What to do when you feel overwhelmingly “meh” about everything

meh

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Sailors used to live in fear of the doldrums — when the sea turns placid, and the wind disappears, and your ship is left to float and drift as your fresh water and food stores dwindle ever lower.

You’d think a terrible storm would be worse, and maybe it is (I’m no sailor, so I can’t speak with authority). But at least in a storm you have no choice but to act; you respond to what’s in front of you and hope you make it through, but there’s not much time for reflection or despair.

I have precisely zero experience with either of those situations in a maritime setting, but a lot of experience in the proverbial sense.

And I can confirm that, at least when it comes to personal development, it’s way easier to coach someone when they’re miserable and at rock bottom (in the “eye of the storm,” so to speak) than when they’re in the doldrums.

Misery is motivating. Being down and out gives you a “what do I have to lose?” attitude. It lights a fire under your butt to make changes, take risks, and let go of crap that’s been holding you back.

The doldrums are the very opposite of motivating. They’re a place of complete inertia and stagnation. We may want to make change, theoretically, but realistically we feel completely uninterested in doing anything.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN THE DOLDRUMS WHEN…

My client Brianna has been “wasting away” (according to her) in the doldrums for a large part of 2018.

She’s been in the same job for a few years. It’s not her ideal job, but it’s not terrible, either. She’s pretty neutral about it.

She’s also been considering moving for a while, but again, it’s not like she hates her apartment or neighborhood. It’s possible she’d like a different space better, but the hassle of moving keeps her from investing any further energy into the idea.

She’d probably be happier if she got back into yoga or Pilates, but she’d have to find a new studio and it’s not like she’s dying to do either of those activities again, so for now her more casual at-home workouts are good enough.

I can’t tell you how many angles we’ve approached these issues from. We’ve tried just about everything to get her more engaged and motivated … and nothing sticks. Total flatline situation.

She’d be the first to tell you (and since she OK-ed me sharing this, she sort of is telling you) that she feels really annoying for not being interested in implementing any of the things we’ve coached around (for the record, I’m certainly not annoyed!).

She told me, “It’s not that I don’t WANT to figure out how to motivate myself. It’s just whenever we come up with new ideas, I feel zero energy around them. I just can’t make myself care.”

Eventually, instead of spending another hour trying to find a magic workaround, I tried a different tactic. I had to get a bit blunt by saying: “Here’s the deal. I could come at you from every angle I can think of, but we both know that everything I say is going to be met with a big, fat ‘meh.’ So instead of that, why don’t we just EMBRACE the doldrums?”

EMBRACE THE DOLDRUMS, YOU SAY?

In my experience with Brianna and hundreds of other people (not to mention my personal experience of the doldrums) … I can tell you that it is nigh impossible to force someone out of the doldrums. It’s equivalent to manufacturing wind when you’re drifting at sea on a wooden ship.

Humans, for better or worse, are excellent at maintaining the status quo. We’re wired to preserve our energy and not waste it unless prompted.

So if things are in neutral — they’re OK, but not great — it’s hard to want to rock the boat because things could very well get worse.

Which is why I’m personally a fan of letting the doldrums run their course, instead of trying to force yourself out of them.

Because what I also know, after many years of experience, is that life will almost always rock the boat for you. Like when…

  • You’ve been meaning to clean up your diet for a while … but you aren’t exactly suffering, so the deprivation doesn’t feel worth it. And then all of a sudden you get hit with a less-than-desirable health crisis, and boom, you’re suddenly motivated to throw out all the junk food.
  • You’ve sort of been interested in yoga, but never got around to trying it out, and then your hips start to feel super uncomfortably tight, and you find yourself signing up for a class.
  • You’ve been intending to search for new jobs, but your current job isn’t that bad … and then you get a new boss who’s super toxic, and suddenly you can’t get out of there fast enough.
  • You’ve wanted to get your financial life in order, maybe even start investing, but it just felt like one more thing to figure out. And then you get slapped with an unexpected expense that throws your finances out of whack, and you’re finally ready to get serious.

BUT WHAT IF I GET STUCK FOREVER?

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think waiting for life to slingshot you (as in, pull you back in order to rocket you forward) is necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be lazy to embrace the phases of idleness and mediocrity that life occasionally throws our way.

