What to Do When You're in a Slump


I love the word slump.


I find the sound of it is perfectly matched to its meaning. Just say it out loud (seriously, do it) and you might feel it.


But if you don’t geek-out on words the way I can, you probably identify with what it refers to, when either your energy or mood is so low you struggle to hold your posture. Such as, to slump over. Or, when your performance is lacking or stalled. This could be from a boring job, a bad boss, or unending demands that leave you feeling unmotivated, uninspired, or unfulfilled. Such as, you’ve hit a slump in your job.


Ever felt this way?


Of course you have, because slumps are an expected human experience. Which means there is nothing wrong with being in one. It is not a reflection of your competence or worth. We naturally meet these low points in our life and work.

The real differentiator is what we do when we’re in one.


Many of us get stuck in our head, ruminating on what we think we should be doing. We ponder, mull over, vent, complain, brainstorm, stare blankly at the TV or thumb through Instagram noticing how better off everyone else must be.


Notice, we’re not really doing anything, and our mindset isn’t helping much either. To get out of a slump, we must act and think differently. Here are three ways.


Walk

The inertia (or tendency to do nothing) of a slump is powerful. This doesn’t just tank our energy, but it depletes our creativity. Often what we need most in a slump are new ideas!


Go for walks. It’s common place to know that walking is good for our health but there’s so much more to it. Walking improves brain functioning, sleep, and decision-making. Better yet, it doesn’t matter if you walk inside or out and the benefits to sparking creativity don’t stop when the walk is over.


“Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after.” (Oppezzo and Schwartz, 2014)


If you don’t have a regular routine, begin one now. Start small and shoot for consistency. 10-15 minutes a day is a great start but don’t limit it there. Mix it up. Maybe take a 15-minute walk in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch, and 10 in the afternoon.


This isn’t heart-pumping, power walking, either. Call it a stroll if that sounds more enticing. Whatever it takes, begin and don’t stop after a day or two. The key here is consistency that ultimately creates space for new ideas to emerge.


Seek Inspiration

Think through your life to the moments that have provided you with inspiration. Who were you with? What were you doing? Where were you? This exercise reminds us of what’s motivating and meaningful to us.


Were you hiking through nature, eating delicious food, engaged in stimulating conversation, alone and reading something fascinating? Maybe you were creating art, singing, swimming, or riding a horse?


The point here is to spark genuine positive emotion through your past experiences. This is not slapping on a smile and saying, “I’m happy today!” That’s baloney and won’t help you.


Instead, reflect on past inspirations.


When we are inspired or reminded of what inspires us, genuine positive emotions are generated like hope, excitement, confidence, relief, optimism, calm, or certainty. When we feel these emotions, we are more likely to meet new people, take a risk, or start something fresh.


This is based on the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions by Barbara Frederickson. “Positive emotions leave us free to be creative, playful, curious, and experimental, and from these behaviors flow opportunities to gain new physical, social, and intellectual resources.”


So, seek what has inspired you and generate positive emotions. Likely, your best next step to get over this slump awaits.


Talk to Yourself (the Right Way)

We all have a voice-track in our head and what we say to ourselves matters. We can make a direct impact on a slump (and our well-being) through self-talk.


Ethan Kross, author of Chatter: The voice in our head, why it matters, and how to harness it, discussesthe impact of shifting from using first-person “I” to using second person “you” or third-person “he” or “she” in our self-talk.


His research has found that using “distanced self-talk”, speaking in the third person to ourselves, creates emotional space. This space promotes rational thinking and wise reasoning. It is as though we stand outside ourselves to experience and feel the situation as though it is happening to someone else.


Try it on. Close your office door or sit in the car to speak to yourself out loud and in third person. Advise yourself just like you would for a trusted friend, favorite colleague, or cherished family member who might be in a slump.


For me, it might sound like,

“Amy, it’s ok. You’re in a slump. It happens to everyone. Go for a walk at noon today, a new idea will come to you.”


Kross’s research shows that with this approach we are indeed more likely to take the actions that benefit us most.


A slump is a natural and expected experience for all. The good news is that they are almost always temporary. Taking walks, generating positive emotions, and talking to ourselves the right way are all ways to get past one.


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Until next time!

 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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