How You Respond to a Slump Determines How Quickly You Recover

Perhaps it’s just because my activities attract these people into my spheres of influence, but it has been my experience that most people are self-critical, especially when the chips are down and you need someone, especially you, in your corner more than ever. So, when you experience a slump, it’s important to remember how you respond to it determines how quickly you recover.

A slump could look like doing the same things that had good outcomes in the past, but no longer being able to generate those good outcomes consistently. It could also look like not having as much energy and/or time to complete the same activities that previously generated good outcomes.

For me, nothing zaps my energy, time, mood, and brainpower more than when my daughter is going through a rough patch with ADHD, usually because she ate something to which she is sensitive. I have found that when my daughter is going through a hard time, my momentum with my professional or community leadership endeavors downshifts. When my daily routine goes smoothly, I can solve a hundred problems easily each day, and, even if I hit challenges, I can still feel like forward progress is being made. I value action, I value my own action, and I value completion and forward progress. I have flow on my side, which creates bandwidth for fun and creativity. However, because my self-worth is tied closely with what I accomplish, when I am not able to accomplish as much, I question my self-worth.

When I have to constantly fight to push forward in my daily or weekly routines, I find myself spending time and energy on repeated reminders, solving mysteries about how things got to school/came home, re-communicating what has to be done AND why, addressing and correcting defiance with time outs (when there’s time), taking away privileges, and keeping a vigilant watch over the environment. That isn’t even including the energy spent trying to control the environment as best I can where I am not, such as in the cafeteria, classroom, or activities. These bouts of dietary and behavioral rebellion are usually accompanied by illness striking our home, in which I have to cancel or reschedule plans.

Periodically, when I endure this with my child, I fall behind on my strategic initiatives, and usually sacrifice self-care to maintain the tactical activities – client delivery, grading assignments, preparing for upcoming speaking engagements, etc. This makes me personally susceptible to depression, anxiety, and illness, which, of course, puts me further behind and makes me feel even worse.

Straining external conditions and situations, physical illnesses and mindset are prime culprits for a slump. The first symptom we usually notice is a lack of good outcomes. Noticing a slump is the first step, but distinguishing that it’s a slump – a temporary setback – is key to preventing a downward spiral. This can be the hardest thing to do when you’re in the middle of it, especially if you are like many of the people who have confided in me that they are prone to being self-critical.

Rather than see a slump as a natural ebb that will soon resolve, you, like me, might attribute it to who you are. Thoughts arise like, “I am a failure. I can’t do anything right. I give up.” This thinking is not only unhelpful but can be quite harmful. Obviously, giving up is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Giving up on a positive resolution will severely inhibit the problem-solving and motivational centers in your brain, helping that problem persists longer than it needs to.

I would hope, but can’t be certain, that if you are going through something that requires your immediate attention, or time to process, grieve or heal, that you will allow yourself the grace and time to do just that. Even those of us who value our own ambition and action sometimes have to recognize that even machines need a break in order to sustain performance. You might be labeled a superstar at work, and you might start to see that as your identity. This might cause you to push yourself further. However, every strength can also be a liability. Even superstars need stagnancy from time to time. Some of you are not able to allow yourself to slow down without justification to yourself or others. When I’m feeling behind, I tend to want to spend my time toiling away at tasks backlogged in my to-do list. I have become more and more aware that the toiling will take 3x as long if I am running on low motivation, low confidence, low energy or low hope, and the results will be lackluster at best. Test this for yourself.

The next time you feel you are running behind and are attempting to tackle your to-do list, track how much time it takes for a repeatable task and evaluate the outcome. Then, when you go to repeat that activity, first, spend a bit of time (even two minutes) trying one of the techniques/practices shared here, then track how long it then takes you and evaluate the outcome once again.

Be intentional about tuning in to how you feel before and after you try the following practices. Measure on a 1-10 scale how motivated you feel before and after these exercises. You don’t have to try them all at once, but keep this list handy so you can try each tip out over time and see what makes the greatest impact for you.

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Compile a Slump Stockpile

Either physically or digitally, or both, make a list of things people have said or would say are special about you. It could be things that you’ve done that made a positive difference in someone’s life, even if they didn’t actually thank you – record what you think they would say. Imagine someone in your life who wanted to pay an ultimate tribute to you so that you know how worthy and wonderful you really are. Imagine people in your life taking the opportunity to tell you and show you exactly how much you mean to them, as we do at funerals when unfortunately it’s too late for someone to hear it.

Also include actual kudos that you have received such as thank you cards, e-mails, notes, social media posts, testimonials, letters of recommendation, etc.

Keep this stockpile handy and review it whenever you start to doubt your value.

Inspiration/Flow Immersion

Make a list of the people and things that inspire you – teachers, shows, bible verses, fables, quotes, books, songs, people, natural phenomenon, places, etc.

Make a list of things that comes easily to you when you do them. These are the activities that make time fly by, even if you don’t particularly enjoy them. An example would be cleaning. It might not be at the top of your list to do, but when you do it, you get into a groove and you start to get a lot done quickly. On the other hand, it could be something you truly enjoy, like drawing, coloring or doing puzzles.

