As I sit writing this, I have to admit I’m feeling stuck and frustrated. See, I’ve been on a roll for the past couple of months. I’ve started my coaching business, built a website, grown my client base, written popular thought pieces and generally made good progress towards my goals. I’ve hit a rut though and it’s driving me nuts. That giddy energy that I felt when I was getting things started, writing about my experiences and perspectives, building new client relationships – it has evaporated. Where’d it go? Things haven’t changed that much, so what gives?
We all face these periods of lost motivation, zapped energy, procrastination. As I am experiencing this go-round of a slow-down in ideas, inspiration and creativity, I’ve gotten curious about what is behind it. My main frustration is with my writing. For months, I’ve been riding a wave of creative energy as I’ve been forming and articulating various written pieces shared on my website and LinkedIn. I’d have an idea and then BAM! – spend a half-day writing and have a new article fresh and ready. I was happy with the content and it felt good to translate what I was feeling into something tangible. That energy propelled me forward and like a sort of creative high, made me want to create more. I was on what Leo Babauta, author of the awesome and supremely helpful Zen Habits blog calls an ‘upward spiral’.
The last article I wrote about losing my mojo was my most popular yet and clearly struck a chord with lots of people. I was feeling as good about myself, my abilities and my decision to start my coaching business as I ever had. Then came what I think was the inevitable cycle downward. I think of these cycles as a never ending series of hills – sometimes you’re struggling with climbing, other times you’re riding the momentum effortlessly. Sometimes the hill is bigger, the challenge greater. Sometimes you think the downhill will never end. Eventually, though, we’ll all get stymied. I had hit a period where the ideas weren’t coming, I wasn’t writing and I was starting to feel bad as a result.
So how do you break through, conquer the hill and get your energy back? My experience has shown me there are a few tricks to get out of the inevitable ruts that hinder our progress and slow us down.
- Get back in the saddle. If we continue with the series of hills metaphor above, there are times when we’ll be on relatively level ground – either at the top of the hill or at the bottom. Either place is dangerous to linger for too long. Partially, I fell victim to hanging out on the hilltop too long – admiring the view, basking in my effort, feeling good about what I had accomplished. I needed to keep riding but the longer I waited, the harder it became to get going again.
- Do what feels good. This may seem obvious, but if we’re finding it difficult to get sh*t done, it’s a lot easier to work on something that we’re interested in, that inspires us or that we’re called to. Have a bunch of projects that need attention? Which one is calling to you? Can you connect your work with something that brings you energy? If there’s nothing on your to-do list that gets you pumped up, it may be time to re-evaluate the path you’re on.
- Question the things that you don’t want to do. Everyone has those things that they just don’t want to do and can’t seem to get motivated to do them. That is colossally energy zapping. Stop and consider – is this something I really have to do? Or do I think I have to do it because of some assumption I’m making? If it truly is a to-do, why are you so reluctant? Name your reluctance, there’s power in labeling what challenges us. Suddenly, that big scary thing holding us back isn’t so bad.
- Beware the downward spiral. Sometimes we set out to accomplish something, only to make zero progress. It’s easy to take that failure, focus on it, feel bad about it and let it twist us up into a mess of negative thoughts and feelings. You feel worse about yourself and turn to coping mechanisms instead of getting your work done. Gone unchecked, this spiral leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Put the brakes on by doing one small thing that you can feel good about. Completing a small, easily achievable task has a magical way of propelling us forward, creating momentum that we feed off of into the next and so forth.
- Limit what bums you out by being proactive. I have a simple formula I try to follow: I do the things that give me energy, I limit the things that bum me out. If I know something is going to be a drag, I either don’t do it or do my best to avoid it in the first place. I know this isn’t possible 100% of the time. However, I figure if I proactively go out and do the things that give me energy, there’s less opportunity that I will be forced to fill my time with things that bum me out. Simple.
- Practice self-compassion. We can be our own worst enemies, as alluded to in #4. Instead of getting down on yourself for procrastinating, recognize that we all have challenges getting things done. When you go back to your creative well and come up dry for the fifth time, try practicing patience, move to a task that is more easily completed and remind yourself that ideas will come. The point is, when we replace self-criticism with self-compassion and kindness we increase our motivation, boost our mood and become more resilient, among other benefits.
- As you may have guessed, I’m currently actively working through the steps above. But I have to say, the act of writing this article and taking a little bit of my own advice has actually made things a lot better. Simply by penning this piece, I’ve restarted my momentum and feel better about where I’m at, the frustration has evaporated and has been replaced with a sense of accomplishment.
I may not be riding high like before, but I’m back to making progress – and that feels good.