Getting Beyond a Slump

Slumps are part of an intentional life. And I like to think they’re part of an interesting life as well... They’re like a warning light that something needs tending.

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Slumps happen. In classes. In exercise. In budgeted spending. In any area where we have a vision for the future and then create goals to actualize these visions. Slumps are part of an intentional life. And I like to think they’re part of an interesting life as well. 


An interesting life can take many shapes. But let’s go with a broad definition here and say an interesting life is one where the long-term future is unpredictable precisely because there is so much to discover and to try in the short-term. An interesting life is one where we build through curiosity. It’s one where learning and practice build capacity for more growth, and more growth, etc. Essentially, who knows what could happen; the possibilities are myriad in a life of active curiosity.


But just like in exercise, rest from strain is necessary. And moving out into the world (even online) is a kind of work, or strain, for the brain– perhaps even for the soul and the spirit. Without rest, we could fracture our progress.


Slumps are another low-grade result. They’re like a warning light that something needs tending. 


If you’re feeling the onset of a slump, or if you’re solidly in the middle of one, here are a couple of ways you can use your agency to help yourself get the rest you need and to ready yourself to persevere. 


  1. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Zoom-out beyond obligation and remember why you signed up for your goals in the first place. Sure, right now you need to write the paper by a certain date, and that’s an obligation. But there is a reason you decided to enroll in the class and why you’re pursuing this degree– or multiple reasons. What are your reasons? What progress have you made already toward these goals? If you’re not sure, how can you get more clarity about what your goals are? This clarity supports motivation. Being present to your reason for doing what you’re doing can help lead you out of a slump, especially when you remember your ‘why’ daily, like a vitamin.
  2. Recategorize your rest and make it meaningful. There are at least a few ways you can rest passively, like watching TV shows or films, playing video games, listening to podcasts. If you’re like me, we have automatic behaviors built over time that trigger us to associate feeling tired with ‘time to watch a show’ or ‘time to play X game.’ What the brain learns to crave is to zone out. Yet zoning out is not the same as rest. Rather our mindless engagement in these activities can short circuit the rest experience. As a different approach, what if you recognized the trigger– the tired feeling– and intentionally decided it’s time to rest. Then choose to view the activity (walking, reading, cooking, drawing, sitting, or purposeful watching or game-playing) as rest, and choose to enjoy it as rest. This isn’t a quick fix for a slump, but over time we can build our capacity to enjoy restorative rest and even crave it.
  3. Recharge by getting the facts on the table. Need a zap of energy? Get some clarity on the data about how you’re actually doing. Look at your grades and calculate how much you can improve by the end of the semester. Know how many absences you’ve used. How close are you to your goals for the semester? Are you on track with the time you have remaining? Even if it’s painful to acknowledge the facts, it can be quite motivating. And it’s necessary too. Because you can’t have credible confidence in your decided actions until you know how the facts of the moment compare to your end goals.
  4. Undermine shame by acknowledging slumps with your people. Although slumps are not pleasant, especially for high-achievers, they are a part of life. And when it comes to slumps, two things are helpful: a) to not be surprised by them and b) to not be alone when they come. Any time we’re surprised, our reality did not align with our expectations. If we feel the reality of a situation– especially unpleasant ones–reflects our identity or value as a person, we can be tempted to keep the outcome, a slump, to ourselves. If we keep it to ourselves, then maybe we can fix it, right? Or maybe it will go away before I need to address it with others? But isolating in a moment of slump isn’t necessarily helpful. Rather shame is undone when we experience that we’re loved and that we belong within important relationships despite the fact that we are in a slump. Interestingly, the experience of being accepted in relationships of trust can jump start our imagination and motivation for moving beyond a slump.


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