I Fell Into A Life Rut And This Is What It’s Taught Me

Life Rut Woman Chairs - Laura Chouette

Once in a while, I’m reminded that just because I’ve set goals doesn’t mean it’s a straight shot to the podium. Case in point: that time I thought I’d win my division in a jiu-jitsu competition.

I trained twice a day for months leading up to it. And that’s discounting the years I’d invested in the sport beforehand.

I lost the first round. My coach, sensing my disappointment in travelling all the way to Japan just to have an anti-climactic end, said: “Well, you either win or you learn.”

Those words have become a meme in the jiu-jitsu community, but they still ring true. In life, you could either succeed in your plans, or you could figure out why you didn’t.

My latest venture was to maintain a daily workout routine with no rest days for over a year. The only time I stopped was when I had COVID, or when I pulled my back. I thought I was hot shit until my body decided to give out.

This manifested itself in a fluctuating heart rate (when I was laying on the couch), shortness of breath, and insomnia. I had this brain fog that wouldn’t go away, and even the tiniest decisions seemed monumental.

Fortunately, I’ve since recovered after taking a deload week, but boy was I out of it that entire time.

Naturally, every other part of my life took a hit as well. I wasn’t writing as much, and my nutrition basically consisted of what was easiest to prepare. That’s when I learned not to scoff at what we call ‘life ruts’.

Here are some of my observations from this experience.

Stuart competing in IBJJF in Japan

Yours truly in Japan. Sorry for image quality, this was circa 2016.

1. Your ‘self’ is a separate being

Listen to your mind for a bit. Do you think that’s really you? I don’t.

I personally like to look at my mind the way I look at my breath. If you leave it to its own devices, it functions on autopilot. It’s possible to override it for a while, but controlling it the entire day is highly impractical.

Similarly, your mind can either be on autopilot, or you could temporarily hold the reins. But you should look at it as a function and not a representation of who you are. Why do I bring this up? It’s because your thoughts are lies.

Sometimes, you’ll feel shitty while enjoying a three-course meal with a loved one. Other times, you’ll be deep in the throes of ecstasy, even when in debt and jobless. There really is no saying what your mental state would be from day to day.

But you know what? Neither dictates who you are as a person.

So don’t feel bad if you’re not crying at your mother’s funeral, or if you find yourself feeling depressed even with a roof over your head and a well-stocked fridge.

How this has helped with my rut: Because of this, I’ve learned to better deal with my catastrophising mind. Yes, I was feeling abnormal symptoms, but no, it’s not the end of the world—even if I was having a heart attack.

2. You can’t be one-dimensional

I’ve also learned that I can’t simply bank everything on one aspect of my life.

I can’t be the fittest person without nurturing a career. I can’t be rich without having loved ones to share my life with. And there’s no point telling people I love them if I won’t give them the best version of myself.

I see the one-dimensional pursuit a lot in jiu-jitsu, where starry-eyed white belts proclaim their intent of pursuing grappling full-time.

They couch-surf or sleep on gym mats so that they can allocate what little money they have for training. Then they end up being broke, forty-year-old purple belts with knee injuries they can’t pay to fix.

I admire people who have a single-minded purpose, and you can’t deny the fact that some winners are created that way. But behind one successful person lies a thousand others who’ve failed in the same journey.

That’s why I’m coming to terms that I have to build the richest life possible. I may aspire to be the next Cameron Hanes or Neil Gaiman, but I won’t neglect the other important parts of my life to do so.

How this has helped with my rut: The more diverse my life is, the more fallbacks I have. Realising this has helped me choose complementary skills such as running and writing. That way, I always have something to pursue, regardless of my condition.

Ponies grazing in a field

How many tricks do you think this pony knows? Photo: Mitchell Hollander

3. Routine is still king

I truly believe, without a doubt, that we are the sum total of our habits.

It doesn’t matter that you crash-dieted that one time, or you bench-pressed 500kg once. Who you are as a person is dictated by the things you do day in and day out.

It’s how we make our bed. The books we choose to read. The food we eat. It’s all the little, inconsequential decisions that we repeat over years and decades.

Which is why I believe it’s important to cultivate and maintain a daily routine, even if it takes all of ten minutes.

Because 20 push-ups a day becomes 7,300 a year. Writing 250 words a day totals 91,250 a year—that’s an entire novel. Ten minutes of daily guitar practice turns into 60 hours per year. You get the idea.

