Posted on Fri 24 October 2014

How I got out of my funk

It's 6:46am. I was supposed to be starting this just after 6am but I couldn't drag myself out of bed until now.

This week I'm on a holiday from client work. I'm working on Exist, but all of my normal client work time is going into resting and hobbies like reading and learning iOS development. This week is supposed to be the break I've been needing to stop myself from feeling rundown; to avoid burnout.

The strange this is that I've been feeling especially tired and unmotivated this week. The one week I've specifically taken off to recouperate, and I'm feeling lousy.

On Monday I woke up at my normal time of 6am and lay in bed for half an hour trying to find a reason to get up. I couldn't think of one so I went back to sleep. On Tuesday, I did the same thing. On Wednesday and Thursday I didn't even try to find a reason to get up until 8am.

Today is Friday. It's the first day all week that I've managed to get up before 7am. It's also the best I've felt all week.

Exist has built-in mood tracking that sends you an email every night at 9pm, asking how your day was. You can rate your day on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being excellent and 1 being terrible. This week I've had a lot of 2s and 3s.

I've been frustrated at myself for feeling down, and not being motivated to do anything, but I've also felt stuckā€”I didn't know how to remedy the problem. Part of it came from sleeping badly (I'm still not sure why exactly, but I'm experimenting with not drinking any caffeine at all to see if it helps) but part of it seemed to be just a general funk.

Today, on the first day of my week off that I haven't spent a huge chunk of my morning in bed, I'm going to explore the things that are helping me get out of the funk so far.

Act first

I've been looking forward to using my extra time this week to catch up on housework. Not because housework is fun, but because there are some parts of it that you never get around to in a normal week.

On Thursday I hadn't made much progress on the housework front, and I still wasn't feeling up to it. But I did it anyway. I just started doing the small steps: take the sheets off the bed; put the sheets in the washing machine; get the fresh sheets out of the cupboard. Not thinking about all the chores I needed to get done, I just started with some small steps.

And lo and behold, I found some momentum. Before I knew it, I was halfway through the list of household chores I wanted to get done this week.

Prepare for negative thoughts

I work from home (and live alone) so I spend a lot of time on my own. Normally working takes up a big chunk of that, but having an at-home holiday has meant I've spent a lot more of my alone time reflecting and thinking. In particular, I've been reflecting on this funk I've been in, and trying to deduce what might have caused it.

Noting the self-doubt and negative thoughts that stop me from getting started on anything, I've started preparing for them in advance. Having an answer ready to rebut my common excuses makes them much less powerful in the moment.

For instance, when I say to myself, "I'm too tired to do anything," I now respond with, "BUT I can do just a little bit."

And of course doing just a little bit often leads to a little bit more, and more and more, until the whole task is done. But even if it doesn't, taking just a little bit of action has overcome the excuse of being too tired that used to allow me to do nothing.

Get out of your own head

Being prone to introspection, I tend to get stuck in my own head far too often. I've found a couple of things that help me get out of there, and focus on other people, which usually leads to finding more energy to take action instead of sitting around.

Visiting people is the best approach. Particularly people I haven't seen for a while. Seeing an old friend means there's plenty to catch up on, so I can focus hard on them, ask them questions about what they've been up to and really listen. It's amazing how listening intensely to someone else can shut up your internal voice for a while. Plus, it just feels good.

Failing that, I sometimes listen intensely to a podcast. A movie or book might work as well for you, but I find my mind wanders too easily from those mediums. A truly engaging podcast is usually enough for me to focus on intensely, which shuts up my existing thought processes so I can "get out of my own head".

I've been back to back for two weeks now, and the funk has mostly lifted. I've decided it was probably due to a mixture of not sleeping well and giving myself permission (by taking time off work) to fall into a pattern of doing nothing. I'd been feeling run-down before I planned my week off, and it's entirely possible my body really needed to just sit around and do nothing for a few days so it could recover from the pace I normally push it at.

I'm still finding these three approaches helpful when I'm lacking in motivation, so I'm grateful for the time I spent reflecting on them. I hope they might be useful for you too.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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