Finding a Groove or Stuck in a Rut


Life has been clipping along and I just now noticed how smoothly it has all been going. 2020 wasn’t the friendliest to many people, and 2021 isn’t shaping up much better. However, with the few bumps aside, I have been doing pretty well. You see, I think I have finally found my groove. How do I know this is a groove? Well, to be honest, I don’t know for sure, but it doesn’t feel like the ruts I’ve been in before.

Why this terminology exactly? A groove is an established route or routine. Not necessarily so well traveled that you break an axle in it or can’t take a detour that looks interesting, but enough that you can let yourself go on auto pilot for a bit without fear of straying too far. Then there is a rut. That is a long deep track made by repeated traffic that makes a trail nearly impossible to get off of, or it is a pattern of behavior that is dull, unproductive, and difficult to change. I am the type of person who can visualize easily. So I see this as 2 trails.

Screen capture from The Oregon Trail II (1995)

I am of the generation that was blessed enough to experience almost every rendition of The Oregon Trail ever made. If you have ever been so inclined to check it out, you may understand this next bit a little better. If not, I highly recommend you check it out. In the 1995 version specifically, your characters come across passes with 3 options. One is very well traveled and usually much longer. Another is passable, with a few bumps, but generally clear and a little shorter. Then there is the short cut, which as you can imagine doesn’t have very good odds, but can make up some good time IF YOU’RE LUCKY! I view option 1 as the rut: long, boring, safe, no excitement, and almost no choice in direction. Option 2 is the groove: not as safe, but you can usually count on it to get you where you’re going, easier than the short cut, a little tougher than the rut, more adventure. Clearly, option 3 is still what it is, a short cut: dangerous, unpredictable, and usually ends up costing you more time and resources than you save.

Let’s assume for the time being, that you and I are not short cut people. This leaves us with the groove or the rut. Why, you ask, is the rut so terrible? For some people, it’s not. They thrive on that predictability, and shun change. That’s definitely ok, but I personally have always felt trapped when I fall into a “rut”. I can’t just steer my wagon a different way because I found something interesting on a side path. I’m caught doing what everyone else in the caravan is doing. Just going with the flow, with no choice of my own. It’s too much constraint for me. I’m not a choo-choo train, stuck going wherever the track leads me!

“But there was a difference between being stuck and choosing to stay. Between being found and finding yourself.”

Martina Boone, Compulsion

So I’m always looking for my “groove”: my place on the path that allows me freedom of motion and choice, but is still relatively safe. I definitely like to know what kinds of things to expect in life. I’m a mess. See Hot Mess Mama: That’s Ok if you missed it. I need some predictability, but I also don’t want everything planned out for me. If I see something I want to pursue while still heading toward my final destination, then I want the freedom to take the side trail! I love the predictability and stability of my day job. I don’t think I can ever be without a predictable work schedule again. It gives me purpose, a steady income, and some peace of mind. I know I’m in a groove with it because when I want to explore other avenues or hobbies, I still have enough time and energy left in my schedule to do so.

Finding the balance between a rut and groove, isn’t always easy. You have to be able to see the signs of a rut and how to out maneuver it before it sets in. Sure, you can get out of a rut once you’re in one, but it’s so much easier to avoid getting there in the first place, if you’re already in a groove. One of the bloggers I follow, Alex Brown, defined a “rut” more perfectly than anything I’ve ever read. Here is an excerpt from his blog How To Get Out Of A Rut.

Photo by Annie Spratt
  • Monotony – You feel like you’re just going through the motions and everyday is the same.
  • The Three U’s – You feel Uninspired, Unmotivated and Unfulfilled.
  • Apathy – You stop caring about things, maybe you no longer care about keeping your apartment clean, or you quit going to the gym, or you stop engaging in hobbies and activities that previously brought you a lot of joy.
  • Stagnation – There’s a sense that the world is passing you by, you feel “stuck”, as if you’re lifeless, like you’re not making progress toward any worthwhile goal or ideal.

I know in New Year, New Me, and Other Fairytales, I said I don’t believe in resolutions. I also said that goals were a worthy investment of your time. They can also help you navigate the balance beam of rut and groove when used properly. That there is the key: when used properly! Goals are something that should be near and dear to you: something you truly want to achieve. Goals should never be about what you think you should want. They should be about what you actually want. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure and will inevitably fall into a rut.

Another short fall that will push you into a rut is stopping. I understand that you will have days you need to rest, either mentally, physically, or both. Do rest. Do not let that rest start a cascade of nothing. If you aren’t consistently pushing towards something, you are in danger of complacency, which leads to ruts. Always be reaching for something, anything. Now here is where I’m going to part from the norm, and tell you that small vague goals are OK. Why? Because, simply put, some of us break under too much pressure.

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.”

Christine Carter, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

Your goals should be measurable, but not necessarily in stone. Putting too much pressure on yourself could lead to self-doubt, self-criticism, and quitting. The best part of finding your groove is flexibility. You have the thing that sustains you, whatever it may be: the core of you. Then you have all of the little things that drive you forward: self improvement projects, hobbies, activities, classes, etc. It’s these little things that keep you from settling into the rut.

Setting goals that are too large and to specific won’t allow for the ebbs of flows of life. If you set very detailed goals, you my start to see yourself as a failure every time you don’t meet one or many of those goals. Keeping the small and vague-ish allows you to bend with changes. I’m not saying this will work for everyone. Some people need the rigid rules and goals. I’m not one of them. I’m too hard on myself for that to work.

“Nothing like the zone, is there? Finding your groove and letting the muse steal you away.”

Jade West, Dirty Bad Savage

Decide if you have found a groove or if you have gotten stuck in a rut. Take the time to really analyze your life and what it going on around you. Sometimes, it might not take much to haul yourself out of the rut. It could be that just finding a passion project is what it takes to put you smoothly into your groove. It might be harder than that, but the rut is no place to stay. So get get out there and get “groovy!”

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Categories: 2021, Inspiration, Mental Health, Self ImprovementTags: , , , , , , , ,

2 comments

  1. I like the distinction you made between the concept of rut & groove. It is so important to find a systematic balance for yourself especially now in these unprecedented times.

    Liked by 1 person

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