Several years ago I found myself struggling to come out of a difficult time. I’d just gone through a particularly challenging year (2012 will always be “the year that almost did me in” in my head) and had spent over a year attempting to climb out from the hole I’d dug for myself.
I was fatigued, overly-medicated, and weary. Nothing held my attention, save for my family, and each day crept by one-after-the-other in a pathetic parade of ennui.
This can happen to anyone. Hopefully it doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, there are several techniques I found to help engage me with the world around me, able to recognize the beauty and opportunity that abounds:
1 – Move your body
I’ve been heavier and I’ve been lighter than I am now. At this exact moment I feel good in my skin and I have been maintaining this physique with some incremental improvements for over 2 years. I have discovered that when I am the most broken mentally and emotionally, I am also the least healthy in my food choices and activity. Even with help and severe dietary restriction to the point of nutritional deficiency and hair loss, I’ve discovered I will still gain weight when not active!
Don’t fall into the trap of perfection, attempting to muster up enough strength to become an American Ninja Warrior after one week of working out. Until it was part of my normal routine, I would tell myself, “just put one foot in front of the other” and commit to at least 20 minutes of movement each morning.
This has become such an important part of my life, it cannot be overstated. I went from being on six different prescription medications for everything from depression and anxiety to blood sugar regulation. Today I only take vitamins each morning. The great surprise I found was that exercise not only made my brain function better, but it also gave me more energy with which to manage my day.
I’ve been dramatically more creative and productive since incorporating movement into each day and whenever I know a stressful time is coming, I double down on adhering to my routine.
Some tools that help me: MapMyRun, Coach.me, lolo Kettlebell app, and having a little poodle named Gucci who ensures I get out a few times a day for her bathroom breaks.
2 – Develop your curiosity
It was a depressing realization for me to realize I hadn’t been intellectually excited or particularly interested in anything for a while. Without a doubt, it fed the ongoing ennui I was experiencing. I picked up How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, a book by Michael J. Gelb, that presents a plan for training your brain to think more like the famous Italian artist, inventor, and all around marvel, Leonardo da Vinci. The first chapter is, “Curiosità” defined as “an insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement.”
Just like I approached movement, I asked only for small, but consistent, improvement in asking more questions to build my natural level of curiosity. Asking more questions helped me to deepen my relationships, start new ones, identify ways I could work with others, and even led me to improve Association Chat, a weekly online community and discussion for the association industry that started out as a Twitter chat and evolved into a live streamed interview. It’s easy to see ways that asking more questions directly improved my life in tangible ways.
Some techniques to try:
- Listen to a new podcast episode every morning.
- Challenge yourself to ask one question on reddit, Quora, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever other channel you choose
- Read at least one challenging article each day and make a list of questions you think of while reading it. Bonus points if you go down any of the rabbit holes those questions create or just look up the words you don’t recognize.
- Pick a new subject to study. A couple of years ago I decided to go after specializations with online courses and those specializations actually helped me to be better at my job and now I’m able to offer more to my clients.
3 – Challenge your assumptions
Along with realizing I’d let my curiosity wane, I also recognized that some of the qualities that I’d assigned myself over the years were just…wrong. I had created my own caricature of myself. Here is a list of my assumptions about myself from 3 years ago:
- I don’t like to sweat.
- I’m not a runner. The only way I’d run is if zombies were real and fast. And then…I’d probably prefer to die anyway.
- I don’t camp.
- I’m not domestic (meaning: I don’t sew, cook, clean, etc).
- I don’t believe in forever. Things change. Get used to it.
- I look better in black. Color on me just makes me look like a clown.
- I’m selfish.
- You can’t ever ask for help. If you show weakness, they attack.
But here’s the deal. I was wrong. It turns out I love cooking and I am pretty good at it. And that doesn’t mean anything other than…I love cooking. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me fat. It doesn’t make me some kind of downtrodden female who can’t escape the kitchen. Those are stories I told myself. I discovered a kind of meditation/hypnosis/relaxation that happens when I am chopping, mincing, slicing, and dicing for recipes. I feel pleasure when I take a bite of something I’m cooking and I know it will delight my family when they taste it. I feel indulgent when I recognize I am making something I can’t easily buy in a restaurant or store.
It turns out I am not the fastest runner, but I can make it through a half marathon “adventure run” pulling on vines to scale the sides of muddy hills, going 13.1 miles when I couldn’t even run one mile for the Presidential Fitness Award when I was twelve-years-old. How about that?
And guess what? I do believe in forever. I believe my husband is the love of my life. Does that make me a fool? Ridiculous? Naive? I don’t care. I choose to believe in forever and after 12 years with someone who makes me laugh and shows the most steadfast and passionate appreciation I’ve ever experienced, I say, “Yes! Sign me up for 100 more years of this.” I want to live forever and I want him by my side. Have a problem with that? I don’t care.
When someone says, “You should try zip-lining,” or “You should cut your lemons like this,” or “Why don’t you try inbox zero?” try to stop yourself from automatically shutting those ideas down. Investigate. Try. Test your assumptions. Things do change. If you meet someone new, challenge yourself to ask that person questions that you think you know the answers to and you’ll be delighted when you find out how often you are wrong.
Challenge your assumptions because other people have more stories to tell than you know (and so do you).
What do you think? Are you stuck and going to try one of these techniques? Have you been stuck and found something else that worked for you and enhanced your growth mindset? Share it in the comments!