In fact, I think it’s often necessary and part of a larger picture that we can’t see. Sometimes the doldrums are an opportunity for us to just be for a while; go on autopilot and save up our energy before life throws us the next big challenge or opportunity.

(I’ll offer one caveat, however: Sometimes the lack of interest in anything is a sign of depression, and waiting around for that to change may not be the wisest course of action. If this doesn’t feel like a phase, but rather something you’ve struggled with for a really long time, then that may be indicative of a more serious problem. And some therapy could be a good idea!)

In Brianna’s case, this was definitely a phase. She hadn’t felt this overwhelmingly neutral in the years leading up to 2018, and it felt extra uncomfortable because she wasn’t used to having so little interest in anything.

For Brianna, and for most of us in a doldrums phase, the fear naturally becomes: What if I embrace this and get stuck here forever?

I told Brianna that was very unlikely to happen for two major reasons: One, because life will always find a way to rock your boat, positively or negatively. (It’s not always about waiting for disaster to strike. Good things can just as easily change the game.) The only constant in life is change, right?

And two, because eventually you’ll get sick of yourself. You’ll simmer and simmer and simmer, and then, all at once, reach a boiling point. You’ll get to the point where the frustration of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing. And all of a sudden, you’ll find yourself “all in” for the things you once had zero energy for.

WHAT DO WE DO IN THE MEAN TIME?

So, if instead of trying to go against the force of the doldrums, you decided to trust that the doldrums will end — the wind will return, the current will pick up, and you’ll be on your way again — then what do you do in the mean time?

In Brianna’s case, I had to ask her what she did have the energy for. And it was really small things — delving into new fiction books, trying some new recipes, going on walks in neighborhoods she didn’t normally venture into. All she felt capable of doing were seemingly insignificant things that soothed her soul by degrees.

And you know what? That’s more than fine! Rather than fight against the doldrums, you’re allowed to surrender to it and do what feels good to pass the time.

What you probably won’t realize until you have sufficient hindsight is that, in those moments when you thought you were whiling your time away with no larger purpose, you were actually quietly preparing for the next “big thing.”

So, are you in the doldrums? Or have you been in the past? How did you get through it, and how do you feel about embracing it? Come share with me, in the comments.

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)


LET’S GET 2019 OFF TO THE RIGHT START

The new year is right around the corner. Cue wide eyes and mild panic!

…Or not. Because hey, not every year needs to be a repeat of the last! You’d be amazed by how much can shift in just a few months with a little consistency, accountability, and a willingness to make change.

So if you’d like 2019 to be vastly different than 2018 (or 2017, or 2016…), then we’re happy to talk to about the prospect of 1-on-1 coaching.

Reach out to us here, and we’ll talk it out together.

13 Comments // ADD COMMENT

13 comments

  • Gillian

    I feel this. I shouldn’t be in the doldrums right now but I definitely am.

    I was laid off in August and have been really struggling to look for a new job. I don’t want to go back to the type of job I had before and am even looking into moving. I wound up taking an unpaid internship in a different field but I don’t know how long I have to stay in order to make it look worthwhile for future employers. Also, I was offered a part-time position doing what I used to at another company.

    Things are happening but I lack motivation to really move forward due to a lack of money and confidence. I honestly feel like I’ve been in the doldrums for 10 years.

    • Rachel East

      Ugh, I feel your pain, Gillian. It’s hard to contemplate your options when you don’t feel like doing anything! That said, if this has been going on for 10 years, I do wonder if it’s not really the doldrums, but something more serious. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, or have thought about, but I will say that if you’re not currently seeking out therapy, it may be the right time. And if you are, I wonder if you’re happy with your experience or if it may be time to change up the approach? Sometimes we can get in a rut with the same approach/person, and we need to try a new angle. Sending you good thoughts!

  • Natalie

    Pretty sure this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’ve been super annoyed with myself lately, doing the “I really need to…(fill in the blank)” but cannot under any circumstances get myself to do said thing.I just don’t want to do anything. I know it’s a phase that will pass, but I needed this to remind me to just surrender to it for now and allow myself to rest without frustration. Thank you!

    • Rachel East

      “Allow myself to rest without frustration” is a great mantra! I think I’ll be adopting that one for myself. 😉

  • Grace

    I was nodding along to this so hard my coworkers thought I was listening to music. I so strongly identify with feeling annoying (and annoyed at myself) for not being able to make any changes, even though logically I know that they would probably be good for me. It’s difficult to trust that something will happen that rocks the boat, but looking back over my life, the evidence is there! Until then, I’ll embrace whatever I do have energy for.

