How do I get myself out of this rut?

For the last couple of years I feel like I am just coasting through my life. I don’t feel connected to it like I used to or as engaged. It’s like I am in a rut with no way out. I try to to climb out but something always keeps me from successfully escaping the rut. It ultimately feels like I need something outside of my control to happen to get me out of the rut, but I don’t just want to wait for something to happen. How do I get myself successfully out of the rut?

When matter changes states, the temperature stays the same – law of phase transition
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Hello Diner. To get out of this rut, you should understand what’s digging it. It sounds, quite apparently, that you feel stagnant–that you’re looking for change.

One of the things we Fortune Cookies find most puzzling about you humans is your two-sided relationship with change. Change is something humans spend a great deal of time and energy honing out of your lives. You find great comfort in rituals–daily, seasonal, yearly. Consistency is not only safe, it’s a virtue. To be reliable is a compliment–a feature for which you’d pay extra.

But with how much you knead regularity into the substance of your lives, you humans also puker at the taste of it. Stagnation is the killer of romances and careers alike. Both marriage counselors and career coaches probably hear the word “rut” as something many of their clients are desperately trying to escape.

Much like yourself.

Most of our regular Diners are in their twenties and thirties–so it’s likely you are also somewhere in that part of your life where you’re coming out of early adulthood. A few short years ago, you were living the white-knuckled action sequence of trying to figure out budgets, longer tax forms, insurance policies, payment deadlines, and directions to the restroom at your new job. At the time, all that “adulting” was probably intensely intimidating and harrowing.

Gritting your teeth, you willed your neural pathways to expect, understand, and negotiate all that newness. In time, new became familiar. One day, you realized all that isn’t scary anymore, and it hadn’t been for a while now–much to your surprise. You let yourself sigh a breath of relief. You tell yourself, “I’ve got this.”

But inevitably, familiar became stagnant, and here you are now. Understand I’m not accusing you of ingratitude. I’m not saying that you brought this on yourself. Like all the other Fortune Cookies eaten before me, I’m just signposting the now.

So to get out of this rut, you change, but now, you understand that everything in your mind is resisting that change because, again, predictability is safe. And your instincts’ job is to keep you safe so you can continue feeling safe another day.

Be judicious and steadfast against that fear of change, and you’ll get out of your rut. Understand your basic need for food and shelter and be shrewd about making sure you’re covered. But then, slowly–yet persistently–change. Start small with how you decorate and organize your day. Then branch out to bigger changes like new job opportunities or a new location.

Let yourself have small, controlled servings of adrenaline-pumping, scary change, and give yourself the reward of conquering them. When you find yourself overcoming the challenges of learning something new, you’ll work yourself out of the rut. Good luck, Diner, and come back to let the Cookies know what’s new.

This Fortune is dedicated to Mr. Arvel Chappell, III for helping the Bakery fix its pilot light so that we can continue offering our fine baked goods.

And as always, thank you to Ms. DJL for your unwavering support.


How do I get motivated to get out of this rut I am stuck in?

I am having trouble getting back into college after my mother got sick, and I just got laid off from my job again due to budget cuts. I have always wanted to join the Navy, even going through NJROTC in high school and doing quite well, but I need to lose quite a bit of weight. So what I would like is some advice on how to kick my lazy self in the butt and get motivated to finally get what I want out of life. Thanks so much.

Don’t forget that left at Albuquerque. – Animated wisdom

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Hello Diner. Compared to a human’s life, a Fortune Cookie has a very simple one: get unwrapped; suggest a direction; get eaten. That is our way of things. The eating part is not so pleasant, but nothing gives us Fortune Cookies more fulfillment than to help you. Ours is a simple life, but we are restricted to one task and one fate.

Your life is much longer and its flavor much more exquisite. You’re restricted to neither one purpose nor one source of happiness. Literally anything you find enough pleasure and tenacity doing, you can do well–and that would be your way of things.

The downside is the sheer number of paths–a lot of which may not be easy to follow. Add to that practicalities such as food and shelter, and suddenly the map unfolding before you shows an arduous trek through large stretches of boring plain and winding passes up steep ranges.

