5 Sure Signs That You’ve Fallen into a Rut

Pioneers on the Oregon Trail knew when they were in a rut. The wheels of the wagon would fall into a groove cut by the passage of previous wagons, and the driver was stuck traversing that groove—forced to follow the path of the person before them until they lifted the wagon out of the furrow or the rut ended.

Mental and emotional ruts are often harder to identify than the ruts made by wagon wheels, but they are just as likely to bring your efforts to a grinding halt.

Here are five signs that you may be stuck in a rut, and a few ways to steer yourself out of it.

Your health and well-being stop being priorities

In 1990, the MECC developed a simple educational game based on the experiences of the pioneers that traveled The Oregon Trail. The outcome is largely based on happenstance, and you don’t have a lot of ways to ensure the health and well-being of your little party.

You aren’t allowed to choose a health-conscious diet for your people, make them take their vitamins, or even get them to visit the doctor. The only options you have control of are how hard your pioneers push themselves, whether or not they have chances to rest, and how much food they eat each day.  As a result, your party gets a lot of cholera, dysentery, and random broken legs.

In our modern reality, we can take time to meditate, select the best quality fruits and vegetables, and do targeted exercises, all in the name of better health. Unfortunately, when you are deeply entrenched in a rut, your focus narrows and it can be a challenge to see anything but the path under your feet.

Checking things off your to-do list is unsatisfying

Being in a rut doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to do—your to-do list is full of daily and weekly tasks to accomplish. It doesn’t mean you’re slacking on that lengthy to-do list either. Each day you manage to check off all or at least most of those tasks, and yet you still feel no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

Big goals, like intensive research projects, large creative endeavors, or traversing the Oregon Trail by wagon train, often require repeating several of the same tedious steps over and over again to reach the ultimate goal. It can be easy to lose sight of the meaning and purpose behind those repetitive tasks, get lost in the drudgery of it all, and end up deeply stuck in a rut, without ever noticing how you got there in the first place.

Every day starts seeming the same. Is it Monday or Thursday?

Ruts are caused by continual repetition. This is true of both the ruts that were cut into the sandstone by the passage of hundreds of thousands of Oregon bound emigrants near Guernsey, WY, and the emotional and mental ruts that we develop throughout our lives. This type of repetition can make days run together, and lull us into a dangerous sense of complacency.

The Oregon Trail Game clearly illustrates this principle. Once you start your virtual journey, you will often find yourself traveling for up to a week or more of game time without much of a distinction between the days, sometimes causing your mind to wander a bit.

The resulting inattention makes it easy not to notice that thief that snuck in and stole half of your clothes, a wagon wheel, and a yoke or two of oxen. This kind of inattention can creep into our regular lives as well, making it easy to miss other important things, like meetings, classes, and deadlines.

You find yourself escaping into your daydreams

The occasional daydream is not only healthy for our mental well-being, for many creatives and entrepreneurs, it’s part of our job description. This type of daydreaming is inspiring and productive—it reminds us of our ultimate goal and provides access to more creative solutions.

The type of daydreaming that occurs when an individual falls into a rut isn’t productive. People who are in a rut often ruminate on thoughts of escape to a new career path or to an entirely different locale, but they can’t seem to muster any motivation to make any changes.

Instead of taking action like you know you should, you find yourself staring off into space, binge-watching house-hunting shows on Netflix, or playing The Oregon Trail game for hours at a time.

Which leads us to the most obvious sign that you have fallen into a rut…

Even though you desire change, you find comfort in staying the course

Your days are all running together, you are bored, apathetic, and restless, sometimes all at once. You’d be irritable if you could muster the enthusiasm.

You know a change has to happen.

When you are stuck in a rut, even simple changes may seem distant and unreachable. You may be aware that the road is diverging from your original goal, but it’s just easier to keep traveling along the rut than it is to turn the wheels against the groove and go in a different direction.


Almost everyone experiences a rut at some point in their lives, and getting out of a rut is no easy task. Both large and small course corrections require that you examine yourself, re-evaluate your current course, and take action to change that course.

If you recognize yourself or someone you care about in this list, try some of these ideas to get your wagon rolling:

  • Spend time on self-care
  • Be more spontaneous
  • Journal about your motivation
  • Explore somewhere unfamiliar to you
  • Learn a new skill or make new connections
  • Give yourself small daily or weekly reward
  • Embrace imperfection

Don’t let fear and uncertainty rule your decisions. You can break out of your rut, and live your life to the fullest.

Whether you are looking for a quiet space to contemplate your needs or a social environment where you can make new friends and associates, we’ve got you covered!

Book one of our affordable, by-the-hour meeting rooms at Cohere in Old Town Fort Collins or sign up for a virtual or in-person tour of Cohere Coworking.

Cohere member Penny Leigh Sebring is an experienced freelance writer, neophyte speculative fiction author, and gatherer of information and imaginary friends.

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