    • Rachel East

      Lol! I love that your coworkers thought that CoF was a headbanger … and maybe it is! 😉 It’s frustrating that what makes logical sense often has NO impact on how we feel. I’m glad you can see from your past that letting go and just riding it out does lead to change, eventually. I hope we can all enjoy the ride more and be less judgey of ourselves during that process.

  • Cassie

    I’m in the doldrums big time. My job is so easy I could do it in my sleep and even gets really boring.(I don’t think I would want to do it if there was more work involved) I’ve applied for a few other positions and even have a pretty good place interested in me. But I’m not interested enough to relocate for it (and I would have to be at work at 3:30 am.) I will have to turn them down. All I feel the energy to do is cook an occasional meal, watch TV, and pay attention to what my favorite band is up to. I’ve tried all kinds of things to “wake myself up” but nothing sticks because I didn’t want to engage in those activities to begin with. I wonder what I’m storing my energy for. Maybe my dream job? But is the dream I had fifteen years ago still what I want?

    Having a “good job” that “pays the bills” and is also pretty easy is dangerous. I’m a naturally passionate, enthusiastic person and I hate feeling so blah and apathetic.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Cassie,

      I’m glad that you turned down the job that would require you to be at work at 3:30am!! That sounds WAY un-fun. I totally get the “All I feel the energy to do is cook an occasional meal, watch TV, and pay attention to what my favorite band is up to” thing. I feel I’m sort of in the same boat right now (hence why I felt motivated to right this particular blog). But I really like your question of, “I wonder what I’m storing my energy for?” Whether or not you intended to, I think you’re making a good point about how to approach the doldrums — with curiosity, rather than frustration. “Hmm, I wonder where this is all going,” and “Oh, this is interesting,” rather than, “OMG there’s something wrong with this what if it never ends?!” Sometimes I think freaking out about the doldrums only prolongs the experience! Stay tuned for next week, because I’m recycling an older blog that makes somewhat of a counterpoint to what I said today. Between that and this, maybe there’s something that will help you either embrace where you’re at, or find the motivation to shake yourself out of it. 🙂

  • Gillian

    It hasn’t been a constant 10 years of doldrums. It kind of ebbs and flows. I always think I make the right decision and it turns out to be wrong which then causes the doldrums. Like I’ve gotten bored with every job I’ve taken and even my college decision!

    I have gone to therapy but I hate the focus on the past. I do that enough on my own and need more of a push to move forward. Before I was laid off, I was going to start coaching but I could no longer afford it. 🙁

    Hopefully, things will change soon and I’ll force myself into a better situation.

    • Kristen Walker

      It sounds like you know what you want/need — a job that holds your interest and gives you a chance to keep learning/growing, and the support of a coach along the way — but right now, while you’re in-between jobs, you can’t focus as much on making those things happen because you’re too much in survival mode. Which is totally normal! But also frustrating, I know. Once things settle down a bit, I trust you’ll have the space and resources to go after those things you want in a bigger way. These things ALWAYS take longer than we want to sort out, but this phase won’t last forever — I promise!

  • Jennifer

    I’m currently going through this and haven’t been able to put it into words quite like this. It’s so interesting how we can be aware that something is off with ourselves, but so uncreative at finding solutions. It’s been about a year of not being able to make moves to do what I need to do- findba higher paying full-time job in my desired career. It’s been about two and a half months of feeling motivated for a few hours then losing steam completely. I end up being so down on myself for it and kind of shut myself off and try to focus my attention on more pleasurable things like binging Twin Peaks with my fiancé or trying out new recipes. I just can’t figure out how to get over this hump.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Jennifer,

      I’ve found that if you’ve ridden it out for a fairly long time — you said a year, and that’s a decent amount of time — then at that point it’s OK to insert something (or someone) else into the routine to help you get out of the rut. I think some ruts naturally change on their own; and others require some outside assistance to jumpstart you. The point you’re describing now is the point at which I’ve personally sought outside help; be it a coach, therapist, personal trainer, or what have you (depending on the issue at hand!). It’s a delicate balance between being accepting of yourself and trusting that nothing will last forever, and knowing when to ask for help!

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