Feel stuck? Think different! 5 ways – backed by neuroscience – to break out of a rut.

Have you ever felt stuck? Or like your life was on auto-pilot? Did you feel bored with the trajectory of your life?

Why we’re feeling stuck can be caused by any number of situations. We might be uninspired. We might be overstimulated. We might not feel accomplished. We might be afraid. We might be overly stressed. We may also have everything we want & need and we’re not used to it. There’s many routes to the same outcome.

Boredom has an evolutionary purpose.

Interestingly Dr. Sandi Mann, an Organizational Psychologist who specializes in boredom, suggests that it has an evolutionary function. The fact that our brain automates our actions until they become second nature, allows us to be attentive to new stimulus. Imagine if everything you did every day felt new & exciting; like a mystery to solve and conquer? It would be hard to evolve past that specific state.

So boredom exists both to allow for the automation of daily tasks, but to also create the stimulus for evolution. Because when we’re bored/stuck, our brain actively searches for something new.

No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In some situations we may go for giant upheavals. We may leave our jobs, our career paths, our cities, even our spouses. This is guaranteed to bring a whole lot of change, which can solve the issue in the short term. Of course in any new situation, we inevitably develop another set of patterns, or habits, and then we’re back where we started.

To stop feeling stuck , you don’t have to uproot your whole life. To keep our brain from settling into full auto-pilot mode, there are small steps we can take that can help us satisfy our craving for the novel.

The phrase “step out of your comfort zone” is basically the recipe. Meaning that you want to intentionally create time to do things differently, even be uncomfortable.

Here’s a list of ways you can bring excitement to your mind, without having to undo your life.

1. Take a class

Learning has been found to promote neurogenesis. This means that the brain creates new neurons which make new connections. You literally expand the network in your brain. Using neural-pathways that are different & creating new ones, “shakes” up your brain. Not to mention that this expands your thinking, and – depending on the class – can add valuable skills to your tool belts. In a research paper I did on stress management tools, I discovered that skills are a fundamental key to improving self-esteem. Improved self-esteem and skill confidence shows up as positive changes in your life & at work.

2. Take a new route to work

When we do the same route everyday, our brain essentially falls asleep during the process. We’re trained to a path and we rarely stray from it. Taking a new route forces your brain to wake up. Pay attention to your surroundings and embrace the trip as an adventure. Are there new restaurants, stores, parks that you could try in the future? This search is what your brain needs to feel refreshed.

3. Cook something for the first time. Experiment with different cuisines.

This feeds into learning as well, but you can also get additional dopamine hits (the feel good hormone) in the planning phase, the preparing phase, and eating/sharing phase. As long as you don’t put a perfection burden on yourself, this process of creativity and discovery can create hours, even weeks, of feeling good and rejuvenated. Studies have also shown that cooking as a group is great for a sense of belonging, positive emotions, self-esteem and an increased sense of quality of life.

4. Research a destination for a vacation

There’s scientific evidence that PLANNING experiences is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve our mood. Simply the anticipation of places we could go to is enough of a mood booster to make you feel rejuvenated.

5. Rearrange the furniture on occasion

We all know the Kondo joy of decluttering, but just moving pieces around in your space can make your entire environment feel brand new. This can spark your creativity and may give way to other projects or ideas – but surely a sense of newness.

Out of the comfort zone.

Remember it will feel uncomfortable. That’s the point. Anytime you do something new, it is uncomfortable to the brain. Your own thoughts may even try to talk you out of it. But if you’re trying to break out of being stuck in autopilot living, discomfort is natural.

Lean into your sense of creativity – in whatever form it comes to you – as this is the path straight out of stuck.