How to Move Forward? Stop.

How to Move Forward if “Letting Go” Makes You Anxious

As a personal life coach, I talk to a lot of driven go-getters. My Denver life coaching clients often have an insatiable appetite for constant-and-never-ending personal growth, achievement, and self-improvement. They are truly amazing, talented, and incredibly successful people with an unquenchable thirst for forward progress and success. Does this sound like you, too? 

First of all: thank you. The world as we know it exists because of people like you. Your motivation, your drive, your vision, and your optimism are the psychic fuel that runs the engines of our civilization. Thank you for being you.

And…if you are like most strong, naturally driven, and forward-focused people, there are also not-fun times when your energy flags, your focus becomes diffuse, and your wheels spin. And spin. And spin. And for naturally focused, driven, achievement-oriented people that “down time” can be very anxiety-provoking experience. 

In fact, many of my coaching clients show up for help when they have this experience because they feel like something is wrong. They’ve lost their sparkle and their clear sense of purpose. To an uber-achiever, this can feel like they are losing themselves, or even falling apart.

Sometimes, if you want to get ahead, you have to let things go.

Of course, if you are achievement-oriented, your natural instincts are to hit it harder. Make positive changes. Buckle down. Get up earlier. Grind away until you manifest the force of your will. But during certain periods, you just can’t gain traction. You stay busy — to everyone else you look as productive as ever — but on the inside you feel the anxiety of mediocrity.

Feeling so listless can feel like doom for a go-getter. It feels like your endless drive has stolen your car, and absconded to parts unknown…with your optimism riding shotgun and inspiration sprawled across the back seat. You imagine them speeding down an arrow straight highway through the desert, windows open and radio blaring…while you sit at your desk and think about things that you should probably be doing but don’t feel like today. You probably criticize (perhaps even berate) yourself for your self-indulgent lethargy, but no matter how sternly you talk to yourself it doesn’t matter. You just don’t care that much anymore.

What to Do When Your Get-Up-And-Go Has Got-Up-And-Went: Let Go

I myself am a recovering perfectionist and have an achievement orientation too, so I will wince with you as you read this:

Sometimes, if you want to get ahead, you have to let things go.

And by letting things go, I mean to stop trying so hard for a while. Visualize yourself shoving all the scribbled notes with the grand plans in a drawer, clearing your calendar, saying no to everything and everyone, putting down the quad-latte, and just allowing yourself to do the bare minimum for a bit. Coasting. Being.

My guess is that idea might feel really scary. Unwise. Dangerous even. Here’s the problem: if I told you that the path to salvation was to get up earlier, stay up later, implement some novel new strategy to get more things done in less time, do a draconian cleanse, or retrain your brain to think more successfully you would probably like that. It makes you feel energized and hopeful, and like there was something you could DO to turn things around. But we both know that you’ve tried that. In fact, you’ve probably spent years getting up before dawn, sacrificing your sleep, self-care, and possibly even relationships in the service of getting things done. Continuing to grind away is not always the solution. It’s time to do something radically different: like stopping…for a while.

This is not just my opinion. Check out a compelling article that was posted in Scientific American about the benefits of turning your brain off periodically to your memory, creativity, and emotional wellbeing. Many, many research studies have shown that your brain simply requires downtime in order to consolidate information, achieve clarity, and work efficiently. The author of the article puts it so beautifully:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.” — Ferris Jabr

And… as great as it sounds in theory, resting the mind can be extremely difficult for over-achievers to actually DO. I believe that part of the reason for this skepticism is the fact that truthfully, sometimes working to the brink of exhaustion actually is the solution. There are seasons of achievement that are activity intense. If you are actively launching a start-up, finishing a dissertation, or embarking on a new chapter, there is often a lot to do. 

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In the springtime, farmers really do have to work their butts off for 16 hours a day to plow fields, spread fertilizer, plant seeds, and get things going. But there is an ebb and flow to productive activity. Other phases of achievement are like a “tending” phase, where precarious, fragile plates are kept spinning in the air: farmers watch, water, keep the bugs off, pull weeds, fret about the weather, and let the grow-ee do it’s thing. 

