The Rut

The Rut
Photo by Myznik Egor / Unsplash

Ever feel like you just can't get anything done, like you're not making any progress on anything?

I've really felt like I've been stuck in a rut this past week. My current metric for measuring this is the number of contributions I've made to my personal wiki; if there's more than a day or two between commits, something's probably wrong.

Well, it's been a week since my last commit. Before that, another week. Before that, two weeks. Uh oh.

Maybe it's been more than a week.

Now feels like a good enough time to grab a self-awareness onion from the fridge and get to peeling that bad boy back.

The Self-Awareness Onion

What's the self-awareness onion? It's a term that I was first introduced to by Mark Manson while reading The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck (it's a great book, by the way; Mark has a knack for cutting through the bullshit). Think of it as The Toyota Way but for emotions.

  1. What am I feeling? Like I'm in a rut (otherwise known as "not happy").
  2. Why am I feeling these emotions? Because I'm not contributing enough to my goals, my projects, and to others.
  3. Why do I feel like I'm not contributing enough? Because I expected my goals and projects to be further along than they currently are.
  4. Why do I consider this to be a failure? Uhh...
    Good question. Sounds like I need to rub a few braincells together to figure that out.

The Course Correction

Okay, so we've run the engine diagnostic (yes, this car is onion-powered; deal with it) and we see that the timing belts are out of whack. What can we do about that?

For me, the first adjustment was fixing the lack of physical activity. I set myself a 30 day challenge of doing yoga each day (Yoga With Adriene FTW) and I failed hard at this for the first half of the month. I've now got my girlfriend holding me accountable and that little bit of movement is already helping. I even have exercise plans for June already scheduled.

"When the ship is in trouble, prime with the physical."
– CGP Grey, Spaceship You

The second adjustment was to take my foot off the gas. I was pushing so hard for what I wanted that the only thing I was trending towards was burnout. Weekends and holidays were really just "time spent working on things outside of work". And all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

The third adjustment is to my goals. Because, well...

My Goals Suck

Let's take my goal of growing the readership of this site, as an example. This is a bad goal. Why?

  • It's reliant on something outside of my control: someone has to stumble across my site somehow, read something, think that the slop that I toss together here is worthy of ending up in their inbox, and feel comfortable enough to trust me with their email.
  • I'm not spending time deliberately practicing my writing. "Wait, didn't you just write about the importance of deliberate practice last week?". I sure did. And yet, I'm not doing it for my writing. I don't even know where to start on deliberate practice. Sounds like I have some research to do.
  • It's a goal that will only lead to disappointment. Wanting higher readership means I will never be satisfied; the number can only go up ( a point).

A better goal for myself would be to:

  • Consistently produce something that is the best quality I could create
  • Regularly practice to improve my writing skills

These two points – along with a detailed plan – are fully within my control. I can practice. I can do my best each time I sit down to write. I can commit to publishing regularly.

This re-evaluation of each of my goals needs to take place regularly. I now have a reminder in my calendar to do this re-evaluation every two months to keep things on track. Because somewhere along the way, many of my goals have turned to dreams and are tied to metrics which simply aren't in my control.

And that's a recipe for disappointment.