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When I was learning to fish, my father’s favorite saying was “that fish is not going to come towards you unless you turn the handle”. He usually said that when I was frozen by the shock of having a big fish on the line. Those of you who fish will understand. For those of you who don’t, a fishing reel pulls in line when you rotate the handle. Without that action, it is just a curiosity on your end of the fishing pole. To help it to fulfill its purpose, you need to take extended and purposeful action.
Now, let us make somewhat of a leap from fishing reels to real humans. Maybe you have had this experience. You feel that you have been stuck in a rut and are finding it difficult to break out. Maybe you have been there for some time but the awareness is just catching up to you. Perhaps the walls have been closing in a bit more rapidly lately. Or maybe a friend has made a comment that brought your awareness of the rut into sharp relief. What are you going to do about it?
Sure, the easy response is ‘climb out of the rut’. But that is often harder to do than say. Think of your rut as a bad personal habit like smoking or drinking to excess. How much easier is it to think about changing those habits than actually changing them? Those of you who have tried know how very difficult it can be. But then what is a rut but just another bad habit?
Seeing the Behavior Rather than the Landscape
One of the reasons that people have such difficulty breaking out of ruts is that they tend to see them as landscape rather than grouped behaviors. It is important to understand the dynamics that are driving the behaviors. In the simplest terms, all ruts are easily left behind if the behaviors which keep us in them vanish. You are not in the rut because it is containing you, the rut is your creation and, as its architect, you have designed, built and maintained it.
Each of these steps (designing, building and maintaining) is the result of behaviors that you adopted mostly without careful thought. They are accidental behaviors. Many of them are self-sabotaging. Maybe they arose because you have a low self-image or lack self-confidence. Maybe your culture, education or family history pushes you in a particular direction. Maybe your peer group insists that these behaviors are part of you. Any or all of these (and more) can be tools that you use to build and maintain your rut.
I Did It to Me
That is the critical realization. You can blame any of the sources of influence but, at some point in your life, you have to take responsibility for your life as you have made it or allowed it to develop. A rut is something you have done to yourself. It does not matter whether the doing was purposeful or negligent. It matters that you are the instrument of your own imprisonment. You fill three roles: jail builder, jailer and prisoner.
This can be a hard thing to realize. It is far easier to find others to blame for your rut. But that hunt is a distraction. Certainly, you are not the architect of your entire life. None of us are. We are born without having given our permission. For most of our early years, we are directed. It is amazing when we do not develop the tendency to see our ruts in terms of what others have done to us. As we mature, there comes a time when blaming others no longer suffices. A sharp cry ‘no more’ becomes our battle cry. “I will no longer be the victim in my own life”.
There is very often a moment like that. You finally come to see that your prison is self-constructed. They you have been your own jailer. Initially there may be a great deal of shame and self-condemnation. “How could I have done that to myself?” Then the journey out of the rut can begin. You can begin to chart the course and set your goals. It is the goals that are the key. They give the journey structure and help maintain focus.
First goals are the most important. Keep your eyes on them. It’s the ones that you have set near term that will keep you moving forward. Do not make the mistake of focusing on the end goal. It is too far away and you will find it too easy to abandon the journey towards it. Remember that you are trying to change the behaviors that created the rut in the first place. Behaviors take a long time to change. Making the changes a step at a time can help you succeed.
Here are some suggestions that might help:
- Make your goals specific and detailed
- Take small steps at first and then longer ones later on
- Always check your progress and hold yourself accountable
- Goals should be cumulative with the early ones being the solid foundation for the later ones
- Share your goals with people close to you and they will help you meet them
- Celebrate your successes and forgive your failures but redouble your efforts in both cases
- Keep one eye on the end goal and visualize the way you will be and feel once you meet it
Breaking out a rut can be easier if you see it as a behavior change. It can be far easier if you enlist your friends in helping you. In the end, however, it requires your courage and determination to change. Sure a good guide helps. But you are the person who decides “I will not do that to myself any longer!”
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II
PJ, Mentoring Client,
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,