —Kate Bowler

One of the highlights of the world shutting down was spending more time outside. We got a birdfeeder. Watching birds come and go, learning the different types of birds, listening to them sing—it was a kind of therapy. I learned to marvel at this everyday wonder in my own backyard.

Typically for me, slowing down to notice little things takes a whole lotta effort. I’m often running from one thing to the next, so to have a hope of finding that sparkle, I have to make a conscious effort. Here are a few things that have helped:

Add some extra padding to your day

Aim to be early to things. When I’m not rushing, I have more space for gratitude. Take time to pause—even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Practice mindfulness 

Like so many things, self-awareness of current habits and the desire to change is key. Mindfulness helps turn off autopilot and embrace the present moment.

 

Boredom can be a good thing

One of the biggest downsides to smartphones is that most of us are now uncomfortable with spare time. Try going to any appointment or waiting scenario without your phone and notice how quickly you start to fidget. Checking email, scrolling the news or social media, responding to texts… with any free moment, there we are reaching for the nearest screen.

But boredom actually fosters creativity, productivity, and can even be beneficial to your mental health. So resist the urge to mindlessly fill time whenever you’re bored with life—instead try some of the ideas above.

 

Let your feelings out (naming them is everything)

Whether it’s talking to a friend, counselor, or even journaling—get your feelings out. Everyone goes through seasons of ups and downs, but being honest about your struggle is the first step to working through it.

If you notice certain aspects of your life no longer serve you, write those down. Understanding what stands in your way can help you problem-solve. For example, let’s say you transitioned to working from home during the pandemic, but now you realize the lack of daily social interaction is a poor fit. Now you can think through solutions: Going back to the office (if that’s an option), trying a hybrid schedule, or finding other outlets during the day to engage with people.

 

Trust your gut—when you know, you know

There is a voice inside of you / That whispers all day long / ,‘I feel that this is right for me, / I know that this is wrong, / No teacher, preacher, parent, friend / Or wise man can decide / What’s right for you—just listen to / The voice that speaks inside —Shel Silverstein

When you’re stuck in a continuous loop of same old same old, remember it’s up to you. Only you can decide it’s time for a career change. Or time to invest in solid relationships. Or that you’re longing to move to a new place.

It’s easy to fall victim to the “should” monster. But we’re all different and we shouldn’t all follow the same path. What makes me happy could make you pretty miserable. Don’t worry about pleasing others or living up to someone else’s expectations. Ultimately? You know what to do.

No more excuses—listen to your gut.