Then there is the necessary insanity of the harvest time, when farmers are back to driving tractors around in the wee hours of the morning before the sun comes up, pulling things out of the ground frantically at just the right moment – not too soon and not too late. There are seasons of busy-ness for everyone. Accountants have tax season. Families have newborn babies. Students have the end of the semester. Real-estate agents have summer. Everyone has big explosions of necessary activity sometimes.

But it’s easy to overlook a crucial, necessary part of the growth cycle: dormancy.

In the fallow, still period of winter nothing obvious is happening. Even the most on-the-ball farmers are laying around eating Cheetos and watching Deadliest Catch reruns while the soil in their fields gently decomposes itself, gets churned by worms, and the rain falls and freezes. Nothing is happening, but everything is happening. The earth is doing the necessary work of preparing itself for another burst of growth and glory.

Your creative process requires dormancy too. You might not think of yourself or what you’re doing as being “creative” in the oil-paint and poetry sense, but everyone who makes things happen is a creator. When you are engaged in any act of creation, from starting a business, to starting a family, to leading a team, to moving ahead towards distant goals, and making your inner vision a reality, you are bringing things into being. You are making something out of nothing, just like Michalangelo chipping David free from his marble encasement, or like a tiny tomato seed that miraculously pushes out a gigantic, sprawling bush with dozens of juicy fruits with nothing but a little water, dirt, and air.

To unleash true generative power upon the world requires intervals of deep rest.

Why? Because when you are constantly pounding away on the same problems with the same tools, you do not have the headspace to entertain new ideas. When you are ceaselessly doing, and doing, and doing you are often working yourself deeper into the same rut that you’ve been running in for weeks, months, or even years. It gets old and boring. And over time, your energy, inspiration and motivation flags and fails as a result.

Expansion requires space. When you are constantly doing and thinking and running around in the hamster wheel of your life without stopping once in a while to look at the bigger picture and regroup, you may be “getting things done” but you are not really moving forward. Even as fast as you can run, nothing is changing. You’re treading water and exhausting yourself without getting any closer to a meaningful destination.

It can feel catastrophic for driven-people to think about stopping. Overachievers (even if they know that it’s not rationally true) emotionally feel like letting go and coasting for a little while will lead to total collapse and something terrible will happen.

But your full creative potential will be blocked until you pause long enough for fresh creative energy to refuel you.

So, what do I mean by really resting and letting things go for a while? I don’t mean “vacationing,” particularly not the kind of snorkeling amongst barracudas/trekking up mountains/zip-lining through jungles/marathon-related vacations uber-achievers tend to have.

I mean spending at least a couple of weeks (yes, WEEKS) doing the bare minimum that you need to do to keep your life going, and allowing your physiological, psychological, and emotional stress levels to return to baseline. 

Ask yourself what the basic-basics really mean for you and your family:

  1. Eating,
  2. Sleeping,
  3. Spending as much time engaged in non-productive activity as possible (i.e., “Playing”),
  4. Being with people you like,
  5. Giving yourself permission to spontaneously do whatever you feel like, in the moment,
  6. Doing as little work as you possibly can get away with and still meet your responsibilities and not create consequences.

It’s such a paradox, but it’s true: disengaging and not thinking about or doing anything productive at all for a little while will wipe your slate clean and create fertile ground for new growth to occur. 

After you’ve been resting for a few weeks you’ll notice that you have little flashes of genuine inspiration and enthusiasm again. Authentic new energy, inspiration, and motivation will start nuzzling into your soul like tender daffodil shoots pushing out of the frozen, dead ground. You’ll know when resting time is over because you’ll have a new vision for where you’re going, and feel genuinely excited to get back to work.

You can’t make creativity happen. You cannot chase down inspiration and catch it with a net. You can’t tackle motivation and make it submit to your will. Cultivating motivation, inspiration, and enthusiasm––and sticking with those feelings––requires getting comfortable with the paradox of letting it all go. When you place your trust in the restorative power of doing nothing, they’ll show back up on their own accord when you’ve prepared the soil and given them space to grow.

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Move Forward? Stop.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. That’s The Lemon Drops with I Live In The Spring Time from their album Boil The Kettle, Mother which I’m not even going to try to analyze. Anyway, I thought that song felt appropriate because it is spring. The time of new beginnings and fresh starts. That is what we’re talking about on today’s episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. How to renew your fresh energy and enthusiasm for your projects and grand plans so that you can get yourself back on track and stay there as the summertime progresses. If you haven’t heard of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast before, I’m so pleased that you found me. I’m, as I mentioned, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. My background, I am trained as a psychologist. I’m also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and I’m a board-certified life coach. 

