You know that feeling in a dream when you’re running toward (or away from) something, but you can barely move, no matter how hard you try, like you’re knee-deep in mud?
That’s me right now. The bad news is, I’m very much awake.
For the most part, I’m pretty consistent with my schedule. I never skip workouts, I always stretch and meditate in the morning, I make (mostly) good food choices, I always make sure to read before bed, and I make it a point to write every day.
But occasionally, I lose some of my momentum, and things get a bit out of control. I guess it’s part of being human.
In a Bit of a Rut...
I’ve got different ideas I want to see through, and I have a mile-long reading list. But I’m struggling with my consistency. I don’t feel like doing anything, and I hate that. It’s a strange feeling.
Whatever I do try to do, feels half-hearted at best. My meditation sessions suck. I have a hard time putting words on paper. I can’t seem to read as much, and whatever I do read, I have a hard time comprehending.
Hell, even my workouts don’t feel good, and I almost hate being in the gym - something I never thought would happen to me.
I can’t even summon enough enthusiasm for pleasurable activities like watching my favorite TV show.
I’ve fallen into somewhat of a rut. And I know that getting back on track can feel so difficult, impossible even, that the prospect of giving up seems much more attractive.
But I’m not the type of person to back down. I’ve decided to write this article because we all feel like that from time to time. And seeing as giving up is not an option, we need to examine the issue and find a solution for it.
Cumulative Stress is Very Much a Real Issue
The way I see it, most of us strike a decent balance between stress and recovery. There are different stressors in our lives (working out, school, work, etc.) but there are also sources that dissipate our stress and help us recover (sleep, nutrition, play, relaxing, etc.).
So long as we keep the scale somewhat balanced, we can function as normal human beings. But if we tip the scale in favor of too much stress, we can’t recover fully, and stress accumulates.
At first, we might cope just fine. But over time, once enough stress accumulates, we start feeling exhausted, unable to focus, and generally unmotivated to do anything.
This is what the theory of cumulative stress suggests. We can do more than we are capable of recovering from, but only for a while before we crash and burn. In the context of training, this is known as overreaching.
Because of that, I’ve been trying to set a sustainable speed. Enough work - at the gym, and in my day to day work - to make progress, but not too much that I end up overtrained, overworked, and mentally burned out.
In other words, I ask myself, “Can I stick to this schedule for months on end and not burn out completely?” It’s not always easy to answer, I have been wrong before, and unexpected circumstances have arisen. But I’ve found that looking at the bigger picture allows me to things in a more sustainable way.
In the short term, I also put a priority on recovery - enough sleep, proper nutrition, mobility work, relax, play, etc. In the long run, I take the occasional vacation, I change my scenery, and I have deload weeks at the gym.
A Change of Scenery Helps
Up until a few years ago, I spent 99% of my time in my city, going to the same few places and doing the same things. Month after month, I never changed my scenery and rarely did anything new or different. I remember that period of my life negatively because even though I was making significant progress toward my goals, I felt dissatisfied and trapped.
A colleague I had at the time shared an idea that resonated with me. He stated that changing our scenery every once in a while is a great way to unplug, recover, and get back more motivated to work. In hindsight, it makes sense. But I never thought about it until then. Since that time, I’ve used that technique multiple times, and it works wonders.
These days, I make it a point to change my scenery completely every once in a while, even if it’s just for one day — a trip to a different city or country. Maybe go to the beach or the mountainside. Something that would root me out of my environment and give me time to breathe.
Whenever I feel mentally stuck, I find that a short trip always helps me recover and gain a new appreciation for what I’m doing.
We live in a super fast-paced world, and many of us don’t leave our environments for months, even years at a time. It’s easy to become a prisoner of the daily grind and lose sight of other, just as important aspects of life.
And it’s not just about large scale changes of scenery. For example, every time I experience a mental block and can’t seem to do productive work, I go out, take a walk, and come back. In 100% of cases, I feel much more focused and motivated.
It Might Be Tough Now, But I’ll Be Proud of Having Done The Work
Getting started is often the most challenging part, and many people fail there. It’s difficult to get yourself to the gym, to get off Twitter and do work, to put the phone down and pick up a book. It takes effort to say no to what’s comfortable and spend your time productively.
I always try to remind myself of how good it feels once I finish a difficult task. I may not always feel like training, but I love the euphoric feeling after a workout. I may not always feel like reading, but I love learning new things and seeing things from someone else’s perspective. I may not always feel like sitting down to write, but I feel proud of having written.
Despite my resistance, I’ve never found myself to regret having done the hard work. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, I love having written.”
Don’t Dwell on Failure
I sometimes find myself procrastinating on important tasks. Rather than spend the afternoon writing, reading, or working on my blog, I would stare at a blank screen unable to get started. Or worse, I would try to distract myself with entertainment.
When that happens, I do my best to look ahead and plan out my following days rather than dwell on my procrastination. As Ryan Holiday wrote in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, “It’s a huge step forward to realize that the worst thing to happen is never the event, but the event and losing your head. Because then you’ll have two problems (one of them unnecessary and post hoc).”
I’m not saying that procrastination is okay. I hate it. But it happens. The above lessons have surely helped me, but they are not foolproof.
Also, what separates people at the top of their respective fields from everyone else isn’t perfection. Nobody is perfect, motivated, and at the top of their game all the time. We all fall short, sometimes. What matters more is consistency. In other words, what you do most of the time matters much more than what you do some of the time.
None of this is to say that procrastinating on work so you can watch Game of Thrones is good. But it’s essential to be objective and look at the whole picture. More often than not, we are our worst judges.
A Few Final Words on Feeling Stuck
Hopefully, my struggles have resonated with you, and you can use the tactics I’ve shared today to sort out your issues.
After all, we are human, and life is filled with moments of doubt, stress, fatigue, and lack of recognition even that can fling us in the mud for a while.
Sometimes all we need is some rest to get back on the right path. Other times, putting things into perspective might be a better tactic. But in all cases, we should avoid judging ourselves too harshly and dwelling on our shortcomings.