Professional Development

How to deal when you’re stuck on autopilot in your life

Written by Kate Lopaze

When you’re just starting out in your career, everything feels significant. You’re learning how to navigate workplace politics, perform new tasks, and balance work and life. After a few years, though, you’ve fallen into routines, and you’re not the New Kid anymore. So how do you shake that rut?

Change your routine.

This applies both at work and at home. Do you stop at the same coffee place every morning before work and order the same thing? Go somewhere different. Even small changes can help you feel like things are less of a standard drudge. Maybe you drive a different route to work, or take a different train. Maybe you get up half an hour earlier so you have time to fit in some reading or exercise before you head in to work. Maybe you take a break and go outside for lunch instead of listening to podcasts at your desk while you eat. Or try chatting up a coworker you don’t know very well. Making small changes can make you feel like things are less stale and predictable.

Adjust your work-life balance.

“Go find something new to do” was my mom’s usual reply when I’d complain about being bored as a kid, and she was right. She’s still right. It’s on us to seek out new activities that challenge and engage us. If that means setting boundaries about when you respond to work email after hours or carving out time in the evening so you can take a fun class or work on your scrimshaw carvings, do it. Hobbies can make you more engaged and productive overall, because then you have an outlet for de-stressing and focusing your energy.

Push yourself.

It’s time to do something outside your comfort zone. Don't do anything that makes you feel physically or emotionally unsafe, of course, but try something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. We get stuck in ruts because they’re comfortable—not because we’re necessarily choosing the mundane over the exciting. Introduce a little excitement by pushing yourself toward a goal that requires you to stretch a little. Maybe that’s starting an off-the-record job search to see what else is out there. Or maybe it’s as simple as taking a public speaking class, when you’ve studiously avoided giving public presentations for years due to stage fright.

Set goals.

Nothing creates an autopilot rut than focusing on the day-to-day rather than what comes next. You get so mired in the present tense that it can feel like there is nothing to look forward to—hence the frustration and despair that things are not moving forward. It’s time to sit down and plan out your goals—both career and life—and think about what your next phase looks like and what you need to do to start moving in that direction.

Feeling stuck happens to everyone at some point, either professionally or personally. The best way to get over that feeling of ennui is to focus on yourself and determine what would make you feel happier/calmer/more satisfied in the day-to-day. You might be amazed at how small adjustments can change your overall perspective.

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