Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: My Advice on Getting Yourself Out of a Particularly Bad Slump

Tuesday, 16 January 2018


On behalf of myself and the entire internet, I think we can all agree that January is, by far, the shittest month of the year. 

I'm sure everybody's expectations of the new year ahead go along the lines of something like this: new fitness goals (this is the year you will get into shape), opportunities for advancement in your career, the potential of a whole new dating scene, the potential of finding the one (I have to physically restrain myself from gagging at the sound of that), you know - all that 'new year, new me' nonsense.

Even if you loathe the very concept of new years and the idea of making 'resolutions', and firmly remind everyone who decides to celebrate its arrival that 'TIME IS A CONSTRUCT, A FIGMENT OF OUR IMAGINATION', you more than likely find yourself thinking about what you had and hadn't achieved in the last 365 days. You begin fantasising about all the changes you'll make in 2018, all of the healthy habits you'll return to that you'd abandoned 4 years ago, or never even got around to in the first place.

We like to conjure up these images of ourselves - the person we all want to be - highly successful, beautiful, confident, and smashing through our goals. The reality, then, once you find yourself sitting on the sofa opening your third packet of crisps 16 days into the New Year when you'd promised yourself you would start running every day after work, can be disheartening and send us deeper and deeper into a rut of self-pity and shame.

If you couldn't already tell, this has pretty much been the summary of my life since the beginning of 2018. Having recently graduated from university before Christmas, the thought of a new job, new social circle, and new opportunities excited me. But as what usually occurs with new graduates, I found myself unemployed, applying to jobs that appeared way out of my depth, and with no particular reason to get out of bed in the morning.

I pondered all of the things I could be doing: working out, yoga, looking for more employment opportunities, actually doing something productive with my days. But so far, it hasn't worked out so well. And I think all of it, deep-down, ties into these beliefs we have about the new year - what we should be doing, how we measure up to others in terms of achievements, and rushing the pace in which we complete our goals. 

If any of this sounds familiar, I encourage you to read on for my advice on how to get yourself out of this bottomless pit of despair you've inevitably found yourself in, in order to be able to gradually pull yourself out of it and actually start working towards the things you want to do, and the person you aspire to be.

Why take advice from me? The only logical only answer to that would be that I've been battling with the same issues, and have found a couple of things that have helped me so far. They must have worked for the simple fact that I am here, right now, writing this blog post - just one of the many things I'd been procrastinating for weeks!

1. Remember that time really is an illusion

I have no idea who started this ridiculous notion that you have to have done things in accordance to a certain timescale, but I'd really take pleasure in giving them a swift punch to the face. It doesn't matter if you've just turned 30, are approaching your sixties, or are 17 and questioning whether you want to rush to university immediately after your A-levels like your friends (or even at all). It is never too late to change career paths, re-think your education plans, or do anything that you think you're either too old to do, or simply not ready for. And you certainly don't have to follow in others' footsteps simply because you belong in the same age group: this is something I wish I'd known a few years ago, and who knows how my life might have turned out if I'd resisted the pressure to conform to what my peers were doing?

It sounds cliché, but sometimes, taking the road less travelled can lead you somewhere much greater. And with that in mind, it's so important to remind ourselves that it's okay if we haven't yet conquered things we had in mind for ourselves when we were younger. January has this effect on everyone, and it's about time we started simply recognising that for what it is, and become more accepting of our milestones, however may small.

2. Lower Your Expectations

For some reason, if we haven't already succeeded in sticking to our healthy meal plans for seven consecutive days, or we aren't able to run a marathon after attempting to go for a jog for 10 minutes, we beat ourselves up and end up giving up on our goals in a self-defeated fury.

Stop buying into the bullshit that you have to have everything together, or do everything perfectly, for it to count as progress. If the only thing you managed today was showing up and trying, that's something, and it counts. Lower your expectations of yourself, treat yourself more kindly, and praise your minor achievements. Watch how much more motivated you are to keep going.

