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The counterintuitive way to bust out of a rut

Friday, August 5, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Christy Consler

Whether it’s keeping on an extra 10 pounds, tolerating a bad relationship or putting up with a soul-sucking job, chances are you’ve been stuck in a rut at some point in your life — with no clear idea how to get out of it.

When you’re down in the trenches, it can feel like you’re literally stuck in the muck, unable to lift yourself out of the situation and get to higher ground. In simple terms, our beliefs guide our behaviors, and our behaviors determine our outcomes.

Related: Escape these 7 thinking traps

Inertia sets in, and we get used to the frustrating situation. Maintaining the status quo, however unpleasant the effects, can seem preferable to change.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”— George Bernard Shaw

What keeps us stuck in situations that we know don’t serve us? You might be surprised to know it’s your good intentions. Stick with me for a minute while I explain.

As human beings, we have an inherent need for safety, love and belonging. These conditions are crucial for our long-term survival. So, we will do whatever we can to protect ourselves against any threats to safety, love or belonging -- even if it means repeating unhealthy patterns or putting up with frustrating situations. None of this process is really conscious.

Our primitive brain, or “critter brain,” thinks in pretty black-and-white terms. Its sole concern is survival. It knows that even though you might be miserable, you have survived your current situation and that alone means it’s done its job. Your more highly evolved cortex, however, logically knows that staying stuck is not serving you and it has bigger visions for you. It also creates thoughts about being stuck. And your limbic system, which governs emotions, mediates and makes meaning of your situation — whether it be frustration, anger at yourself, a belief it can’t get any better or something similar.

If you’re not careful, you can stay stuck in this cycle — sometimes for years. But here’s a way to bust out of the rut you find yourself in:

First, fully accept where you are.

Acknowledging the current situation will allow you to move beyond it. When we deny the present state even exists, we are not prepared to move beyond it. Fear and shame often prevent us from taking an honest look at our present state.

Appreciate that you were taking care of yourself.

Understand there are very good reasons why you are stuck in this pattern. Your behaviors served a purpose at some point to keep you safe — there was positive intent there.  

Identify the underlying fear you have.

What were you working to protect yourself from? For example, if you stay stuck in a job that wears you down, perhaps your concern is to ensure you support your family and you fear that if you moved to a different company, you might not succeed and your family’s very survival would be threatened. This sounds extreme, but those basic underlying fears and beliefs drive our behavior far more than we realize.

Try on other beliefs that could serve you better.

When you open up to different possible interpretations and beliefs, you gain access to far more choices and actions to move yourself forward. In the job example, you could look to others who have made a switch to a new company and see that they have been successful, so it is certainly possible. You could try on the belief that you’ve always been successful in supporting your family, and therefore you can trust yourself to do whatever it takes in any situation to ensure that continues. You could try on the belief that when you grow and thrive, your family does. Aim to generate at least three to five new possible beliefs about your situation. That loosens the hold our old belief has on us.

Choose the belief that makes you feel most excited and hopeful.

Begin to notice evidence the belief is true. Continuing our example, you could make a list of former colleagues who are at new employers and reach out to find out how they are doing. Ask them about their new situation and how they made the move. Think of all the people you know who switched jobs and are as well as, or better off, than they were before. Recognize there is evidence of this all around, and it’s possible for you as well.

Take consistent, small steps toward your goal and go easy on yourself.

Remember, shame and guilt are clever ways to keep yourself stuck in a situation your critter brain knows is survivable.

There is a reason why the phrase “Change is hard” is cliché — it’s true! Now we know there are well-intentioned, deep-seated reasons that change is hard. Getting support from others, whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague or coach, is crucial to keeping up your momentum and morale. 

Changing your beliefs can literally change your life. What you are capable of is astounding.

Christy Consler is founder and CEO of Sustainable Leadership Advisors Inc., dedicated to creating a more sustainable future through the development of leaders driven by performance, passion and purpose. She previously served as senior vice president, human resources and corporate sustainability for Jamba Juice and, earlier in her career, Safeway's first vice president of sustainability and vice president of leadership development and planning.  

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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