Do You Ride the Rote Rut?

Published on May 30th, 2011
Tractor ruts in the mud

Are you as split focused as I am? Here's a pattern I've noticed: When I'm in the shower, I'm thinking about breakfast. When I'm eating breakfast, I'm thinking about my work day. When I'm at work, I'm thinking about everything else. Always there physically, never fully there mentally. This is a very tiring cycle because the amount of potential distractions in life are endless (Cable alone can give us 300+ channels worth 24 hours a day).

In the ideal scenario, one is 100% engaged in a single activity to the exclusion of all else. I love this state of being, when I can achieve it. I can be efficient as well as happy because there is no longer a major drain on both my body and my psyche. It's the flow state, the zone, or (in Happy Gilmore's lingo) your happy place.


When we master any task, we eventually shut off our thinking mind and do it unconsciously. Don't believe it? See how many times you blank out entire sections of your next trip while driving a car. This muscle-memory style way of going through one's day is fine for mundane tasks that you just need to get through, but what about things that used to be fun? You know, the things that over the years have now become monotonous routine. When you kiss your wife or husband, and you doing it because you enjoy showing your affection to the person you love? Or are you simply doing it because you've done it for the past 15 years on the way to work and it's just a checked off todo item on the way to work?

These type of questions may seem uncomfortable. They are supposed to be. It's the only way we can check our blind spots and see where we've stopped living and simply put our life on autopilot, where we blink 10 years later and (just like driving the car) we have no idea how we got here. That's not living life! That's merely being a tumble weed blowing around to wherever life takes you! And yet, we can all be tumble weeds in certain aspects of our lives.

How much are you on autopilot?

Here are some additional questions:

  • Do you exercise with enthusiasm and mental focus? Or do you simply watch the clock?
  • Do you walk the dog and bask in the fresh air? Or do you scowl and go into a 'poor me' series of thoughts? (Don't laugh, I used to do this all the time)
  • Do you watch TV because you're actually interested? Or do you watch it simply to check out mentally?
  • Do you eat your meals with enjoyment of having such great food at your disposal? Or do you simply wolf it down and move on with your day?
  • When was the last time you had a weekend you talked about for months afterword?
  • When was the last time you woke up and just jumped out of bed ready to take on the day?
  • If you could slightly shift the outcome of each day, what would you do today?

The list goes on and on.

Escaping The Rote Rut

We all fall into ruts. We all fall into patterns where we go on autopilot and are not present during an activity for a variety of reasons. We get stressed, tired, bored, defeated, or we simply don't even realize how we got here because we never took the time to reflect and even notice what we are doing. But it doesn't need to be this way! Here are two ways out:

  • A dramatic, hail-mary style push  (move to a new state, quit a job, get married in Vegas, etc)
  • A gradual use of willpower and awareness at every decision point to shift into a new direction.

I prefer the latter method (something Jack Canfield calls 'leaning into it') because it doesn't require a major upheaval in every aspect of one's life. Still, those hitting rock bottom or presented with an offer they can't refuse may need to make the big leap. Life sometimes doesn't afford us the luxury of choosing!

My Ruts

Currently, I'm trying to break a couple patterns.

  • Not expressing myself when I'm unhappy or uncomfortable with a situation.
  • Assuming people understand my positions, opinions, etc without needing to clarify.
  • Getting too worked up when plans change during my day.

What Are Your Ruts?

Even taking a single minute to answer this question is enough to start a shift occurring through awareness. What are your ruts? What would you rather do instead? How would you go about making that change?


Image used under Creative Commons from locomosquito.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.