A Recent Rut Reflection
I had my first emo phase at twenty-eight.
I was down in the dumps at the end of August, and I felt like no matter how hard I tried to push, the friction of getting back into my old routine was too strong.
So, despite my efforts, I got nowhere.
Below is a reflection of how unmotivated, uninspired, and unaccomplished I felt at the end of the summer. I hope that by sharing my raw feelings and thoughts, you might not feel alone like I did, and maybe, this will give you the fuel to start climbing out of the hole you’ve dug.
— August 31, 2021 —
I miss writing, exercising, and eating well.
I also miss waking up early and washing the dishes to start my day off on the right foot.
But I guess what it boils down to is that I miss doing things that remind me who I am.
The real me.
The guy obsessed with personal development who can talk about habit-building without feeling pangs of guilt or phoniness.
How did I let this happen?
Why did I let it persist for so long?
And how do I prevent it from happening again?
These are some questions I have been asking myself over the last few days as I have come to terms with the slump I’ve been in.
While this isn’t the first time I’ve fallen off with my personal goals, it is one of the only times I’ve fallen off the wagon while remaining happy. Typically, I fall into a rut when I am unhappy.
But this summer has been the exact opposite: it’s been one of the best summers of my life.
Here are a few things that made this summer special:
- I finally took trips around Europe since moving to Germany in 2020 (before that, I had only been to Italy, Germany, and Spain in 2019 for a couple of days each)
- I met some fantastic people on my travels and now have friends to visit all over
- I developed a strong journaling habit where I write three pages per day and have now journaled over 350 pages in total
So, then how am I in a rut?
I think it’s important to compare this summer to the winter preceding it to answer this question. Summer ’21 was a breath of fresh air compared to the dreaded Berlin winter of ’20/’21, which mainly consisted of trying to survive lockdown while being cooped up in my apartment and having few ways to meet new people.
Looking back, I am afraid of what could have happened if I hadn’t spent nearly every day with my friend Zach, a fellow American ex-pat living in Berlin, who became a brother to me in a year.
The mind-numbing boredom and uncertain nature of lockdown were intense like no other feeling I’ve had in my life, and Zach and I weathered the storm together.
Surprisingly, the lockdown created the ideal conditions for me to go through the teenage phases I had missed out on. I listened to and identified with music so intensely that it changed my mood and outlook on life.
Here were my phases over a 6-month lockdown:
- 90s California rock (e.g., Chili Peppers, Sugar Ray) and wishing I were a surfer living on the West Coast without any responsibilities
- 90s + 00s grunge (e.g., Puddle of Mudd and Creed) and wishing I drove a camper van aimlessly without any responsibilities
- 90s and early 00s rap (everything) and wishing I were a rapper without any responsibilities
- screamo (e.g., Counterparts and Gideon) and wishing I were living in an industrial building and sleeping until 1 pm every day without any responsibilities
- emo (Fallout Boy, Hawthorne Heights, and My Chemical Romance) and wishing I were in a toxic relationship without any responsibilities
Besides my phases, there were some other low points from last winter:
- Zach and I tried guessing how many days were left in lockdown because we wanted to go to heavy metal bars when they reopened
- I agreed to join a hypothetical screamo band, even though I can’t sing or play instruments, and was dead serious about getting singing lessons
- Zach and I were 4 hours late to a friend’s house for dinner because we practiced singing rock songs
By the way, I feel no shame, and neither should you.
Following the government-mandated house arrest, which lasted in Berlin from the beginning of November to sometime in May, it’s no surprise that I went a bit overboard this summer when bars, restaurants, and clubs (in certain cities) reopened.
I had a scarcity mindset all summer because I feared we would go back into lockdown the minute that summer ended. I was so afraid of going back to the way things were that I overdid it.
I traveled a lot, drank, and ate a lot at restaurants and bars, and I stayed out until the morning on multiple occasions. I didn’t want to miss out on life, so I spent time with my friends and enjoyed myself.
It was magical.
But it wasn’t me.
I am a goal-oriented creature of routine, and without a solid foundation, my life feels incomplete and out of whack, so I am happiest when I rise early and follow a predictable pattern.
Conversely, if I go out, it messes with my sleep, which means I usually wake up later and lose the morning. This puts me into a reactive mindset where I am trying to survive instead of planning.
A lot has changed in the last month. I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was in the past 30 or so days.
–Today, September 29, 2021–
I am no longer in a rut, and I have stopped drinking, too.
Over the past couple of weeks, the weather in Berlin has felt more appropriate for late October than August, which has played a significant role in my desire to get back on my exercise and personal development grind.
Another thing that happened is that my mother began a sobriety challenge with her friends in the middle of the summer and was able to stop drinking alcohol, and coffee, and eating food that wasn’t serving her long-term goals.
Her transformation hit home because I saw someone I love and respect analyze and remove the habits she’d developed over decades, which forced me to re-evaluate my own. But, more than that, I saw it was possible to change, no matter your stage in life, and I no longer felt bound to my ways of doing things.
I have observed that when I give myself an excuse to opt-in to behavior that doesn’t improve my quality of life, I can feel it chipping away at my integrity. I usually feel fear at the beginning of developing a bad habit because I know I’m doing something at odds with my soul’s desire. However, the voice that disagrees with the behavior becomes softer and softer until it finally vanishes.
And that’s when a bad habit becomes second nature.
This summer was a necessary relief from the intense emotions I faced this winter while in isolation, and I’m grateful to have had the privilege to travel to other places and see new parts of the world.
But because I’m feeling grounded again, I’m ready to ditch the habits that aren’t serving me, so I can keep putting one foot in front of the other.
These days, I would rather write, run, lift weights, or read than go out or stay up late, which means I’m back to waking up early and enjoying the early morning calm before the city starts humming.
It’s not always easy to admit you’re stuck, but I’d love to know which behaviors are characteristic when you’re in a rut and what tips you have for getting out!