Slumps suck. You don’t feel motivated to work. You don’t enjoy your time off. Worse, sometimes your slump turns into a habit, and feeling drained for a few days becomes a few months.
This week, I found myself in a slump. A few small setbacks and a disruption of my routine dragged me down. Temporary slumps like these are pretty common, and I don’t think there are many people who can say don’t experience them from time to time.
But, just because slumps are unavoidable doesn’t mean you can’t kick yourself out of them. I’ve found there are a lot of strategies you can use to quickly bring yourself out of a slump. Even if you have experienced a recent setback, you can refuel your enthusiasm faster, so you can get back to enjoying life.
When Do You Need a Kick in the Ass?
I’m not advocating that people should be happy and motivated all the time. If someone insults you, it’s alright to be angry at them. If you get brushed off by someone you really wanted to meet, it’s only human to feel some rejection.
I’ve received a lot of email from this website, so I’ve become more desensitized to it than when I first started blogging. But even today, if someone sends me an email attacking me personally, I’m not immune from being drained by that. If a few draining events get stacked together, that is often enough to trigger a temporary slump.
If you don’t feel anything from a disappointment, that’s only proof you’re a rock.
But, I think there is a point when you need to examine what’s more useful. Staying in a slump after a fall, or kicking yourself in the ass and getting back to life?
Ignoring the Pebbles
Most slumps aren’t over the boulders blocking our path. They’re about the small pebbles stuck in the bottom of your shoes. If one of my projects fails miserably, that’s a disappointment, but in the big picture it isn’t a huge problem.
One strategy I use to consistently kick myself out of slumps is to zoom out and look at my longer-term goals. From this perspective, a temporary setback is just that, temporary. You can see the bigger picture and see why you bothered to get started in the first place.
I did this earlier today. My routine and productivity had been drained the last few days, so I decided to step back and stop what I was working on. I took out a piece of paper and spent a few hours looking at what my bigger goals are. For me, that meant reminding myself of my goals to live a digital life and move closer towards financial freedom.
The beauty of this method is it works even when you’re in a pessimistic mood. Even after a major setback and I feel reaching my goals will be impossible, this focuses me on the actions I need to take to reach it. I may not feel cheery after I’m finished, but at least I’ll be focused on creating solutions and working harder, not wallowing in apathy, staring at my computer.
After spending a few hours, I eventually decided not to make any changes to my strategy. Although some goals were progressing more slowly than I would like, I didn’t find any ways to greatly improve my performance. This is completely fine, since the point of the review was to reconnect myself to the big picture.
If you don’t have any goals or a big picture that you’ve given much thought to before, then no wonder you’re in a slump. Spend some time brainstorming what you want your life to look like in five years. Even if you change your mind later, that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you will have a resource to give you energy every day.
Realign Your Routine
If my slump is more than just a few days, I’ll make efforts to realign my routine. This is one of the reasons I feel the ability to change habits  is so important. When your habits are out of sync, you sabotage your performance.
I don’t feel there is much that makes working earlier in the morning intrinsically better than sleeping in. But, with myself, it’s heavily associated with many other productive states of mind and habits. If I’m in a funk, realigning my routine to fit with my ideal day is a good way to escape that slump.
Starting a new Thirty Day Trial can be an excellent way to kick yourself out of a low orbit.
What if You Need More Than a Kick?
Sometimes a kick isn’t enough. Whenever this has happened to me, I’ve found it’s because of one of two reasons:
- I’ve experienced a giant setback, disappointment or burnout that will take more time to recover from.
- I’m working on the wrong goals.
If you’ve recently experienced a huge setback that has drained you far more than normal, you might need more time to recover. I think the same approach used for temporary setbacks can work here too, but it takes more time and effort before you regain your enthusiasm.
But in other cases, it isn’t the setback at all that’s the problem, it’s your goals themselves. Your current goals and plan aren’t fueling you with motivation to move forward. I know this is the case if I spend a few hours reviewing my biggest goals and feel less motivated than when I started.
You might not have control over your current situation. You might need to work at your current job to support a family. Or you might have responsibilities, debt or commitments that prevent you from immediately changing paths.
However, even if that’s the case, your goals are still yours to choose. Even if, because of your current situation, you need to set your goals for 10 or 15 years in advance, that doesn’t mean you can’t set them now. Remember, your goals aren’t even real. They only exist in your head, so you have the freedom to align yourself with whatever you want. You may not have control over the short-term or the timeline involved, but most goals are achievable in some capacity if you give it enough time.
I’ve had students write to me that they aren’t inspired by the courses they are taking. That’s pretty common. You may not be working in the right field, or you may not have found anything you’re passionate about yet. Even if you are in the right field, you might dislike the academic work required to get started. All of that is understandable, but that doesn’t prevent you from setting longer-term goals and investing a bit of time working towards them.
Inputs Create the Outputs
If the saying, “you are what you eat,” has any truth, then I think a similar expression could also apply: “you think what you read.” If your thoughts are in a slump, and you can’t find the right goals to drag yourself out of it, you probably need higher quality inputs.
If you can’t imagine what goals to set, then start researching people who have set interesting goals. You don’t need to be a pioneer, being a follower is often better because you can see the path ahead of you.
Giving a Good, Hard Kick
A slump is characterized by aimless wandering, without clarity or enthusiasm. So the best way to replace it is to find a clear direction you can be enthusiastic about. If you already have one, perhaps you need a reminder. If you don’t have one, then you should probably figure out what it should be.