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## What’s a rut?
Just to be clear: a rut is not burnout. It’s not depression. Those are rather serious and you should consult an *actual* professional who specializes in those areas vs. reading *Musings & Perspectives.*
**My personal definition of a rut is:**
>A state in which you’re not at your optimal, peak self and performing at your best.
It can be in the context of work and / or personal.
* Loss of motivation or excitement
* Unable to focus or be as productive
* Uninspired and lack of creative thought
* Activities that were once energizing aren’t anymore
After working through this for a few months, I managed to reflect and develop a few behaviors and attitudes to pull myself out.
**Here’s my approach:**
## 🧘🏼♀️ Optimize your physiology
It’s ridiculous how often we forget the basics of good, healthy habits that are the source of our mood and energy.
This list may slightly differ from person-to-person, but should be consistent for most.
* **Sleep 7.5+ hours a night and** [**practice good sleeping habits**](https://readingraphics.com/book-summary-why-we-sleep/#:~:text=In%20our%20Why%20We%20Sleep,quantity%20and%20quality%20of%20sleep.&text=On%20the%20other%20hand%2C%20sleep,or%20medical%20interventions%20can%20provide.)**.** The importance of sleep is well documented. [Here’s an entire book on the subject](https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams/dp/1501144324/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=why+we+sleep&qid=1625696324&sr=8-1).
* **Drink 2 liters of water daily and eat a balanced diet consisting of multiple servings of fruit and vegetables.** Pretty straight forward — this is the fuel for our engine of a body.
* **Exercise 3-4x a week — do a balance of high intensity exercise and slow, steady cardio.**
* **Minimize alcohol, sodium, and processed foods (sugar, saturated fat).** Alcohol is the biggest enemy to productivity. [Try giving it up for a month.](https://thehustle.co/6-things-learned-from-not-drinking-for-2-years)
Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to hit the items above. All it takes is discipline.
If you’re in a rut, the first thing I’d do is assess how you’re doing on the dimensions above. And if you’re falling short, give yourself just *one week* where you sleep, eat, drink, and exercise well — and see how you feel after that.
Quite often, it’s the lack of sleep, exercise, or discipline on what I consume. Good sleep is by far the most important contributor of productivity and optimal performance for me.
## 🛀🏼 Recharge and reduce
Josh Waitzkin is a classic high-performer and pretty incredible human. He’s a Chess International Master (IM), ranked at 2,480 ELO. A black belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, under world champion Marcelo Garcia. And a Tai Chi World Cup champion.[ I write about him here.](https://www.andrew.today/p/two-ideas-to-improve-your-meta-learning)
In his book, [‘The Art of Learning’,](https://www.amazon.com/Art-Learning-Journey-Optimal-Performance/dp/0743277465/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=art+of+learning&qid=1625697162&sr=8-1) he states that over the long run, **we should alternate between modes of intense, hard work, and complete relaxation.**
>**Two takeaways here:**
You absolutely need breaks
When you take a break to recharge — you need to completely relax (and not half-ass it)
**Ideas on recharging:**
* **Take your vacation and Paid Time Off (PTO) days liberally.** We don’t realize how badly we need time off work until we start feeling the symptoms. By then, it may be too late. Think of vacation days as preventative vs. taking them to solve an overworking problem.
* **Schedule time for a digital detox.** Pick a Sunday and put your phone on *Do Not Disturb* for the entire day. No social media, digital messaging, or notifications. It’s **your** time.
* If you’re an introvert, schedule time for undisturbed solitude; if you’re an extrovert, create opportunities for energizing conversations with new folks.
* **Practice stillness.** Block off time to do absolutely *nothing*. Reflect on this: when was the last time you were bored? With smart phones, 5G internet, and Instagram — it is literally *impossible* to be bored. There’s always something to do, which is a shame as boredom is often the precursor to creative thoughts and new ideas.
The other related idea here is to **reduce** and take things off your plate. Once a month, do a time and energy audit to evaluate how you spend your time and energy. Relate this back to your goals and cut what doesn’t fit.
Time is your most valuable resource and sometimes the most productive thing is to say **no.**
## 🙇🏽♂️ Seek input and inspiration
**I recently came across a brilliant Tweet:**
When I’m not inspired to write or think of new ideas, **it’s usually because I’m not reading, listening, or watching enough productive content.**
And by that I mean reading **blogs, newsletters, and books**; listening to **podcasts, interviews, and music**; watching **documentaries, TED talks, and speeches**.
I’m almost immediately pulled out of my creative rut once I start consuming productive content again.
Referencing the Tweet above: if you’re not dot collecting (input), you won’t be able to dot connect (output). Assess your information diet — perhaps you need to read, watch, or listen more.
The same goes for meeting new people.
I love meeting new people through [coffee chats](https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/art-virtual-coffee-chat-andrew-yeung/), social networking events, or just by random. Good conversation is inspiring and energizing, especially if you have shared values or a common mission.
If you’re uninspired, reach out to someone you admire and pick their brain. Ask questions on their life and career journey. Don’t know how to do that? Reply to this and I’ll share a template that I’ve used with hundreds of people.
## 🥰 Practice self-compassion and self-love
This last part may go against the point of the entire article, **but perhaps being in a rut is fine after all.**
We need rest and we deserve a break. Maybe we’ve been working too hard and this is our natural reflex forcing us to slow down and take a breath.
When this happens, it’s hard to silence our inner critic — which will often question why we’re slowing down and prevent it from happening.
Practically, there’s an exercise called **‘Metta’** that Tim Ferriss discusses with Leo Babauta. [**Here’s how you do it.**](https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-do-metta-january-2014/)
>“… but with heart-centered meditations like *metta*, and I’m sure you’re familiar with that one. Loving-kindness meditation. And so I started practicing with that and that one, **for those unfamiliar with it, is basically this thing where you picture someone else or a group of people and you start to wish an end to their suffering, for example, or wish happiness upon them.** And it’s just a lovely little meditation. So you start thinking these thoughts, “May they be happy?” And you think about your loved ones in pain and suffering. “And may they be happy?” Think about other people in the world who are suffering. “May they be happy?” It’s just a really beautiful meditation. “
**— Leo Babauta, Writer at** [**zen habits**](https://zenhabits.net/)
If you’re more empathetic, compassionate, and caring toward others, you’re more empathetic, compassionate, and caring toward yourself. And vice versa.
I set aside 45 minutes a month to do this exercise, and it’s been great for quietening my inner critic in times of rest.
### 🙏 Appreciation & Support
**I had two motivations for writing this article:**
* First, I wanted to reflect on this experience to provide myself with a playbook of how to approach similar, future situations.
* Second, to share my approach with friends, colleagues, and peers out there who may have felt the same way. I hope this is helpful and wish you the best on your journey.
Thank you for taking the time to read. This was one I was particularly passionate about, and found energizing to write.
**I’d really love your thoughts and feedback.** How do you deal with being in a rut?
I write similar stuff on my blog: [https://www.andrew.today/](https://www.andrew.today/)