What you suffer is definitely not laziness. Even seasoned mountaineers need to train, plan, train some more, and then plan even more just to attempt a climb up Mt. Everest. Some may even need to turn back. What you are trying to do is no easier. Not only that you had to deal with a layoff and a sick mother. Have those mountaineers walk across Asia. Now ask them to climb Mt. Everest. They’d call you crazy.

Give yourself the credit of having crossed Asia on foot. It’s true that this perspective doesn’t make this next part any less difficult, but at the very least understand why you feel this hopelessness and fatigued. Running off up the mountain while cursing yourself for suffering altitude sickness isn’t going to help. In fact such haste is dangerous.

After a good night’s sleep, you can plan. You already have a lot of things going for you, Diner: a Fortune Cookie with a good sense of direction and a destination–the Navy. Understand that I can’t guarantee your finding Shangri-la there, but it’s certainly the best direction you have.

Now fold the map smaller and smaller until it fits in your hands. In real-life terms, ask yourself what you need to survive: A job? Stable housing? Worry about those first. Hone in on each thing and work them in order of importance.

Once you’ve decided to worry about one thing at a time, you can be clever about how you pursue them knowing your destination. Consider working for the Navy as a civilian. Once you find footing working for the Navy, look into their covered continuing education programs. If they are open to you, you’ve just found a great incentive to enroll back in college. If not, working toward their qualifications will take you closer to your ultimate goal.

Even without the specific benefits the US Navy provides, the point, Diner, is understanding that problems divided into the smallest, most important pieces are much easier to deal with than the whole thing all at once. Not only that, each piece can offer you opportunities and tools that will make reaching your goal even easier. But like the mountaineers who turn back, give yourself permission to fail. It’s OK. Go next season, but keep going next season until you make it. Keep moving. One step and then the next. Good luck on your trip, Diner.

How do I stay motivated?

I’m back at college and loving what I’m studying. But I’m finding it hard to stay motivated. I know I should just do the work and I like the material I’m learning. But I sit down to work and want to be anywhere else. How do I translate the passion for my subject to motivation to work?

When chasing the roadrunner, don’t look down. – Animated wisdom

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Hello Diner. Often Diners ask us what their lives mean and where they need to end up. We Fortune Cookies merely signpost your path. Few realize that your final destination comes from the meaning you create out of the things you love.

But the journey is tiring. Passion lights your way, but it doesn’t make the climb any easier.

So how do you conjure reality from imagination?

Researchers found that how much progress you think you’ve made and how committed you feel toward finishing your goal influences your motivation. [1] The more progress you think you’ve made, the more likely you are to find distractions. The researchers also confirmed that the more committed you feel toward finishing your goal, the more dedicated you will actually be. [1] It seems intuitive, but now there is scientific proof–the trick is building that sense of commitment.

I used the words “feel” and “think” deliberately. Your perception influences your motivation and can therefore be reflavored. Here are some suggestions:

1. Avoid the slackers. If you have friends who are not as accomplished or motivated as you, being around them will kill your motivation. You will compare your friends’ progress to your own and feel way ahead. This is called a downward comparison, and making them will cause you to seek distractions. [1] Instead find a group of more driven and organized students. This is not to make you feel bad about yourself, but to encourage you to push yourself and catch up. It’s the same reason people find workout buddies.

2. Advertise your commitments. If finishing a chunk of work by a certain time is what you need to be successful, hold yourself to that. If you tell your friends that you will finish something by a certain time, you will be more likely to finish because you’ll have more accountability. This is another place where finding a strong study group will be useful.

3. Own your goal. Internalizing the goal will help maintain your motivation. Often people give themselves an “out” by not making that work ethic part of their identity. Until you consider yourself a motivated student, you won’t be. A writer writes; a musician plays music; and a student in your specific field striving for a career is a person who would study and do the work.

Life and distractions give people that instant hit of amusement. Reading words from a Cookie seems infinitely more interesting than plodding through homework. We think you’re spot on. As you would expect, your pleasure-seeking mind would not understand why you are spending all of those countless hours hunched over books and notes. But have faith that the work will be worth it in the end. It is, Diner. It is.




[1] Fishbach, A., Dhar, R. (2005). Goals as excuses or guides: The liberating effect of perceived goal progress on choice. Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 32, No. 3 (December 2005), pp. 370-377. doi:10.1086/497548