This really sounds counterintuitive, right? Why should you spend time doing these things when you’re already short on time, overwhelmed and feeling burdened by all you have not accomplished? To remind yourself what it feels like to easily accomplish something! By completing a task that comes easily to you, you can boost your confidence in your own abilities and it will make you feel more competent to do the next task.

Mindfulness/Journaling

One of the first benefits you experience from mindfulness is an awareness that you are not your thoughts and you are not your emotions. This is such a gift. With greater practice, even in the same session, you can expand your awareness to recognize that you are not your actions or inactions. You are not your circumstances. You are not your results. You are not your problems.

When you sit and intentionally quiet your mind, you can pay attention to emotions and thoughts as they arise and acknowledge that they are separate entities. You can also write out thoughts to examine them visually as you practice mindfulness.

Affirmation/Incantations/Prayer

Once you understand that you are not your thoughts, your subconscious is primed to accept the belief that you are, in fact, a divine miracle. And, if you take the opportunity to remind yourself consciously, while your subconscious mind is open, that you are a miracle, that you are a gift, and that you are the recipient of many gifts and miracles, you are then making progress toward your highest, whole self, who is capable of handling any situation.

Many coaches call these affirmations. Tony Robbins takes them up a level and refers to them as incantations, the difference being that you use your whole body, mustering up all of your emotion when saying them to get all of the cells in your body on board. Granted, you might feel a bit silly when you first do them, even in private, they can be very powerful.

Prayer has a similar effect, though instead of acknowledging self-power, it fortifies your belief that any problem is surmountable with this external power within or at your side. While some are devout and think of prayer as a first resort, I know many others who may have lost connection with their faith. They have forgotten about prayer and sometimes need a reminder in its strength.

Fresh Air/Natural Light/Living Things

The office design trends of today and tomorrow acknowledge the biophilia hypothesis, an innate compulsion to connect with living things. Many people find it challenging to quiet their mind during meditation, but mindfulness does not have to occur with eyes closed or fixed on something still. You can practice mindfulness just by tuning into the finer details of nature – the veins and various shades in a leaf, the way petals some together, how a tree moves with a breeze.

Speaking of breezes, focusing on breathing is something that many people find challenging when first starting a mindfulness practice, but you can just as easily tune into the sensations that the air has on your skin or how the grass feels beneath your feet and be practicing mindfulness.

Though it’s proven that natural light enhances sleep, vitality, and performance, even looking up at a starry sky can help shift your perspective. It allows you to notice how small some problems are in relation to the vastness of the universe.

Outside Assistance

You don’t have to get yourself there alone. I encourage you to reach out for help. If it seems daunting to think about talking to a therapist, just spend a few minutes searching online or calling your insurance company to see who might accept your plan. The most important part is taking the next step, even if it is a small one. It can feel like progress just to start gathering some tools to do “the job” [any job, including recovering from a slump]. Any incremental improvement in how you feel brings you closer to being the true you who can and will get through a temporary slump.

Coaches are also champions of who you want to be. They help guide you through the process of acknowledging a challenge and finding a solution. They help you see your blind spots (habits or beliefs you are unaware are running automatically) that are silently sabotaging you from being in alignment with your highest self or keeping you from achieving what you aim to achieve. Coaches also help you see your hidden strengths. They bring forward the hidden talents that you don’t realize uniquely equip you to successfully deal with any situation that is holding you back.

Hypnosis is also an avenue worth exploring, as it leverages your own neurobiology in eliminating resistance to change while accelerating the adoption of belief systems and habits that dramatically shift results. Give it a try.

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Don’t feel bad if you don’t jump from hopelessness to invincibility. This is a practice and a process. Because we are not naturally inclined to change, it will take persistence.

Keep in mind that these are just a few of many techniques you can use to overcome a slump. When I share techniques like this, I am inviting you to experiment with something new, even if it makes you feel a bit skeptical.

If you are experiencing a slump at work, and the dip in performance is noted, traditional systems may make you inclined to cover your butt and defend or deflect instead of being transparent. This is unfortunate because it often leads to trickle-down toxicity that negatively impacts performance across teams. However, in a culture where authenticity is demonstrated and encouraged by leadership, slumps are less likely to decline into a downward spiral and they are less likely to cause short and long-term impacts on others. Even if your workplace traditionally promotes superficial success, I urge you to be honest. You might lose that job, but that working environment might just be what’s primarily responsible for your slump! You may not be able to perform at a high level while your workplace culture is out of alignment with your core values or while your position doesn’t fully leverage your innate talents or strengths.

It seems counterintuitive, but the sooner you can separate who you are from where you are, the sooner you will be able to embrace your own power and leverage help to recover from a slump.

Keep starting anew, no matter how many times you try without success. Remember your slump will not be permanent, because nothing in nature is permanent. Even the cells in your body completely renew after 7 years.

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Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

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