I like to say I specialize in helping people find love, happiness, and success. Those are my three domains. I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching which is based in Denver, Colorado. We also, at this point, do a ton of work with people all over the US and internationally through online video. If you want to learn more about me or our practice, go to GrowingSelf.com. Check that out. Also while you’re there, don’t forget, I’m on different pages of the site. I’ve prepared all kinds of different activities, and free advice, and worksheets, and things for you because a core mission of mine, the reason why I started doing these podcasts, is just to provide helpful information for people. We’ve all been there Googling around for answers and looking for some advice to help us at a critical moment. I tried to organize my website in such a way that it’s all there for you. 

If you’re going through a bad breakup, or if your relationship is feeling hard right now, or if you’re looking to just kind of feel better and get control over your head again, go to the website. If you go to the love section, you’ll see a sign-up to get some free advice on how to start improving your relationship today. In the happiness section, there’s tons of free advice there. You can even sign up to take the first class of my Online Happiness Class for free which is a little booster shot to give you some new ideas about changes that you can make in the way that you think, and the way that you feel, and the way that you behave. Certainly, if you’re interested in success, go to that section of the website and you’ll find some good advice on how to get back on track and start meeting your goals. 

If you’re interested in improving your career, or even getting better results when you’re dating or looking to find love, and even just helping yourself feel you’re growing into the person you want to be. All that is there for you GrowingSelf.com. Check that out. Also while you’re there, and if you’re interested, in the Denver area, we have exactly two spots left open for the May class of our Lifetime of Love which is a relationship class that we teach. It’s an in-person class. It’s not available online but if you’re in Denver, it’s fantastic. It’s a great way for couples to kind of come together, learn some new ways of connecting and communicating, and it’s a little less intrusive than being in marriage counseling. You don’t have to share. It’s not a group. It’s really literally a class. You’ll come in, learn some new ideas, get worksheets, homework so check that out. At this point, we have one spot left open for our July class so if you want to get involved, sign up ASAP. Okay. That’s enough about me and my stuff. 

Losing Energy and Motivation

Dr. Lisa: Let’s talk about our topic at hand which is what to do with yourself when you’re feeling you are just burnt out, frazzled, not motivated. We’ve all been there, right? This I can certainly relate. I think I’m kind of coming out of one of these periods myself. As a life coach, as an executive coach, and also just being me, I talk to a lot of people and a lot of them are really driven go-getters. A big subset of what I do is executive coaching, life coaching. My clients, they often have, I think, an insatiable appetite, almost, for this constant and never-ending growth, and achievement, and self-improvement. I think that’s why they come to me or anybody really that seeks coaching. It’s because they feel like they could be achieving at a higher level. With many of my clients, I’m blown away by what they are able to achieve. So many people that I talk to are just jaw-droppingly talented and really incredibly successful already. 

I think part of what makes them so successful is that they do have this unquenchable thirst for progress and success. They feel like anything is possible and they’re driven to make this happen. I think part of how they continue staying on track and really meeting their goals is by enlisting the support of a coach. Also, there’s a lot of other things that they’re doing to feel like they’re achieving. My guess is if you’re so many of my clients, this probably feels familiar. That you are ready to kind of unleash yourself on the world and make things happen. First of all, I’d to say thank you. The world, as we know it, I feel exists because of people you. That are really driven, and have this vision, and this creative power, and this hope that you really can change your little corner of the world and make it better. I think that the world continues to evolve and our collective civilization progresses because of the energy of people like you. 

Thank you just for being you and for having that drive. The gift that if whether you’re working on a business, or whether you want your family to be the best it can be, or your community, or your cause. Activism. The energy that you put into those things really does make an impact. I certainly appreciate it. I feel part of the purpose of this podcast is kind of my own activism. It’s a way of, again, connecting with people who are looking for help and support in that moment. It is kind of a service project for me. I get that and I appreciate that. If, again, you are normal unlike so many people that I talk to, I think it’s very true for naturally strong, naturally driven, forward-focused people who are always pushing forward, there are going to be times when your energy flags and your focus is not a laser beam anymore. It starts to feel more diffuse. It feels you’re spinning your wheels. 