How it’s helped with my rut: Having routines allow me to constantly move forward, despite how I feel. Maybe I’d be operating at 10% of my usual pace, but that’s still forward progress. Progress I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a routine to stick to.

4. It matters more when it sucks

I’ve had things easy prior to this life rut. Everything was going my way. I had ample time to get my workout in. I had food, shelter, and love. Basically, I had no excuse not to make the best choices for myself.

Then I couldn’t exercise, and suddenly my other healthy habits toppled like dominoes. I didn’t want to write. I wasn’t in the right mind to learn new things. And if there was a time to cheat on my diet, it was right then.

But I now realise that it’s these exact moments where my true self appears.

I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to combat sports. Because it’s when I’m in pain that I learn who I really am. I get to see if I’ll crumble under the pressure or face my fears head-on.

Like David Goggins said, “Anyone can go running when it’s 70 degrees out. But it’s not always going to be 70 and sunny.”

How it’s helped with my rut: I’ve begun seeing painful moments as classes in session. Muhammad Ali once said that he only counted his reps after it began to hurt. The pain cave is not something we need to avoid. In fact, that’s the only place we get to meet our true selves.

Life Rut Workout - Sven Mieke

Pain is where growth begins. Photo: Sven Mieke

5. Limits are where limits are found

Building on the previous point, growth can only be found outside your comfort zone. And as that zone expands, you’ll inevitably end up looking like a maniac to someone with a zone the size of a birdcage.

Unfortunately, the unknown is a scary place, but you’ll never know where the borders truly are until you travel there.

In my case, I now know how long I can maintain a daily workout programme until I hit a wall. And the next time I start to feel funky, I wouldn’t be taken by surprise. That’ll in turn allow me to push just a tiny bit more.

It’s just like when I had that Myanmar assignment where I had to write two 1,000-word articles a day. With research. Done on the road. On 16-hour workdays.

Prior to that, I never knew I could write on dinghies that threatened to topple over with every sway, or in vans that rattled so much your teeth could’ve fallen off.

But I found my new limits, and they were only available through discomfort.

How it’s helped with my rut: I’ve learned that it’s okay to reach my limits, and not to see it as a deficiency, but as a yardstick I can eventually move forward. I’ve also learned to take the ‘Don’t overwork yourself’ advice with a grain of salt, because everybody has their own definition of what their limits are.

Ruts are a necessary evil

The one comfort I can give you if you’re going through a rut is that it’ll never last. And once you claw your way out of it, you’ll emerge stronger than before. Or at the very least, you’ll have learned what you need to avoid to prevent it from happening again.

After all, an idiot is not someone who makes mistakes. It’s someone who doesn’t learn from them. I guess that’s my biggest takeaway from all this. It’s that you either win or you learn. But it works only if you want to learn.

Are you in a rut right now? Perhaps my newsletters can give you the pep talk you need. You’ll also get a free guide on how to grow your WordPress audience, so don’t miss out!

62 thoughts on “I Fell Into A Life Rut And This Is What It’s Taught Me

  1. Pingback: How To Deal With The Highs And Lows In Life | Your Friendly Malaysian Writer

  2. Definitely a good pep talk in here but also, extremely good advice. I find that routine is the sunshine to my soul. Without it, I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well, I get stressed out, and I live in chaos. It’s fun to break a routine with purpose, not so much when a speed bump comes your way but luckily we’re adaptable. However, to consistently allow my way to walk away with me, never ends well. I feed my animals at the same time, I do my laundry once a week, I lay out clothes for the week for my kid so I can sleep until the very last second, and I meal prep for the week ahead on Sundays. I’ve had people say “you’re too organized for me!” yet… we’re on time for school. My kid never misses a meal, farm chores are done in record time, and I’m able to tackle the speed bumps as they fly at me.


    • Meal prep is such a boon. It helps us stick to a healthy eating plan too. Trying to make good eating decisions when you’re hungry? Close to impossible.

      This downtime of mine has certainly stretched longer than I would have hoped, and all I can do is to stick to my tiny routines. I think letting those go would cause a full unravelling of everything else in life, lol. So great to get a glimpse of your life too, and how you use routine!


