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When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself is not easily done. — Dr. Seuss

Slumps. We’ve all been there. A slump may start innocently enough. Any number of things can trigger a slump: frustration from lack of production or improvement, boredom, lack of motivation, being out of your comfort zone, fatigue, fear, feeling overwhelmed, or factors involving family or friends. One thing leads to another, and suddenly you decide you are in a slump. It feels as if you are stuck in a rut, nothing is going right, and you can’t seem to get anything done. When you’re at the bottom, you feel lost and think that you’re never going to get out of it.

The rule in getting out of a slump is to try softer, not harder.

Slumps are not fun. The good news, however, is you can always get out of slumps even though the situation may seem hopeless at the time.

What is a Slump? 

Slump, n: A period of decline or deterioration, during which a person performs slowly, inefficiently or ineffectively

The journey through life always takes the form of two steps forward, one step backward. In his book, Mastery, George Leonard draws a graph depicting this natural pattern of moving forward followed by slipping back before moving forward again. He defines these slips backwards as “plateaus,” a period of time in which, apparently, you seem to make no improvement. If you understand that this is the natural process that growth takes, you will perceive these plateaus as challenges meant to help you move forward on your journey towards becoming the best version of yourself. A plateau is a period of adjustment, a sign that it’s time to make a change. It’s the mind’s way of making room for the birth of new ideas.

Periodically falling back is a normal part of the path to following your dreams and creating the life you wish for. But if you perceive these plateaus as unwelcome obstacles, you might feel overwhelmed and stuck in life, not knowing what to do.

In either case, backsliding tends to cause you to become self-absorbed in ruminative thinking. (See Ornish Living article, Overcoming Backslides, Disappointments, and Self-Blame)

Encouraging New Research

Recent experimental research suggests that there are two distinct styles of rumination. The first is a helpful style characterized by concrete, process-functional and specific thinking. This can take the form of productive hard-working effort to work through a problem, or make peace with a serious loss in your life, as in the first example above. The second style is an unhelpful, maladaptive style characterized by abstract, [negatively] evaluative thinking, as in the second example.

The maladaptive style of rumination is characteristic of what we would call an Official Slump. “Slump-think” involves unhelpful self-talk, such as dwelling on the negative (“What’s wrong with me?”) or chewing on things over and over again. This obsessive thinking is linked to overgeneralization (“I never do anything right”) impaired problem-solving, and a more anxious/depressed state of mind and feeling. A recent study demonstrated that when you get anxious, it narrows your attention and you become unable to focus on anything external to yourself. This damaging self-absorption causes you to withdraw from others, procrastinate and avoid any situation involving risk. It serves only to maintain and even worsen the slump.

It’s important is to understand when you have moved from Style 1 to Style 2, because it is at this point where your rumination ceases to be productive.

Slump Busting Tips

A slump can involve a whole array of factors. There is no single specific reason for these periods of underperformance, so there is no single answer or cure. But there’s plenty you can do to break out of a slump and get back on track. Here are some things to try when you know you are not at your best.

Help Someone Else

If you find yourself caught up in a negative cycle of excessive self-absorption, get out of yourself and begin taking constructive action. Just as being self-absorbed narrows your focus and blurs your vision, becoming “other-directed,” such as being kind to others and performing acts of service to them, can make you feel more expansive, liberated and free. One of the best ways to change your entire mood is to help someone else. This is quite possibly the most effective way to truly get out of yourself. Getting outside of your own head slows down the constant chatter of anxiety and this can help refresh you, free up some creativity, and prepare you to get going on your own stuff.

Face Your Fears

Everyone has fears. But if we want to get unstuck, it’s important to change how we perceive our fears. George Leonard says that in reality, every one of us, deep down, knows exactly the right thing to do. It might take some time to discover it, but it’s always there. The problem is that we do not act on this knowledge, and inaction leads to low energy, depression and despair, thus deepening the slump. Fear is preventing us from acting because most of the time the right thing to do is the hardest to do.