3. Comparison is the Thief of Joy

This one ties in slightly with my first point about time being subjective, but is no less important. Comparing yourself, and your goals, to others serves absolutely no purpose. 

Some may argue that comparison to other people and their success can be helpful, motivating, and even inspiring - and if that works for you, great. But, sadly, a lot of the time, it just leads to us feeling inadequate, and that we ought to be doing more. Instead of doing more, however, it can result in feeling deflated and spending more of our time pre-occupied and obsessing over what others are doing, than actually making changes to our own lives.

With the presence of social media so prevalent in our modern lives, this can be a tricky one to avoid. But, the act of simply catching yourself when you're stuck in an endless cycle of stalking your old friends on Instagram and Facebook to remind yourself of all the great things they're doing that you're not: stop, breathe, and remind yourself that 'comparison is an act of violence against the self' (Iyanla Vanzant).

4. Baby Steps

I'm fairly convinced that this piece of advice has been regurgitated in countless articles on self-improvement and productivity, but I'm including it here anyway because it really does work.

For the past few days, I've probably lived in my bed. I'm not even joking. I hadn't left the house, if I left my bedroom it was only to seek out food from the kitchen, and I'd stared at my laptop screen for hours on end, essentially doing nothing. Today, after practically using up every ounce of motivation I could muster, I got dressed, put on my shoes, and got outside - and this very act is what I believed to set off a chain reaction of getting things done.

It probably helped immensely that I had my dog, Alfie, to take on a walk with me (numerous studies have been linked to owning pets with reduced severity of depression), but spending time with an animal, and in nature, did wonders for my mood (I think it also partly had to do with letting my skin feel actual unfiltered daylight for the first time in days, but still). And as a consequence of an improved mood, I felt more able to cope with the demands and tasks I had been avoiding out of anxiety, and my motivation levels skyrocketed. Once I had actually completed said tasks, I felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment, which I guess, in turn, led to this blog post.

Start in baby steps. Take it slow and work your way up. Keeping yourself busy, even when you have nothing to do, or nothing you want to do, will change your perspective and refresh you mentally and physically. 

Obviously, if you suffer from a mental illness it can feel almost impossible to do anything without feeling drained. If this is the case, my best advice is to prioritise self-care, and seek out the help of a professional if necessary.

5. Your life sucks? Great. Change it.

Wouldn't it be terribly disappointing to go through your whole life, seemingly content and comfortable, without really 'disrupting the flow' of anything for insurance of stability and safety, only to realise that when you're old and approaching your final days, you did it all wrong?

You didn't take those risks. You didn't attempt anything out of the fear of failure or rejection. You told yourself that things were fine because, on the outside at least, it was. And now, you have a lifetime of regret to accompany you.

The point I'm trying to make here, is that you can use bad experiences as catalysts for growth and change. Read it, repeat it, and read over it again. 

If there is something wrong in your life, or something that makes you unhappy or no longer fulfills you, use it to your advantage by taking action. Try and re-frame it as a positive experience, because let's face it - we're all fallible human beings with imperfections and flaws. These feelings of inadequacy and disappointment in our behaviours and lifestyle can bring us all the way down, if we berate ourselves for having them in the first place.

But, if we decide to look at them with fresh eyes, we can identify what we need to change, and how to go about it. If you're not making mistakes, you're doing it wrong. Instead of pressuring ourselves for improvement and beating ourselves up for letting things get this bad, we can view our shortcomings as a good thing that has occurred to better us in the longrun. It's inspired change, and this is the motivation that should be employed when working on new year's resolutions - i.e., not changing behaviours out of shame, regret, or self-loathing.

Of course, this advice can be applied all-year round, or whenever you're in a particularly bad funk and can't seem to shake yourself out of it. The last thing I want to stress is that progress takes time, and it might only be when you look back next year that you see how much has changed and how much you've actually accomplished. Best of luck.

Em x

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