  3. The cool thing about the mind Stuart is that as you train it, diligently, it may feel brutal at times but it transitions from egoic thoughts to spirit thoughts. Spirit thoughts are always happy because how can eternal Love be in a bad mood? LOL :) Takes a lot of mind training and willingness to be with the shadow, but these annoying ruts do dissolve quickly with mind training. My training book of choice is A Course in Miracles.



    • Time is one huge factor for sure. And so is failure. Because I tend to regress more often than not. But what matters is that we get right back into the pursuit, am I right? Anyway, thanks for this thoughtful comment, Ryan!


    • Oh yeah. Which is why I believe that our habits really do make us. Or, we are our habits. Because good days or bad, it’s the things we do every day that shapes our future. So I best get to building the habits that best help me. Thanks for your thoughts, Hetty!


  4. Thanks for your interesting blog, Stuart. I enjoy your posts because I pretty much agree with whatever you say. And sometimes you stimulate a new thought. I agree with all your points in this article but I don’t actually understand what you mean by a ‘life rut.’ Do you mean a pattern your life has fallen into? I keep the alerts to your articles so that when I have time I can read them. Like now: I’m on holiday. My rut is never allowing enough time to read.


    • For me, a life rut is just a phase where all my good habits disappear, and for some reason, I find it hard to stick to a schedule I deem ‘productive’. Creatively, the work I put out feels stale. Things like that. And thank you for your kind words, Carla. I enjoy your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing post Stuart. I can definitely relate to some of the bullet points here especially the one about “routine is still king” and “it matters most when it sucks” because to me, these two variables help me even if I fall into the rut race. The lessons I got in this blog it is to never give up actually, that’s why the daily routine and pushing even if it sucks or there is little to no progress, just push one day you will climb above the rut race and be a winner💯💯🔥👏


  6. So many golden nuggets of wisdom in here, but that quote at the beginning – either you win or you learn – has stayed with me. I tell my students all the time that making mistakes is normal, natural, and ok/good because you learn from them, but that quote is so pithy that I’m going to make a poster of it for my classroom, except I’m going to write “Either you win or you lose” and then cross out “lose” and write “learn” above it. I think it will help drive the point home with young minds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That cross out thingie sounds so cool. Definitely take a pic! I gotta admit that I’ve been doing a lot of losing more than learning, because I don’t seem to be making progress despite all the losses I’ve accrued :P

      Anyway, the win or learn line has been spouted off so much that it’s since evolved to ‘it’s either you win or they lose’.

      Love your thought comment, btw!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a soul-searching post, Stuart.
    I admire how you have accepted, “I fell into a life rut.”
    The hardest first step in self-improvement is the acceptance of my follies or genuine mistakes. Once I accept, I can research the different avenues and devise a plan to improve the accepted situation.
    Best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Acceptance really is a powerful tool, isn’t it? It’s almost like addiction. The first step to get out of the rut is to admit I’m in one in the first place. I guess there are lessons to learn from this experience too, so it’s a win-win for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “You either win or you learn.” That’s a great line. I’m going to steal it, use it, and see if I can get away with it. 🙃😉 Other thoughts: (I took notes) Our thoughts lie to us. So, so true! Our brains just suck sometimes. It’s like they hate us at times.
    Build a routine. I really really should. Will you get on my case about that?
    Muhammad Ali quote about only counting reps after it started to hurt is awesome.
    So stinky about your jujitsu tournament. But I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, so I think it’s cool you got to go! Thanks for talking about jujitsu!
    Growth can only be found outside your comfort zone. Another great line.
    So much wisdom! Thanks, Stuart!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol that ‘win or learn’ thing is rife in BJJ, so it’s great that you’re keeping the tradition alive :P

      Routine: Definitely! What are you looking to build?

      And yeah, everything else on that trip was definitely the highlight of my life, and not the competition itself. What was cool is that my partner had also competed, so it was a great bond to create. Anyway, always great to have you here, Betsy!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve been feeling in an ongoing rut lately. Yesterday I started slowly climbing out then I was hit down to a low point again 😔 what really resonated with me the most in your post is having multiple things to pursue (running and writing). I guess for me is Teaching, Writing, and just taking care of myself better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, I think life is about building pillars that you can fall back on when one crumbles. I don’t want to become the stereotypical Hollywood representation of the football player who hurt his knee and has nothing left in life after that.

