Thursday 22 February 2018

Well-being: Stuck in a rut... drop the victim mindset to get out of it

Small, easy to implement steps can get you out of a big rut

You can make positive changes such as joining a gym
You can make positive changes such as joining a gym

A friend of mine recently told me that she had applied for somewhere in the region of 60 jobs with no success. Initially I thought she was the victim of a tough job market. Then I asked if I could see the CVs that she had sent out.

It soon transpired that, save for a tweak or two, she hadn't updated her CV for nearly 10 years.

What's more, she hadn't tailored her CV according to each application. She had attached the exact same version to every application.

Career coaches call this the 'job search rut'. It's a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that jobseekers become mired in when they search for jobs passively rather than actively, and when they try to get a different result using the same approach.

Looking at my friend's experience, it occurred to me that the jobseeker's rut is no different to any other rut. It's just a little easier to notice the pattern when there's a trail of 60 CVs - and just as many rejection letters.

As with any rut, my friend didn't know what she really wanted, hence the quantity over quality approach. Meanwhile, she became defensive when anyone tried to offer her help.

The trouble with ruts is that it can take a long time to accept that you're in one. It's easier to blame others than it is to accept that something has got to give - and that something is you.

You know you're in a rut when you're lacking in motivation and enthusiasm. Life no longer excites you but the thought of leaving your comfort zone terrifies you. One day blurs into the next and it feels as though your schedule is in charge of you, rather than the other way around.

This may sound like the symptoms of a low-grade depression. Sure enough, a rut can make you more prone to depression, but, in most cases, it feels more like ennui than it does hopelessness.

Likewise, it can feel like the wind is against your sails, or as though you've been cursed with an extraordinary run of bad luck. Yet it is exactly at this point that the cycle begins to perpetuate. In naming it, you reinforce it.

To get out of a rut, you first have to get out of the just-my-luck victim mindset. Or as spiritual teacher Mooji puts it - "Refrain from forming any conclusions about what you see".

In my friend's case, she had formed the conclusion that she was "unhirable". Ostensibly she was applying for jobs; unconsciously, she believed that she was incapable of getting one.

A rut, like everything in life, is a pattern. To break out of it, you have to do something different or let go of what no longer serves you.

You also have to see past what is known as 'intermittent reinforcement' - the little glimmers of hope that make us think that things aren't so bad after all. Intermittent reinforcement is the romantic partner who blows hot and cold and the boss who is all talk and no action when it comes to promotion prospects.

Usually these irregular positive cues are enough to keep us in the comfort zone and trapped in a dead-end situation.

It's also worth considering the 'sunk-cost fallacy', a cognitive bias that makes us persist with hopeless endeavours - unprofitable businesses, doomed relationships - simply because we have invested considerable time or money into them.

In order to view the situation objectively, you have to look at it from a long-term perspective. Spiritual author Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith poses an excellent question to enable this process.

"If this experience were to last forever," he asks, "what quality would have to emerge for [you] to have peace of mind?"

In my friend's case, this question left her with just one answer: she had to change her tack and rewrite her CV.

Of course, the answer doesn't always come so easily. Sometimes we get stuck in a creative rut, or a tricky family dynamic or the hamster wheel of the poverty trap.

In these scenarios, the changes you need to make aren't so cut and dried. There is no single action that you can effect other than to change your attitude. As the saying goes, "If you can't change a situation, you can change the way you think about it".

Alternatively, you can make simple positive changes to your daily routine, such as joining the gym, overhauling your diet or even just getting out of bed 30 minutes earlier.

Granted, it may not be an obvious step towards your long-term goal, but change begets change, and adopting one new habit usually makes it easier to adopt subsequent ones.

Reaching out to others is also imperative. Ruts make people withdraw from their loved ones, partly because they believe they have to overcome the obstacle alone, and partly because they're ashamed that they can't overcome the obstacle alone.

Our loved ones can offer a fresh approach. While the person in the rut is entangled in the laboriousness of day-to-day matters, those around him can see the mistakes he is making over and over again from a detached perspective.

People who are stuck in a negative cycle are often pointing the finger at others, or waiting for a prince to arrive on a white horse.

Yet they will remain mired in their rut until they learn a hard lesson: the only person who can save you is yourself.

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