Why We Have Slumps And How To Get Out Of Them
(Written and published in January 2010.)
Slump, n: A period of decline or deterioration, during which a person performs slowly, inefficiently, or ineffectively (Dictionary.com)
Not too long ago, I slipped into a slump. If you’ve been in a slump before, you’ll know how disempowering it feels. It feels as if you are stuck and you can’t seem to get anything done.
While you can clear simple tasks like check email and run errands, it’s different for higher-level Quadrant 2 tasks. For these tasks, it’s tough to even get started. You may allocate time to work, but nothing much gets done anyway.
After a while, you feel drained. Since nothing you do amounts to anything, in the end you feel like doing nothing altogether. Eventually you turn to sleep for comfort, hoping everything will turn out better when you wake up.
My Slump for the Past Two to Three Months
That was exactly what I had experienced. In retrospect, this slump started two to three months ago. Initially, my productivity declined in gradual bits. I reacted by increasing the time I was spending on work, at times even pulling all-nighters. I thought by spending more time, it would offset my reduced productivity and increase my overall output.
Not really. My productivity continued to decline, leading to an overall reduced output.
Weirdly, even though I had been busy juggling my training business and various projects, it felt I was not making significant progress in my life. Other than my one-to-one coaching sessions and workshops which were ongoing commitments, I felt like I was not accomplishing anything.
For example, one of my projects is to write a book but it was tracking behind my schedule. I had been taking time off to write it but I could not seem to get into the flow of writing no matter how hard I tried. Another example: I had been meaning to kick start my video project but kept being occupied by other little tasks. Yet another example: my lifestyle was falling apart. I was slipping in my exercise regime. My diet was off-track and I had been eating a lot of junk. My sleeping hours were out of whack—I was sleeping at 3am to four am on average.
As if to rub salt to the wound, I fell sick with flu, sore throat and fever. My limbs felt sore, my body was aching, my stomach felt queasy and I was constantly sneezing. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m still sick but I hope to recover in the next few days.
Uncovering The Cause
It was worrying. I remembered thinking how it was just January 2010—the start of the year! If this continued, there was no way I would bring any of my goals to life. I felt I was losing control and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
As I shared in my past article on creating real change, there is always a cause for every effect you see. To create real change, you have to address the root cause. I knew I had to get down to the root cause of the issue rather than tackle with the effect (my reduced productivity).
So I reflected on the issue. Nothing constructive came up initially. I couldn’t imagine why I was in a slump. I was pursuing my passion, doing what I love. I was living the life of my undertaking. I was connecting with many incredible individuals every day, whether across the globe with my blog / Twitter / Facebook, or in person. I was helping people; changing lives for the better. I was doing something that had real meaning, more meaning than anything else I could be doing. I wouldn’t want to do anything else but this.
Realizing the Cause of the Slump
The answer soon hit me. Not as a “a-ha” type revelation, but rather as a slow, inner realization.
I had sunk into a slump because I had not taken time out for myself.
And it was true, very true. I can’t remember the last time I really took time to rest. Ever since I pursued my passion, I had been occupied with work. I lost the concept of weekends, simply because I felt there was no reason to take time off if I truly loved what I did. In a way I still stand true by this, but I forgot a very important principle — If you want to cut down a forest of trees, you need to sharpen your saw.
Sadly, I had forgotten to do just that—sharpen my saw. While I did set aside time for non-work-related activities such as social outings and recreation, I would always be mentally occupied with work even during those activities. I never truly relished in my time “off”, such that when it was over, I would still feel tired and unrecharged.
Unfortunately, many of you are guilty of neglecting yourselves too. How many of you constantly push yourself to get things done? How many of you constantly put yourself through heavy amounts of punishment without giving yourself a breather? This is a signature trait of neurotic perfectionists.
Have you ever driven a car? If yes, you must have experienced times when your car ran low on gas. During these times, did you:
- Continue driving without intending to stop? OR
- Stop at a nearby gas station to refill your tank?
Naturally, you must have picked #2. After all, you need the fuel to continue driving
Yet, many of us choose #1 when it comes to ourselves.
Take Time Out For Yourself
Have you been so busy that you haven’t taken time out to relax and unwind? Have you been so busy sowing seeds rather than enjoy the fruits of your labor? Have you been putting off fun and recreation in the name of work? Have you been neglecting your needs for the sake of others?
When was the last time you took time off for yourself?
Slumps are signals that we are running low on internal fuel. Rather than rest and relax, many of us do the exact opposite—we push ourselves to work.
This was exactly what I did, and it backfired. Instead of increasing my productivity, my productivity went down further. To the point where it came to a halt and took a toil on my mental and physical health.
If you are in a slump, it’s a sign you are way overdue in the rest department. Take a day off from work. To be honest, it may seem there are so many urgent things at work that you can’t take a day off, but really—the world isn’t going to crash if you are away from work for just a day. There may be lots you need to do, but if you aren’t in your prime condition, nothing much is going to get done at all.
In fact, rather than a day, make it two days! Spend these days doing things that you enjoy. Go out and take a walk. Catch a movie. Shop if you like. Read your favorite book. Watch your favorite shows. Rest at home if you just want to get away from the outside world. Whip up a meal if you love cooking. Reward yourself with something you’ve been meaning to get. Spend some time out with your good friends whom you enjoy the company of, or just spend time alone if you prefer some quiet time to yourself. You deserve this, trust me.
Today, I intend to take some time off to rest and relax. I’m going to catch up on Dollhouse, take a walk, run some simple errands and get my hair done. I look forward to getting back to my full self really soon. Most importantly, I’m going to make a point to allocate time for rest from now on.