We’ve all had those periods before… those times when we feel stuck in a rut. Times when we can’t see any progress happening in either our personal or our professional lives… and we’re not even sure what kind of progress we want. Times when it’s all too easy to just hide in your room, binge a show on Netflix, and eat your weight in Cheetos.
But it doesn’t take long to realize that that’s not really what we want. And so, here are some helpful suggestions to get you out of that slump, and back on track.
Take the Power Back
A million different things can spur this kind of phase, from a difficult breakup, to a professional failure, to stress and anxiety, or even boredom. The cause doesn’t really matter. What’s important to realize is that no matter what led to your slump, you have the power to overcome it. You really do! You have the power to return to a thriving, joyful, goal-oriented person. But it may not happen all at once, and it won’t happen if you just sit there and wait for something to happen to you.
That’s what can be the most alarming thing about a slump. We might fall into a pattern of thinking that “if only…” something would happen, it’d fix us. If only our ex came back, if only inspiration could strike and you could write a hit single, if only you won the lottery, or an amazing opportunity just dropped into your lap… It’s important to not depend on external sources to get out of this slump. It’s yours to own, and yours to conquer. Even if everything in the outside world is working against you, you have the power inside of you to make positive change in your life, and it starts as soon as you decide it does.
Get Depression Treatment, If Necessary
As I’m writing about getting out of a slump, I want to be clear about something. While all of these approaches can help to mitigate depression, there are many factors that contribute to your likelihood of depression, and not all of them can be eliminated simply through healthy habits. If you really do have clinical depression, you might need outside help from a professional. If you feel sad and hopeless the majority of the time, if this “slump” is lasting more than a month, or if you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, it’s important to reach outside of yourself for help. Life doesn’t have to be this way, and things can get better.
Alright, with that disclaimer taken care of, let’s look at some habit changes that will really change your motivation and mood patterns.
Work Out. Really. Just Do It.
I know you’ve heard it a million times, and I know that it’s just turned into white noise but really. Listen to me: Exercise. Exercise really has a powerful effect on our mood. Some studies have found daily exercise (even non-strenuous exercise) is just as powerful as medication in alleviating depression. Additionally, it can greatly help us get better sleep (a common challenge in “the slump.”)
Okay, now, you’ve probably resolved to work out steadily several times in your life. But that’s the thing about the slump… it sucks away your resolve to get things done, and you find yourself constantly thinking “I’ll start tomorrow.” Here are some ways that you can really make it happen:
- Sign up for a class. If you’re having a hard time being self-motivated, then a class can really help you get the exercise you need. Sign up with a friend; someone who will hold you accountable.
- Break it down into tiny steps. If “going to the gym and running 3 miles” is just too daunting a task, break it down. Force yourself to change into gym clothes. Then to drive to the gym. Then to go in and walk once around the track. I know this sounds silly, but it’s almost like tricking a child into going to bed by just doing it in tiny phases. “Fine, just brush your teeth then you can play more. Okay, now just get your pajamas on. Now we’re just going to read a book in your room, you don’t have to sleep yet.”
- Delay your reward. Did you get home from work today looking forward to nothing but that Kit Kat bar in the pantry? Go ahead and tell yourself you can have the candy bar… but only if you work out first. Remember that it’s going to taste that much better for being a reward.
Write Down Some Very Small Goals
The slump feeds off of a very particular sick cycle: (1) You know you need to do stuff, but (2) you feel crappy and don’t want to do it. (3) You don’t do it. (4) You feel annoyed with yourself, and even more crappy. (5) You keep not doing it… or anything.
Even small goals accomplished can break the cycle. So start here: write down a list of really incremental goals. Even small things that don’t seem like they should classify as “tasks.” Like… finishing washing the dishes in the sink. Doing a load of laundry. Making a call that you’ve been postponing. After you’ve made the list, resolve to do three things on it every day. Sure, maybe they’re tiny things that you would have had to do anyway: taking a shower, filling the gas tank, etc. But as you get in the habit of ticking off three things each day, you can start getting more ambitious: clean out the car, make a healthy meal for yourself, go to a dental appointment.
What’s really great about this method is that you start feeling better about yourself because of these small victories. Pretty soon, you’ll start to crave that victory more and more.
Watch Your Intake
Okay, now it’s time to do a little bit of a detox. Often, in the slump, we start to rely on unhealthy habits to get us through. We over-eat sugar, over-utilize caffeine to get going in the morning, or over-drink, just… because. Take a look at any unhealthy habits that you’re using as a crutch and consider how they could actually be harming more than helping. Alcohol, sugar, and caffeine all have a major influence on our energy levels, and even our moods, leading to peaks and crashes that you just can’t afford anymore. Start to moderate your crutch-substances as much as possible.
Write Down Some Very Ambitious Goals
Now that you’ve taken care of some small goals, start thinking about bigger ones. And I mean bigger. The kinds of things you put on your bucket list. The kinds of things you build a 5-year plan around. What do you want to accomplish in life? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to become? Start thinking really seriously about future goals and realize that they’re yours to make come true. As you write them down, and start to think about them more and more, your pathway will become more clear, and you’ll be able to break down the ambitious goals into smaller goals that you can start in on one day at a time. Perhaps it could be useful to you to create a vision board that can remind you of those goals and visualize them more clearly.
Talk To Someone Every Day
In a slump, we tend to withdraw. It can become a terrible cycle, because we move ourselves away from the resources that could help us feel more positive. And yet… being around people can just feel like too much. This is especially true if you’re not someone who naturally thrives off of sociality. If that’s the case, then you might have to make this something on your daily checklist of small goals. But it’s worth it, I promise.
Even if you’re the most introvert-y of introverts, you need other humans. We’re social creatures, and our greatest joys and happinesses come from relationships. And so, it’s time to flex your happiness muscles by flexing your sociality. Make a goal to have at least one real conversation each day; I’m not talking about saying hi to the bus driver. I mean actually talking with someone. Give a friend a call and catch up. Ask a coworker about their day. Smile at someone next to you in the checkout line and see how they’re doing. Not every interaction is going to be everything you want. But the vast majority of them are going to enrich your day.
Appreciate a Miracle
This last one might seem strange at first. I mean, you can’t just schedule a miracle… that’s why they’re called miracles; they come out of nowhere! Hear me out. There are things in this earth that make us pause and take notice. Beautiful things that remind us that life is exciting, and rich, and worth savoring. Everyone probably has their own list. But this is mine:
- Spend time with a dog.
- Learn a new scientific fact.
- Read some poetry.
- Get up close and personal with nature (i.e. sit under a tree, dig your toes into the sand, find a beautiful view, go on a hike.)
- Do an activity with children.
- Go somewhere where you can see the stars.
- Say twice-daily prayers of gratitude.