The first thing I’d you to know is that this is a normal and expected part of being a human being even if you are an amazing overachiever, and you get so many things done, and you’re fabulous. Everybody goes through periods where their energy dips. We have different triggers, I think, for times that this happens. I know for me personally, I tend to feel worn out. If I’ve been really going at it hard for a long time, I just start to feel crispy. You know what I mean? This happens to everybody. What I’ve noticed in both myself and my clients is that these periods when you do feel you’re not achieving at the level that you’re used to when you are spinning your wheels, when you’re not making progress, when you feel kind of apathetic even. You just don’t feel it. You don’t have that passion. You’ve lost your sparkle. 

That can be very anxiety-provoking for people that are used to living very passionately and with great intention. In fact, I’d say a significant portion of my life coaching or executive coaching clients actually show up for help when they’re having this experience because they feel like something’s wrong. They’ve lost their sense of purpose. They feel kind of like they’re spinning. They don’t have that same focus, that same drive. It can be very troubling. They feel they’re losing themselves even. They think “Am I still doing this? What’s wrong with me?” 

What to Do When You Lose Your Drive and Focus

Dr. Lisa: It’s such a paradox because, with a lot of my clients, particularly the super achievement-oriented ones, I have to work really hard to impart some new ideas on ways to help themselves in a meaningful way because the natural instinct is to hit it harder. If you’re not getting results, if you feel you’re spinning, the natural inclination of a super achievement-oriented person is to buckle down. Get up earlier, stay up later, grind away until you can manifest the force of your will, right? And so they try harder, and harder, and harder. Sometimes, just working themselves into an emotional frenzy in the process. What I am here to tell you today is what I tell them which is that there are certain seasons in life where you can’t move forward. Where the engines of creativity have really ground to a halt. 

Your only real source of forward progress and of healing is to do the opposite of what you know how to do which is stop trying and lay off the crazy productivity sauce for a little while. Which can be really hard because achievement-oriented people, that make them feel very uncomfortable. What I see a lot of times is that even my super achievers, if they’re going through a really hard time, or they’re not feeling it, they’re not feeling the passion, they’re still staying really busy. They’re getting things done. To everybody, they look just as productive as ever but on the inside, they feel like they’re being mediocre. Like they’re just calling it in. That can precipitate a real crisis for them because again, feeling really listless can feel like doom for a go-getter. They’re used to doing what they say and kind of staying on track. During these periods, where it’s kind of diffuse, again, it can feel extremely scary even for them. 

A lot of times, I don’t know if this is true for you, but for many of my clients, they start criticizing or even berating themselves for not being able to get things done. So then there’s this period of apathy, and then they start being really mean to themselves, and again create more anxiety or even depression can start to bloom around this. Psychologically, this can turn into bad stuff if you don’t handle it appropriately. 

Difference between a Fallow Period and Depression

A couple of ideas. First of all, there is a difference between a fallow period where you aren’t feeling as passionate as you usually are. Again, this is part of the ebb and flow of being a creative, achieving, productive person. On one level, we have to embrace these periods and take care of ourselves through them so that we come out the other side in a really healthy space with new motivation, new passion, new ambitions because it’s a beautiful thing. There’s a difference between that kind of normal process and depression. I’m just going to take a second and just share a little bit about the difference so that you can do a little mini self-assessment to figure out what’s going on. Again, normal to have downtimes when you’re not really feeling as intuitive as usual. Depression though is a little bit different. 

Depression is accompanied by, oftentimes, really sad or hopeless feelings. It’s not just that you’re not into it anymore and you’re kind of like, “I don’t want to.” It’s really feeling bad emotions. Oftentimes feeling really exhausted as being part of it. I’ll tell you, the key feature of depression is when your inner dialogue changes. There are very distinct cognitive distortions, is the technical term, that go hand in hand with depression. It actually changes the way that your brain works. When you’re going through a depressive episode, there’s a lot of black and white thinking. “If I don’t do everything perfectly, I’ve screwed it all up and it’s not even worth doing.” Overgeneralization. “Well, I didn’t get anything done today so what’s the point. I can’t do anything at all.” Personalization. “If I were a better person, I would be able to do this.” 

Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind. If you hear a lot of this really negative kind of down internal talk, that might be a clue that depression is actually active. Particularly if it’s accompanied by a lot of bad feelings ruminating about negative things. That’s a different deal. I have done some podcasts in the past about depression and how to help yourself with it so I would encourage you to check that out. What I’m talking about today is really a different thing. Again, it is just a natural downtime where you don’t feel as much energy, you don’t care as much as you usually do, and you just don’t have that same passion to get things done. Okay. That’s just my little disclaimer there. 

How to Get Out of a Fallow Period

Dr. Lisa: Here’s the strategy. To change things for real is to go ahead and embrace this fallow period. Practice not doing anything for a while. Allow yourself, give yourself permission to just let things go. By letting things go, I mean to stop trying so hard for a while. That you hit it so hard, you work so hard, always going, going, going. Give yourself permission to just stop. All the notes with the grand plans and the spreadsheets, put them away. Don’t look at them. Clear your calendar of anything not essential. Say no to everything and everybody that wants you to do something that you don’t really have to do. Put down the quad latte. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to do the bare minimum for a while and just coast. Just be. Again, if you’re an achievement-oriented person, your inclination is to probably turn off this podcast right this very second because I’m a whack job, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. 

Again, there’s anxiety that comes from this idea because it feels dangerous, I think, for people that are used to really working very hard. It feels like a ne’er-do-welll. It feels irresponsible, right? To just let things go. Again, the problem is that if I told you that the path to salvation was to get up earlier, some new exercise routine, or do some kind of cleanse, or some new app that would help you be more productive, you probably love that, right? Because that would make you feel energized, and hopeful, and sort of congruent with your belief system but we both know that you’ve tried that. Again, a lot of my coaching clients, particularly executives, I have to just pry that idea out of their cold dead fingers, practically. That’s the only path to improving them and getting their passion back because when you do that, you sacrifice your sleep, you sacrifice your self-care, you have pushed other priorities aside probably to get where you are. 

You’ve done that and that you’re experiencing this now again it’s like, “What the heck is the problem?” My new idea is that continuing to grind away and do the same things that you always have done isn’t the solution. It’s really time to do something radically different like stop if it helps you. I know that I’m an information person and I don’t just believe everything that I read on the internet or in some podcast with some shrink. Well-meaning ideas abound, but it’s important for me to ground the things that I practice and that I teach my clients and research. You might want to check out a recent article — well, I don’t know how recent it is but it’s very compelling — in the Scientific American about the benefits of turning your brain off periodically and that this does to your memory, creativity, and also emotional well being. 

The punchline here is that there are many research studies that have shown that your brain simply requires downtime above and beyond just sleeping in order to do things like consolidate information, achieve clarity, or even work efficiently. If you want to check out this article, there’s a link to it on the post for this podcast on my website GrowingSelf.com. Check it out. I’ll read you this one quote from the author Ferris Jobber, I think is how you pronounce it. He says, “Downtime replenishes the brain stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance, and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

I love that. This idea of just unhooking your mind from all of the tasks, and the to-dos, and the big plans, and just letting it be. It actually does something that is almost essential for our soul, really, that goes above and beyond. Even just getting things done but really helps us continue to grow as the people that we are, and help you stay on track, and kind of the greater scheme of things. 

Difficulty in Taking a Break and How to Deal with It

Again, as great as all this sounds in theory, resting the mind can be difficult for overachievers to do even though I think there’s becoming more and more of a precedent. Some of the big techie companies, Google and Facebook, they have napping rooms and things like that. There are kind of thought leaders that are already putting these ideas into practice. For everyday people, I think we are socialized. Particularly our American way, right? It’s to go non-stop. I think that part of the reason for this, particularly among very successful people why it’s really hard to do this, is because sometimes, working yourself to the brink of exhaustion, as much as I hate to say this, you actually do need to do that. There are periods of time where you’re studying for finals, or you’re doing a startup, or you’re in some kind of very time-intense situation. 

