It’s amazing how much time can go by when we doubt, fear and hesitate to make decisions. What starts as a one or two day struggle can quickly balloon to weeks and even months. We may need an awakening — some change agent that provides a spark to get us going. After all, when our approach isn’t working, it’s a wise idea to shift course and try some alternatives. This is how we grow.
I’ve found myself in a springtime funk, partially set on by allergies and fueled by some struggles with doubt. I’ve found myself playing the “What if” game a bit too much about future plans. This is common and to do so is human. To some extent, we all fear the unknown and we can all get concerned about what’s coming up next in our lives.
The difference between those who live with greater mental health and clear mind and those who struggle with clarity is the conscious choice to focus energy on the moment and immerse yourself in the things that matter most to you. When we stop living for today and for the causes, things and people that we love and inspire us, we wander and drift toward worry about the future.
You’ve probably gone through a rut or down period before. Finding myself in the midst of one, I felt compelled to better understand why I got here. And better yet, what to do about it. I turn to research, empirical evidence and making sense of my own experiences during these times. I also find it’s better to talk things out and think big picture about the life we truly want. Not what we fear or what we think we want.
I’ve synthesized my thoughts and provided five ways all of us can eliminate the time of each down period or rut we go through, and to power forward with the advantage of lessons learned and personal growth. Here are five ways to become more productive and happier mentally by minimizing these downtimes:
1. Change your surroundings
Many of the toughest, most critical decisions that I’ve made in my life have come after a time of self-reflection or simple relaxation. Time where I got away from my primary surroundings and allowed new, fresh information and thoughts to enter my mind. I needed this geography shift. It served as a mental cleansing and re-calibration of my thoughts and desires.
One way to grow in this area is simply by spending some time outside in nature, particularly in solitude. Take this thought from a study by Stanford University professor, Gregory N. Bratman: “In a study, led by Bratman, time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.” Source: Stanford University
We should never underestimate the importance of physical exercise. This includes cardiovascular exercise, weight lifting, and any methods we can take to increase our heart rate, improve our muscular strength and push ourselves to new physical limits. This helps us increase our energy, which is vitally important for living a more focused, successful life.
Dr. Scott McGinnis, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School found the following:
“Regular exercise associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety … it slows cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia. “There is good evidence that exercise behaves like medicine to improve brain health and thinking skills.”
3. Talk it out
We benefit tremendously when we talk about our issues, feelings and emotions with someone we trust. In my life, those people have been my wife, my mother, brothers and father. I’ve been blessed to have a great support system of family. For you, it could be those people, but it could also be a friend or trusted adviser in academia or the workplace.
There’s immense therapeutic value and growth waiting for us when we open up about our problems. We’re interdependent creatures meant to share our experiences and situations with others. Not only will we grow, but in the process we can help others grow. Don’t internalize your situation at the risk of your mental well-being. That’s not smart or tough. It’s foolish.
4. Get checked out
Sometimes, our stubbornness or lack of action gets in the way. We may be experiencing something physical, mental, emotional, social. Could be that something else is bogging you down. If you never ask or seek help, you’ll never know. We were never meant to have all the answers or cures ourselves. We need others to objectively ask us questions and understand how to help us.
Having the discipline to take the first step to get help is the sign of a courageous, growing person. In fact, it’s within this idea for seeking help that we are able to ascertain the importance of what is truly good for us, and why it’s so important to resist things that are bad for us. These bad things included wallowing in doubt, fear or continuing down bad thought paths due to a rut or downtime.
“According to a 2015 study out of Florida State University, participants with lots of willpower — the ones who said they have “iron self-discipline” and resist things that are bad for them — also take more steps to minimize the temptation they encounter in daily life. Source: Greater Good Magazine.”
5. Try something new to change your daily routine
I’ll start out this lesson with a curve ball — sake for the sake of change is pointless. When you have a routine or way of doing things that works, there’s no need to change. But when you’re in a rut, not feeling well and unsure of why things are the way they are, you have to seek out answers. You have to explore new opportunities and processes that will inspire you.
You have to change.
Many of you follow a daily routine, whether you know it or not. You get up at a set time. Brush your teeth, walk the dog, make your breakfast, etc. Then you’re out the door. Do you have a game plan? Do you take the time to ask yourself whether your routine is actually working? It may not be. And you may need this rut or down time to help you make sense of that.
Your productivity will increase exponentially when you become more focused around root causes for why you’re not succeeding. Once you know the basis for why you do what you do — and why you’re not living the life you want — the picture will become clearer for how to begin to build a new routine that will yield results. Don’t let your routine consume you. Be willing to change when you know there’s something deeper and bolder out there.
And I’ll finish with this:
Think about what matters most to you — energize and inspire your mind to think more passionately and creatively. Don’t get bogged down by a daily routine or way of doing things that is no longer working. Think about solutions. Truly practice deep thinking that’s focused on solving problems. You’ll find your answers a lot sooner.
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