We might not be able to stop being afraid of what is to come, but we can learn to control our fears. Imagine if you could do what you need to do without the endless and useless thought pattern that leads us nowhere?

Take a Break

Sometimes the ticket away from a slump is distance. Take some time off… a few days or even a week is a good target. Do something active, go for a run, hit the gym or go hang out with your friends or family. Get a fresh perspective and clear out your mind. You will more likely come back fresh, relaxed and on point once again.

Change your Routine

Sometimes a slump starts because you are bored. Or perhaps feeling stuck in life is the result of unhealthy and restraining routines. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

While it’s certainly true that routine is helpful, it can also limit your progress in life. Breaking out of the ordinary allows you to get unstuck from things that are keeping you behind.

So mix it up! Expand your horizons. Explore the unknown. Try something new. Often just a change in routine will wake you up and give you a new perspective. There is so much to be found outside your usual routine, you’ll only need the courage to explore it.

Take Care of Yourself

How can you get out of a funk when you don’t take care of Number One? Stop letting your self-care routine fall to the wayside, because before you know it, your energy will become depleted and you won’t have the stamina to go after what you want.

When you are feeling down, you need to do things that are going to raise your energy level. The old adage “Move a muscle, change a thought” is certainly true. Anything that is going to get you out of yourself for a few minutes and get your blood flowing, will help.

  • Go for a walk
  • Try a quick workout
  • Do a few pushups

Remove the Unnecessary

Remove the unnecessary from your calendar. Getting sidetracked by meaningless tasks can squander precious resources. Do the things that will keep you afloat and your relationships alive, but focus on what’s most important. Postpone coffee dates and errands until you can get the perspective you are waiting for. Reassessment is at the heart of getting out of a slump.

Be Patient

Slumps are very frustrating. They can drive you crazy. They can make you exert more and more effort in attempting to dig your way out. But this is like trying to get out of quicksand where the more you struggle, the deeper you sink. The number one rule when you are caught in quicksand is to keep calm and patiently float your body back to the surface. Likewise, the rule in getting out of a slump is to try softer, not harder.

Patience is the most difficult thing in the world when you are in a slump — not because it is so very hard, but because we assume that patience is doing nothing. But patience is not the same as avoidance and denial.

Patience is a way of allowing your brain to churn in new ways. It’s like when you are trying to remember someone’s name. It’s right on the tip of your tongue, but the harder you try, the more the name eludes you. However, if you just say to yourself, “It will come to me,” and let go of the effort, a part of your brain will keep searching all on its own and eventually, after an hour/day/week, the name will pop into your consciousness.

A slump is a life lesson opportunity; it’s just up to you to see it that way. Try to patiently ask yourself, What can I learn from this slump? What is it telling me? How is it helping me to change? Then say to yourself, “It will come to me,” and let go of the effort. You will feel surprised and delighted when the answer(s) surface.

Be Grateful

When you  in a slump, it’s easy to feel like there is nothing good in your life. This, however, is a distortion of the truth. Think about one thing that is good in your life. And now add another one to the list. And another. Soon you will see how blessed you really are.

Developing the habit of being grateful can help you to ease the feeling of being stuck. It helps you to rediscover what is beautiful about your life. Gratitude helps you find joy and fulfillment in everything you already have. It can also enable you to find what makes your life worth living. So take some time to count your blessings. Appreciate everything you have.

Take Action

Now it’s time to take action. Decide on one step that you can take to pull yourself out of this slump. It’s better to tackle one problem after another than half-heartedly trying to address everything simultaneously.

Once you determine what you want to do, write it down. A recent study showed that those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals. And who doesn’t want to accomplish significantly more?

As you take action, don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to stick to one problem until you solve it. One problem after another. If you can’t take a big step forward, take a little one.  Tip-toe if you must.  Just keep reminding yourself that you are strong enough to take the next tiniest step, and that this step is the only step that matters right now. This way you can affect positive changes in your life step-by-step.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!
— Dr. Seuss

Have you been in a slump recently? How did you get out?

Contributed by

Bob Avenson
Senior Faculty - Group Support

Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway.

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