There are seasons of achievement that are just very activity intense and putting in a bunch of time and energy is actually the path to fixing it. I think if you’ve lived through this a time or two as I have where you really do have a ton of things to do, that got you results and it feels that’s what you need to do. It’s true in all kinds of different industries. Accountants have tax season, farmers have springtime where they’re plowing things and planting things but I would like to submit that there are seasons for everything. Even for farmers, there are times of the year where they really do have to get out of bed at 3:30 in the morning, and haul their butts off into the fields, and do things, and certainly harvest time, rushing around and pulling things out of the ground. That is just an objective truth. 

That if they’re sitting around resting during those times of the year, they’re going to experience consequences. There’s a time and a place for it. It’s also true that there is a season of dormancy for farming even where it’s crucial that we let the earth rest for a while. Every farmer in the world is sitting around watching Deadliest Catch reruns for all of January while the ground kind of freezes, and thaws, and earthworms churn through it. It prepares the soil for this next growth season. It is for you and your life. I think that we tend to glorify and prioritize the activity phases of our progress and minimize how crucial and necessary seasons of dormancy are. What you will find, like that Scientific American article that I referenced in a lot of other places, are people advocating for regular daily or weekly rest. 

Not working in the evenings, which I’m all for. You have to turn your brain off for a couple hours every night. Some very productive people have a problem doing that. Certainly resting periods in your week like Friday afternoon, Saturday, Sunday. Really taking a Sabbath, not necessarily in the religious sense, but in the sense where you don’t do anything. You just allow yourself to be for a couple of days and to do that regularly can really maintain yourself. I would to suggest that there are also periods where if you have been feeling kind of low energy, and uninspired, and not creative, and passionless for a while, you might need to do something more drastic, which is really allowing yourself to go through a full season of dormancy, which is more than an evening more than a weekend. 

Allow yourself to take some substantial time to let yourself rest on a deeper level because the creative process, any kind of growth process, it requires dormancy. You might not think of yourself or what you’re doing is being creative in the oil paint and poetry sense but I believe that everyone who makes things happen in this world is a creator. Any act of creation from starting a business, to starting a family, to leading a team, to any kind of moving ahead towards distant goals and making your inner vision a reality, you are bringing things into being. You’re making something out of nothing and it requires an enormous amount of energy to do that. In order to unleash your true generative power on the world, it requires intervals of deep rest. I think that one of the reasons why these resting seasons, dormancy seasons are so important is because, and I know you can relate to this. 

I certainly feel this way sometimes. It’s when I’m constantly pounding away at the same problems with the same tools. You’re kind of putting one foot in forward in front of the other for days, and days, and days. You don’t really have the headspace to entertain new ideas when you’re ceaselessly doing, and doing, and doing. You’re often just working yourself deeper and deeper into the same rut that you’ve been running in for weeks, or months, or sometimes even years if you’re not careful. It gets old and boring after a while. Over time, your energy, and inspiration, and motivation will flag and fail as a result. I think that there are physical reasons for this. I think that adrenal fatigue, I don’t know, the research is kind of mixed on whether or not that’s a real thing but certainly, to be in a kind of constant heightened state of alertness and work will wear you out. 

Also neurologically, your brain stops functioning as well. Expansion just requires space. When you’re constantly doing, and thinking, or running around on the hamster wheel of your life without stopping once in a while to look at the bigger picture and regroup, you might still be getting things done, but you’re not really moving forward in a really meaningful or substantial way. You’re just kind of treading water and exhausting yourself without getting closer to a meaningful destination. While it can feel catastrophic for driven people to think about stopping, just know that your full creative potential will become blocked at some point unless you pause long enough for fresh creative energy to refuel you. 

How to Take a Break

Dr. Lisa: I want to talk for a second about what exactly it is that I’m proposing. I’m not talking about going on a vacation in the classic sense because honestly, this is true for a lot of my clients, and I think even me sometimes, going on a vacation is more work than just staying home. Particularly the way that some of my clients vacation. They’re going on tracks of mountains, or snorkeling among barracudas, and zip-lining through jungles, and doing some marathons. It’s not exactly restful. Again, it’s achievement-oriented, it’s purposeful, it makes them feel good, it’s exciting but it’s not the kind of rest that I’m talking about. What I am talking about is giving yourself permission to spend at least a couple of weeks depending on how down you feel, okay? But emotionally and mentally prepare to give yourself a couple of weeks doing the bare minimum that you need to do to keep your life going. 

