Breaking Out of Ruts: Ruts Are Not Final

Many people are in a rut and a rut is nothing but a grave – with both ends kicked out. – Vance Havner

What Is A Rut?

The Appalachian trail stretches more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. The trail corridor attracts thousands of people each year for the thrill of adventure and reaching life long milestones. With that many people every year, some areas are difficult to walk along the trail due to ruts; long and deep grooves in the ground made by repeated foot traffic. Ruts in the ground make walking cumbersome and can lead to injury without proper care. 

As we navigate the trails of our lives, ruts, defined as habits or patterns of behavior that have become dull and unproductive but are hard to change, are possible. We can fall into relational ruts where we allow what has always been to continue without the willingness to change for the better. Financial ruts occur once we entertain the idea that debt and credit card usage are part of normal life and there is no way to break free from this enslavement mentality. Health ruts, whether physical, mental, or social, deepen as we settle for low hanging fruit of diet, thoughts, and social interactions. Ruts make life a chore, something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Over time unchecked ruts can cause addictions, and a way of life that leads to destruction is inevitable. Chuck Smith once said, “… the only difference between a rut and grave is its length and depth.” This downward spiral can be stopped, and new routines can be developed to overcome ruts. First, you must acknowledge that you are stuck in a rut, but the rut is never the final chapter in your story. 

Stuck but not Stopped

Ruts in the Appalachian Trail don’t stop people from taking adventures and neither should recognizing ruts stop you from making progress. Coming to terms with a rut is the first step to its demise in your life. You squeeze the life out of a rut by awareness. A tried and true method to dig out of a rut you are in is to ask three questions:

  1. How did I get here? This is the contribution question. Dig and see what factors led to the rut. Without this key piece, the rut only grows deeper.  
  1. Can I overcome this rut? This is the belief question. Just as important as the contribution question, the belief one enables you to look beyond the rut and see the joy waiting on the other side. 
  1. What is the first thing I need to do? This is the execution question. The choice to remain in the same rut or respond with action and new habits are in your court. No matter how small any positive action you make to overcome a rut, over time change for the better is the result.  

These questions take you beyond acknowledging the rut and deposit a spirit of intentionality to overcome the rut.

Accidental vs. Intentional

In the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, well-known leadership expert and best-selling author, Dr. John C. Maxwell gives a comparison between accidental and intentional approaches to life and growth. These approaches to life have significant implications on whether we get out of ruts or remain stuck in them: 

Plans to Start TomorrowInsists on Starting Today
Waits for Growth to ComeTakes Complete Responsibility to Grow
Learns Only From MistakesOften Learns Before Mistakes
Depends on Good LuckRelies on Hard Work
Quits Early and OftenPerseveres Long and Hard
Falls into Bad HabitsFights for Good Habits
Talks BigFollows Through
Plays it SafeTakes Risks
Thinks As a VictimThinks Like a Learner
Relies on TalentRelies on Character
Stops Learning after GraduationNever Stops Growing

Based on the two approaches, which one is better to overcome ruts? Choosing the right side of the table is wise and recommended but is not a guarantee that the road to overcoming ruts is easy. 

Better Doesn’t Mean Easier

Choosing to do and be better doesn’t equate to a smooth road. Often the road to becoming better is riddled with bumps of discouragement, fear, inadequacies, and even failure. The biggest challenge on the bumpy path to overcome ruts is consistency in what produces a better outcome. Especially when the results are slow. This path is never straight but a winding and uphill climb. Don’t let this evaluation of the path to being better, derail the belief that you can overcome a rut. This realistic assessment gives you a forecast of what’s ahead, so you don’t quit but press forward.

In addition to today’s post, this month’s blog will apply the following stepping stones as aids to overcome ruts: 

Open to Newness – Arriving on August 11th 

When and How To F5 – Arriving on August 18th

Never Go Back – Arriving on August 25th

Final Thought: Don’t let ruts be the nails to the coffin of your goals and dreams. You might be stuck, but you are not stopped on the trail to success. Once you notice the rut and its contributing factors, believe you can overcome it. Apply intentionality to the actions you take. Stick to these actions daily.  When the road to better habits or routines gets bumpy, stay the course. Envision the joy of breaking out of the rut. 

Keep on keeping on! 


Maxwell, John. The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth (Thomas Nelson, 2012), p. 13

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