There was a time in my life where I almost lost all my mojo. I was zapped of all my confidence and even the smallest of obstacles became overwhelming. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, that I wasn’t smart enough, that I would fail. This self-defeatist thinking permeated everything I did, even outside of work. Little projects at home and in life seemed like giant obstacles ready to laugh out loud at my ineptitude. I was in the throes of a vicious cycle of self-doubt and fear. It was easy to tell something was wrong.
Figuring out what was wrong was more difficult to pin down. By all accounts, I was killing it in my job. I was making more money than I needed and had just bought a fancy new big-city condo. I had been recently promoted, was working on tough projects and doing a great job. The people who worked with and for me all had great things to say.
Despite the rosy picture on the surface, I was losing it inside. I was continually being thrust into more and more situations that took me out of my ‘comfort zone’. I was being asked to take on more challenging roles, with more frequency, with ever diminishing resources. I was working harder and longer than I ever had in my career. I felt like I was losing control, and maintaining control was one thing I coveted and prided myself on (even though we never have control, it’s always just an illusion). One thing led to another, and I very quickly found myself feeling completely overwhelmed, overworked and under appreciated – my mojo was falling fast.
I knew something had to change. So, I made the biggest decision of my life. I quit. I did the one thing that I felt would give me back the control I had lost. Control wasn’t the only thing I was seeking, I knew I could do better; live and work on my terms. For now though, I had to figure out what I could do that wouldn’t make me miserable. The bar was pretty low. The way I saw it, things couldn’t get much worse.
Surprisingly (for me), the decision to quit had a much bigger impact on my psyche than I thought it would. I began to feel like a failure. Even though I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and with the benefit of hindsight, I now know I was being taken advantage of by my employer and being asked to do borderline unethical things (no wonder I was feeling miserable). I couldn’t shake this feeling that somehow I wasn’t good enough to hack it. Thus began a downward spiral of self-analysis, self-ridicule, second-guessing and near paralysis – my mojo was on ‘E’.
I wish I could tell you there’s some simple secret to getting your mojo back quickly, but the reality is it’s not easy and it takes time. For me, it was a messy process that took the better part of two years and still takes work. It involved making some bad decisions (I took a job that wasn’t right for me because I was looking for acceptance and approval). It involved getting completely out of my status quo and doing some soul searching. It required me to get honest with myself and answer some hard questions.
In an attempt to share what I’ve learned, I’ve distilled my experience into the ten things that allowed me to get my mojo back (not necessarily in order of importance, but in the order that worked for me).
- Make your peace with the past. No matter if it was yesterday or 15 years ago: it’s over, it’s not going to change and there’s very little you can do about it. The sooner you get real with your relationship with the past, the quicker you’ll be able to get on your way – forward. Dwelling on the past and what you can’t change is toxic. Instead, celebrate all you’ve accomplished leading up to now by thinking about, writing or discussing your proudest moments. Draw out the lessons from your failures and celebrate them too; they’ve made you stronger by giving you experience. Understand that you’re better because of your failures.
- Examine your relationship with failure. Does the prospect of failing make you scared? Are you afraid to try anything new for fear of failing? Our brains are hard-wired with an inherent negativity bias, which makes us perceive the negative outcomes of taking a risk as greater than they are. Just understanding this fact alone can be very liberating – we’re (partially) not to blame for overestimating the downside of failure! Couple this with the knowledge that our culture disproportionally celebrates success while we know that the most successful of us only realized their success after many failures and well, we begin to see that failure can actually be a good thing. If we transform our relationship with failure from one of fear to one of opportunity, we stand to reap the benefits of failure and turn that thing we were afraid of into what makes us successful.
- Stop looking externally to judge your self-worth. When you’ve lost your mojo, you’re constantly seeking approval from others, especially those in positions of authority. When you don’t receive the approval you’re looking for, you get demoralized. The trick is getting clear that others’ opinions of us don’t really matter, it’s our opinion of ourselves that matters. Of course, not caring what other people think of us isn’t easy and good impressions are still important, but determining our own self-worth through how we think others perceive us is a recipe for disaster (equally dangerous is comparing yourself with others to judge your self-worth). Choose your own measuring stick along with the self-worth factors that are important to you and are under your control.
- Start each day practicing gratitude, finish each day by noting your accomplishments. Self-doubt is grounded in a mindset that is overly focused on scarcity, which has been shown to have debilitating effects on how we feel and think. Instead, focus on abundance by reminding yourself how much you already have. Each morning, count three things you’re grateful for. Each evening, remind yourself of a few things you completed (even if it only happens to be getting out of bed, brushing your teeth and getting dressed – we all have tough days).
- Create some space. For some, this may be a luxury. Getting sufficiently away from your day to day responsibilities isn’t always an available option. For those who can take some time and get out of their routine, the benefits are great. By breaking from the norm and experiencing new things, we are improving our brain’s learning and memory functions. There’s no better place to do this than in the great outdoors. In fact, completing an outdoor adventure gives you a sense of accomplishment and confidence boost like no other. Can’t take a trip? Try smaller, easier things to switch it up – walk or take a different route to work, visit a museum, start a mindfulness meditation practice. We can use these ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ accomplishments to elevate how we see ourselves and our own inherent capabilities, in the out-of-doors or in other settings.
- Get clear on what you want. Reconnect with things that have given you energy in the past. By energy I mean passion, love, joy – what were you doing when you last felt truly happy – alive in the moment, in the zone, experiencing flow? Do more of that, and see if you can earn a living doing it! Having trouble coming up with your vision? This article may help.
- Set SEA (small, easily achievable) goals. Creating some momentum is critical, no matter how small. Start by setting small, easily achievable goals that are tied to your vision (from #6) before moving to more complex and challenging goals. Celebrate the achievement of each goal, no matter how small. Be careful with setting overly ambitious goals if you’re prone to becoming overwhelmed. It’s great to dream big, but not at the expense of taking action. If you have trouble taking action, ask a family member, friend or coach to be your accountability partner; someone who will help you to set meaningful goals and follow through.
- Give yourself time. Creating (and missing) arbitrary deadlines isn’t helpful when your mojo’s depleted. Be realistic with the amount of time it’s going to take you to achieve your SEA goals, meaning, be patient and cut yourself some slack when your timelines slip (which they will). If you keep putting things off, take time to understand why. Maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something – like the direction you’ve chosen isn’t right for you.
- Explore. Start doing something creative. Exploration and creativity go hand and hand. Try something new (as in #5 above), taking on a new hobby or activity can have great mental benefits. Trying that new thing will inspire creativity in you. Channel your creative urge into action. I’m biased towards writing, but it can be anything as long as you’re creating something. Draw, knit, grow a garden, cook, brew your own beer – you get the idea. There’s magic in creating, whatever it is. Do it when you’re called to it – don’t set energy sapping parameters (i.e. time, frequency, duration) but make it a priority.
- Serve others. Connecting with our fellow man; putting someone else’s needs above our own can have a profound impact on our life, not to mention the one’s we serve. When we serve a need, we connect with something deep and profound within us. Some have attributed this to achieving better perspective; acknowledging how much you have in relation to those in need. Whatever it is, we all know it feels good to help others. We often receive more in return than we give when we lend a hand.