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Don't get stuck in a rut

Being a working mom creates a conundrum: We need routines to help us maximize efficiency, but there's always that chance that we're hindering our own career potential and personal successes when those routines morph into a rut. In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, writer Stephanie Taylor Christensen explores how to tell if you're in a rut, and how to break the cycle if you are.


The day before my birthday, my husband gave me the coveted gift of working motherhood: A day off to do whatever I wanted. So with this magical day, I spent my time writing, working out, and perusing the aisles of Whole Foods. All in all, I had a lovely day. But I teach yoga almost daily, I write for a living and I go to the grocery store at least once a week. In short, I did the exact same things I do every day—minus taking care of a child—even when I didn't "have to." One might argue that I have found a way to live my life the way I want to and get paid for it. (I must say, it's not a bad gig!) But there is also something to be said for stepping out of the box, not only to keep growing as working moms, but as people. How do we know the difference between a rut and a routine?

Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering, writes that our minds organize information to form a pattern that helps us to manage an otherwise complex world. More times than not, this mechanism is helpful; it allows us to "fill in the blanks" and process information efficiently, even when we're only given bits and pieces of information. But, our minds can get "too good" at our routines and cognitive expectations — leading to a rut that hinders our ability to reach the pinnacle of working mom success and personal happiness. As Michalko writes, "Habits, thinking patterns and routines with which we approach life gradually accumulate until they significantly reduce our awareness of other possibilities." Here are three ways to identify and correct a potential rut.

Rut red flag #1

You don't notice what's around you

Think about what you did yesterday, and where you went. What sights, sounds and sensations did you experience at each location or activity? If you have a hard to time recalling, your routine may be bordering on a rut. Psychologists for Science Journal say that those suffering from burnout and ruts stop cognitively processing. Switch up your routine for a week or so and see if you start to tune into the world around you once again.

Rut red flag #2

You often feel annoyed

Another sign of a cognitive rut is feeling short-fused and irritated with your responsibilities and the people around you, more often than not. The problem worsens when people try to "self-soothe" and escape their stress in the form of alcohol, drugs, junk food and extramarital affairs. If this feels familiar, take a time out and write down exactly what is causing the irritation — and tweak what you can to ease your stress. If the morning routine of rushing to get the kids and yourself out the door makes you seethe, unload some of the burden and share the task with your partner or an outside caregiver. If you loathe the morning commute, try carpooling so that you can just "chill out" and close your eyes on the way into work once in a while. Identifying your little triggers can make a big difference before negative feelings spiral out of control.

Rut red flag #3:

Everything feels like work

According to HelpGuide, researchers who studied children's attitudes about play found that kids who called almost everything they did "play" (including schoolwork) grew up to be adolescents who were happier in school and more content socially than the kids who saw everything as "work." Take the same approach to your own life, and find the opportunities in everything — whether it's trying a new recipe, attending a fitness class, or even, presenting a new idea to your client.

Working Mom 3.0

The modern woman is redefining what it means to have a successful career. Rather than feeling torn between climbing the corporate ladder and having a happy family life, many women are choosing to merge the two and transition careers from a traditional role to a more flexible one. Working Mom 3.0 is reinventing the definition of "working mom," as office hours are held at home and revolve around nap times.

This column begins by chronicling the experiences of Stephanie Taylor Christensen, a former marketing professional turned self-employed stay-at-home mom, writer and yoga instructor, as she strives to redefine "having it all" on her own time and terms.

More tips for working moms

Working Mom 3.0: Get happy
Working Mom 3.0: What worries you?
Working Mom 3.0: Manage work and housework

Tags: routine

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Comments on "Working Mom 3.0: Are you stuck in a rut?"

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Tiffany May 07, 2012 | 4:47 PM

Injecting spontaneity into my routine is something that I struggle with. I develop a system that works and then stick to that system until it becomes mononotonous. I guess you could say that I'm a creature of habit. Thanks for writing this informative article. It helped me to see some of the ways that I am "stuck in a rut."

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