Rut manoeuvres: how to dig yourself out of the hole

I tried many different things to get it back. None of them seem to be working.

Ever heard of PACE? It stands for Primary, Alternative, Contingency and Emergency. These are types of plans you should have.

We all know what it feels like to be on an absolute tear for a day. Or a week. Everything we do goes flawlessly, every obstacle withers under our gaze, every problem reveals itself as an opportunity in disguise. On these days, we can do no wrong.

But what about the other days? The days where we feel like crap, where every difficulty seems like a mountain, where the smallest unexpected turn of events can send you into a spiral that takes hours to recover from?

I had one of those days yesterday. I checked my email early in the morning and had some bad news. At that point, I hadn’t read, or wrote or done anything. And I got nothing done. That bad news, while it wasn’t the-world-is-ending bad, threw me. It took me till the evening to completely reset.

How did I eventually recover? I used some of the strategies below. I call them “rut manoeuvres.” They are things I do on days where I’m in a hole, can’t focus, can’t work, can’t write, can’t think.

Sometimes, I need to do just one to get back into the groove, other days, like yesterday, I need to try every single one before they start to work. But work they do.

Awareness and acceptance – This concept comes from the discipline of mindfulness. Bhante Gunaratana talks about grasping and rejecting. We desperately reach for what we desire, and frantically push away what we do not. When we feel anxiety or frustration or procrastination setting in, the first reaction is to reject it. To label it as bad and unwanted and condemn ourselves for having it.

In fact, we should just acknowledge and look at it. It’s not bad. It’s not good. We shouldn’t judge it. It’s just how we are feeling at this moment. Take the time to examine how it feels, how long it is lasting, how strong or weak it is.

Go off the grid – Not in a Jason Bourne, undercover way. I mean disconnect. Denarrate. Remove yourself from Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and don’t check your emails. Why? Because, most of the time, social media makes you feel crap. It’s really good at making you compare your life to the lives of others, and seeing as how social media gives us the highlight reel not the play-by-play of other people’s lives, comparing your sorry state with the goings on of high fliers and life lovers is not a good idea.

Go outside – It’s easy to feel useless and worthless when you are cooped up. When every room you go in seems to mirror and remind you of your current state. It’s harder to stay that way when you are outside with the sun hitting your face, with the wind whipping your hair, with the rain gently falling, with the sound of birds and water and other people surrounding you.

Be a child – What do children do that we forget to do as we get older? Laugh. Play. Do one of those two things. Ideally combine the two. Whatever it is that makes you chuckle, whatever it is that you count as playing, do it. I like to watch stand up, or play with our dog. If you have a little one in the family, makes funny faces and roll around on the ground with them. It’s rejuvenating.

Sweat – Get on the bike. Go to the gym. Go for a swim. Strength train. Practice a martial art or play a sport. Sometimes to relax the mind, you must burden the body. Move.

Wash yourself – A nice way to decompress is to take a long shower, wash your hair, take your time massaging your hands and legs and torso. You’ll be surprised at how energising this simple activity is.

DON’T – Eat crappy food, sit and do nothing, or slob in front of the TV in an effort to “turn off.” These things just enhance and inflame the feelings of lethargy and anxiety that are the problem. You need to turn into your problem and do something about it, not turn off and wallow in self-pity.

Other people – Remember them? I know, it’s easy to get caught up in your own misery. Do a favour for someone. Buy someone a present. Text someone and say hi. Ask what problems they’re having and try to solve them. Think of someone close to you and how they make you feel and why. It’s hard to feel bad when we think of the people we care about.

Other people, part two – Don’t just think of them, get amongst them. Meet people and talk with them. Their spirit will drag yours upwards.

Read a story – Love or war or science fiction or fantasy or horror, it doesn’t matter. By diving deeply into the experience and trials of another, we can forget our own ills and be absorbed into another world. When we return, we discover that our problems were not as troublesome as we first thought.

The magic word – Most people think it’s please. I think they’re wrong. The magic word is gratitude. Say thank you. Create a list of ten things that you are thankful for right now. Be as specific as you can.

Brain dump – This is exactly what you think it is. Pull out a big piece of paper, or open a word document, or grab a notebook, or if, like me, you have a whiteboard, go to town. Everything is fair game. Scribble down whatever comes into your head. Another way to think of this is that you’ve eaten some dodgy food. What do you do? Your stomach rumbles, you feel queasy, you vomit. That’s what the aim is here. Vomit everything out of your mind.

Be an explorer – Everything we consume is curated for us. We have newsletters to send us the best articles, we have chart shows and playlists to bring us the best music, we have websites that rate products for us.

Curation is an essential part of our lives due to the insane amount of garbage out there, but sometimes it’s good not to be spoon fed. Take a risk and listen to a new band. Read the blog of someone you’ve never heard of. Learn about a person who looks interesting. Find an artist who’s work is kinda weird but good. Explore. It’s a big world.

Pretend to be someone you’re not – Right this moment, you’re not a happy, productive person. What would a happy, productive person be doing right now? They’d probably be smiling. Smile. They’d probably walk around with a bounce in their step. Bounce around. They might sing to themselves. Sing. Do the opposite of what you are feeling.

This too shall pass – whatever you’re feeling right now—anxiety, frustration, sadness, worthlessness, laziness—just remember that it will pass. Tomorrow you will feel differently.

Part of the bargain of living on this planet is that we have to experience the full spectrum of human emotion. This means that you can’t float around on a cloud of goodwill and happiness. There are going to be days where you want to cry, where you want to sit alone in a dark room, where you wonder, “why do I even bother?”

Do not wish them away. They are some of our most valuable experiences. By knowing the bad, we can more fully appreciate the good.

Pretending that life is all fluffy puppies and big smiles is not just ludicrous, it’s the opposite of human. We are not robots. We feel, we love, we lose, we cry, we laugh and everything in between.

It’s okay to feel bad for a day. Because tomorrow, we’ll probably feel something else.