Same Difference

What’s the difference between a rut and a groove?


When you look up each of these words in the dictionary, the first definitions are identical: a narrow channel or path in a surface. They appear to be synonymous.

But you hardly ever use “groove” in the same way as you do “rut”. In fact, they are often considered opposites.

So it has to be all in the way you look at it.

In music or art or sports or politics, we use the term groove to describe someone who has hit his stride while a rut indicates that a person has become uninteresting or bored in his pursuits.

How do you know if you’re in a groove or in a rut?

There are four stages of growth and learning that may help you self-evaluate. Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed this theory in the 1940’s. Here it is in a nutshell:

Stage 1. Unconscious Incompetence. You don’t know that you don’t know something. (Ignorance is bliss, they say.)

Stage 2. Conscious Incompetence. You become aware that you are incompetent at something and crave to learn more.

Stage 3. Conscious Competence. You develop a skill in an area but still desire to build your level of expertise.

Stage 4. Unconscious Competence. You are good at your skill and it now comes naturally. You can do this in your sleep. (It’s also sometimes called “phoning it in”.)

Which one of these stages do you think would qualify as a groove? Which one can get you stuck in a rut? Which stages can include dangerous potholes or deep ravines?

There may be something comforting about consistency in a routine especially if you’ve truly hit Stage 4. But not for some people. The rest of us who may be still approaching the state of unconscious competence have to drop back to Stage 3 or Stage 2 just for the variety. We have to look for a new skill or a new way of doing the usual stuff so we don’t go mad from swatting at the angst bug.

Author and psychologist M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) said this about ruts: “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

1 thought on “Same Difference

  1. Charlie F

    Keep em coming. Think you’re gettin in a groove! Good stuff. Have been enjoying. Thanks. Charlie.


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