      Just thought that I’d drop you an encouraging message to keep building, because I totally get how you feel right now. Thanks so much for stopping by as always!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Hey, sorry about your rut, Stuart. It sounds like you’re coming out the other end stronger for it. Your first point about “you” not being your “mind” is fantastic. Lately, I’ve been wondering if my body actually runs the show, and my brain just makes up stuff to justify my body’s feelings. For example, maybe I’m getting a little sick so my body feels enervated. My brain decides my lack of energy is because I’m sad and depressed so it ruminates on all the possible reasons I should be depressed, even if things are going great. Good observations!


  11. Some good reflections here, Stuart. I think if I was to highlight one it is the one about routine. Routines have helped me through difficult times. Sometimes you work the routine on autopilot, but it gives the brain something to focus on and reduce any spirals. As you rightly say, these ruts are learning experiences in themselves.


    • That’s exactly how I perceive routines as well. Sometimes you wish to get things done even when you’re in a rut, but your mind resists new things. Routines, however, can be done on autopilot. And that prevents the downward spiral by making you feel as though you did something good with your day. Thanks for your lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for this post Stu! For now when I’m descending into a writing rut — and I will, thanks to a busy season of teaching that just started — I shall read this post of your again to comfort myself that though I’m in a rut, I needn’t give up on myself. I will believe that there are gems to be plucked. Certainly, I’ve been mulling of late if I maybe should cut back to just one weekly post instead. That way, maybe I can slowly work towards achieving such thoughtful and awesomely-written weekly posts as yours! Or at least within a 1 km radius of proximity to them! LOL!! As always, appreciate all your weekly life hacks for us.


    • I’ve always said that your routine is crazy awesome, but that also means that it does require a lot of effort. Whichever you choose, it’ll be the right decision.

      I myself am looking to wean myself off the blog even more these days, just so I could have more time for real life. But who knows? Here’s to finding our blogging path together!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I like your point about not being one-dimensional. I’ve been through ruts before, and everything really does topple like dominos! It’s a horrible feeling. I’ve found that I need a routine but I also need those days where I mix it up and do something special for me– or maybe just relax extra intentionally. :)


    • Gah, the domino effect is real, and it takes very little to set it off. Getting sick. A loved one getting hurt, being laid off.

      That’s why it’s important to me to have dominos that can withstand the topple, and these pillars will be what stops me from spiralling down too far. Exercise is a big one. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think our minds are our only enemy. Everything I’ve hesitated on has always been because of me talking myself out of it. I believe we all can achieve great things once we get our minds on our side. Love your comment!


  14. I wrote a story about this not too long ago because I want to do so much and then don’t get anything done. I’m coming out of my death slumber by watching my habits and trying not to lie to myself. Since I have few friends, I talk to myself but know those are lies that I’m saying, as I’m not accountable when no one cares, can’t afford a personal trainer. I won’t start at 12,2,3,4, but only at 10, and then I’ll be hit with a wall sleep. I’m fat right now, about 60 pounds overweight. I am losing it, however, lately anyway. I tried jogging, but my body hated it. I’m starting to cycle on a machine. I’ve done it a couple times with an ab carver and light weights. I’m going to power walk. I’m just too dang fat to jog. I sprint sometimes.


    • Exercise is a tough one. Sometimes it’s just better to find something we like, like swimming (or for me, it’s jiu-jitsu). Those don’t feel like exercise more than it does an activity, so I don’t get the mental block I get from having to go out for a run, or do a bunch of calisthenics.

      I believe I’ve read that post of yours, but thank you for being vulnerable here as well. Wishing you all the best on your journey too!


  15. Amazing post! In the end, the key in life is balance, and I feel like your post illustrates this perfectly! I had a similar experience at one point in life when I was training for an exam (and failed)! Thanks for those reminders 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, I just learned today that my manuscript got rejected, so it feels like failing for something I trained hard, so I totally get where you’re coming from when you mention this exact situation. Here’s to surfing the downs so we can ride the ups!


  16. “Then they end up being broke, forty-year-old purple belts with knee injuries they can’t pay to fix.”

    The price you pay for leg locks. But honestly, I’m not in favor of ignoring them entirely, as some people think they should be banned entirely.


    • Ha, funny you should mention this, because I just had a heavy night of leg locks. I’m super clueless in this area, so it’s good to have good guys put me in tough positions. Thanks as always for visiting, Tanish!


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