Dealing with the doldrums

I’m not always a cheerful, energetic ray of sunshine. Sometimes I feel meh, too. Whether it’s due to the disruption of routines or momentum, frustration with uncertainty, or factors beyond my control, it happens. During these doldrums, it’s harder to work on creative tasks. It’s harder to move, even. There’s the temptation to spend the time browsing the Web or playing games instead–tempting activities that don’t require a lot of thinking and have a false sense of progress.

Instead of getting stuck–or pretending it doesn’t happen–I’d rather think about how I can hack my way around it. Sometimes it’s good to just relax into it, relying on the buffer from good relationships and good finances. After all, I don’t often give myself permission to take a long afternoon nap, or read fiction, or watch a movie. It can actually be quite satisfying to see things chugging along even if I don’t feel like I’m my usual self. We still keep the house running smoothly, the financial markets still do well. (I hope that if any “meh” periods coincide with market corrections, I’ll have the presence of mind to think, “Oh, stocks are on sale!”)

Sometimes little things I do can dislodge me enough from the Sargasso sea of suckitude. One of the things I find helpful is to think about the difference between how this feels and other ways I’ve felt before. Sure, I might feel meh at the moment, but there have also been moments when I’ve felt awesome, accomplished, productive, energetic, and even smug (in a good way =) ). Thinking about those different feelings helps me remember that meh-ness is temporary, and it also helps me figure out some things I can do that might move me closer to other feelings. For example, I feel awesome when I learn interesting technical things that help me save time or make tools. I feel accomplished when I finish a large batch of cooking or I cross off plenty of items on my TODO list. I feel energetic when I exercise and when I solve problems. I feel an extra burst of smugness when I bike, especially if it’s been raining.

It can be hard to get over that activation threshold, though. Many things that give me that positive buzz are creative in nature (programming, writing, etc.). Fortunately, there are a few activities that I can do even if my mind’s wandering. Walking is a great use of meh-brain time. I feel somewhat proud of myself because of the exercise. I went for a 1.5-hour walk the other day, and that felt much better than sitting at home playing video games. Tidying is another good use of meh-time, and paperwork is like that too. I can practise drawing, too – copying figures or slowly untangling my thoughts.

Writing this, I’m already starting to feel that usual sense of “Actually, things are pretty awesome.” =) I don’t expect myself to be 100% on, and it makes no sense to beat myself up for not being on all the time. But it’s nice to know that the occasional “meh”-ness in my life is temporary, and I can choose to either relax and enjoy it or play around with some ways to nudge myself out of it.

  • Trevor Lohrbeer

    I’ve been in a similar place recently. Two ideas I recently started thinking about to help me navigate the doldrums:

    1. Jumpstarts
    Activities or states that help get me in the mood to do the activity I really want to (or should) be doing.

    2. Rabbit Holes
    Activities that waste time, because I spend more time than I intended on them or they lead me to do a chain of other activities that I didn’t plan on doing.

    One jumpstart I discovered recently was watching inspiring dance movies like Step Up and Save the Last Dance. This helps get me out of the doldrums.

    Putting on my running clothes is an easy state change that jumpstarts me for exercising. Conversely, reading articles on the Internet during lunch can become a rabbit hole because it’s so easy to open more tabs than I can consume while eating.

    I’m working to document my jumpstarts and rabbit holes to help me become more productive and get out of the doldrums quicker.

    For instance, Facebook can be a huge rabbit hole. :-) By bookmarking the Messages and Events tabs, I can exchange messages with people I only communicate with on Facebook without getting sucked into my rabbit hole–the timeline.

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      Great idea. =) Deliberate state changes can help a lot.

      As for rabbit holes, I find that isolating them to specific contexts helps a bit. I read most blogs and news sites on my phone instead of my laptop, reducing the tendency to wander through tons of links.