A Practical Approach to getting out of a Negative Slump

May 11, 2021

So you're going through a patch where you feel completely demotivated to do anything positive.  Your mind is stucking in a loop of negativity and it's bringing you down to the point where you just can't get yourself to do anything.  

You ask yourself "what's the point?" and your self talk becomes increasingly destructive. You laze around all day and you don't even want to leave your room.  

Some days you sleep until midday because you have no reason to get up and just want to hide away from the world.  You waste an entire day doing nothing, feel guilty, and then proceed to do the same thing the next day, and the next.  

I call this being in a negative slump, and I empathize with anyone in this situation because I have a tendency to have an episode like this three or four times a year.  I'd love to be able to keep myself on a more even and consistent keel, but I have a tendency to either be super motivated or completely down.   

I haven't yet found a way to avoid these slumps altogether.  But I have found a way that works for me to get out of them quickly.  

A few years ago, a slump like this could derail me for weeks and months.  I'd do the absolute minimum to get by and get completely entangled in this web of negativity.  It's a really horrible place to be.

Here's what I do these days to jump out of it quickly.  It's so effective that these slumps now rarely last more than a day, which is a massive improvement for me.

Root Problems vs Solutions

When you're stuck in a negative rut, there are basically two things you can do:-

  • Look for a root cause to try and work through this issue
  • Look directly for a solution

The root cause approach is the one I used to take in this specific situation.  Why do I feel demotivated?  Why am I unhappy?  What's causing these feelings to arise?

I'd dig deep into my feelings, do a lot of journaling and meditating and try to figure out why I feel like I do.

While this approach has worked for me in other areas of my life, especially when it comes to self esteem, it doesn't work for me when I'm in a slump.  It's practically ineffective.  

For one thing, I find the emotional labor of self inquiry difficult when I have the mindset of "what's the point?"   Secondly, even when I think I've found the source of the problem, I'm not always sure how to resolve it and it would undoubtedly require a lot of work over time.

I find it extremely hard to rationalize and systematically work my way out of a negative slump. For me it just doesn't seem to work very well.  It seems to me that the best time to work through the root cause of a rut is retrospectively, after you've already come out the other side, and are more psychologically prepared to work through it.

The unexamined life is not worth living.  But the (over)examined life makes you wish you were dead.  Given the alternative, I'd rather be living.


Maybe new actions can create new feelings

In Do One Thing Different, Bill O'Hanlon describes an approach that he's used to get people out of depression.  It's called Solution Oriented Therapy:-

Solution Oriented Therapy:- To find what people are capable of and what solutions they have previously used - and then get them to deliberately do the things they have found will work to alleviate or solve the problem.  One person may have found reading an inspirational book helpful in the midst of a depression; someone else may have benefited from watching Marx Brothers movies while bedridden with a physical illness.  These solutions wouldn't involve getting out of bed and walking around the block.  Janine's solution came from Janine, not from me or from any psychological theory. 

The concept is really simple:-

  1.  Think back to a time when you were happy, productive and enjoying life
  2.  Think of the kind of life you were living at that point in time.  What was your daily routine like?  What kind of things were you doing?
  3.  Starting with something really small, re-introduce those activities into your daily life.

While extremely simple, this technique is the most effective technique I've found to get out of a slump.  

What works for me, won't necessarily work for you.  It will require some introspection to figure out what activities you need to take to get out of the slump that you're in.

I know that I'm most happy when I'm productive and taking positive actions each day.   I only need to string a few of these days together and I can feel myself getting better and more engaged in life again.

For me, there are 2 things that almost immediately put me on a better path:-

  1. Lift some weights.  Even if it's only a few sets.  I find that even in a really negative phase, I can still get myself to do this.
  2.  I'll go to a local coffee shop with my laptop, have a coffee and read some pages from a positive and inspiring book.

One way to solve a problem, then, is not to analyze why the problem arose, but to change what you are doing to solve it.  The way to do that is to determine how you keep acting in the same way over and over again (the problem pattern) and begin to experiment with doing something different (breaking the pattern).

Bill O'Hanlon

If you find yourself in a Slump...

Don't get me wrong:- I think we should try and systematically work through our issues when we can, but sometimes things are deeply rooted and extremely difficult to dislodge.  Life is short and time is precious, sometimes it's more important to just get out of the spiral of negativity as quickly as possible, and then when you're in a better mindset you can take the time to address the root cause.

So if you're in a slump:-  Think about what actions you were taking when you were in a more positive place.  Find one or two that you can do right away.  Start small and just build up some momentum.  

If you do this for a few days, you'll start to feel the positivity come back and you'll be able to stack more and more positive actions.   Maybe new actions can create new feelings.

I've also written another post on a similar topic about this here.

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