Allowing your physiological, psychological, and emotional stress levels to return all the way to baseline. Take a minute and think about what the basics, I mean basics, really mean for you. Eating, sleeping, taking basic care of your home. Doing dishes, and laundry, and sweeping the floor, and just kind of maintaining your life, feeding the kids, obviously. Doing the things you have to do. Make sure everybody gets to school, okay? It’s not a free license to drop out entirely but what are the minimums, okay? Can your kid eat school lunch for two weeks instead of you lovingly making handcrafted, artisan, organic whatever for their school lunch every day. I don’t know what it is. Tone it back a few notches on all different levels of your life. Spending more time, actually, all the time you can, engaged in nonproductive activity aka playing. No goals, no destination, no particular thing that you’re trying to get done. Just being. 

Giving yourself permission to spontaneously do whatever you feel like in the moment as long as it’s appropriate. Not making a whole ton of plans for Saturday where you have three different playdates and whatever. Just like “What do I feel like? I’m going to wake up and then I’m going to think about what I feel like.” That kind of thing. In the meantime, doing as little work as you possibly can get away with and still meeting your responsibilities. You don’t want to create consequences for yourself. If you don’t have, where you can take time away from your job, totally understand that, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. You might not be able to, okay? But getting things done, answering the basic emails, making payroll, those kinds of things, but not forging ahead with big, new marketing things, or new product development, or some of the other ideas that you have. Just letting yourself tread water for a little while. 

Effects of Taking a Break

I know it sounds such a paradox but it’s true that engaging, disengaging rather, engaging with the rest of your life and not thinking about this big forward push even just for a couple of weeks, it wipes the slate clean. You are creating fertile ground for new growth to occur and it’s really kind of a leap of faith to do this, particularly for the planning. Like “I need to know what’s going to happen when” type of person because you’re really trusting in your own healing process. It can be very threatening, again, to just kind of step in this void of letting things go for a while until you start to feel better because I think it’s hard for people that are used to making things happen to trust that something just can happen without them willing it into being. Here’s what you can expect. 

It’s that when you let yourself rest, when you let your mind kind of come loose from all the knots and snarls that have been occupying it, and your big plan for the day is eating breakfast, and then maybe cleaning up your kitchen, and getting to work at 10, and doing what you need to do, and leaving as soon as you can, again, without creating consequences for yourself, and I don’t know what kind of situation you’re in. The least that you can do and still kind of not get in trouble with it. Having these very restful weekends where you’re laying around, reading a book, laying on a chair in the backyard, letting the kids run around, and not cleaning even as much as you usually would. Once you do that for a while, you’ll notice that you will start to have these little flashes of genuine inspiration and enthusiasm again. You’re not forcing it, you’re not chasing them down. They just start to happen. 

You will notice that authentic new energy, and inspiration, and motivation will start nuzzling their way into your soul like little daffodil shoots pushing up out of the frozen dead ground after winter. They start to grow inside of you and you’ll know that your resting time is over because you’ll start to feel excited again. You’ll be thinking about things that make you happy. You’ll feel fresh, you’ll feel rested, you’ll be kind of restless almost to get back to work and you’ll be excited for that. Again, this isn’t something that you can make happen. You have to let go, step back for a while, and give this kind of magical part of yourself time and energy to regenerate. Just know that creativity, think about the old idea of the muses, right? That they were kind of their own beings. Creative people would talk to their muses and the muses were responsible for bringing them their ideas and their inspiration. 

They would have their own whims and kind of come and go as they pleased. Maybe think about it in that kind of way. That you cannot make creativity happen. You can’t chase down inspiration and catch it with a net and you can’t tackle motivation and make it submit to your will. We can only cultivate motivation, and inspiration, and enthusiasm by putting our faith in the periodic restorative power of doing nothing that prepares this fertile soil for them to show back up on their own accord when we have created the right environment for them to thrive. Know that this isn’t a one-time deal. There are seasons, ebbs and flows, ups and downs. There are going to be seasons where you have lots of energy, and lots of ideas, and lots of passion, and then, there will be other seasons that that kind of drifts away for a while. There’s nothing wrong when that happens. It is to be expected. 

I hope that today’s podcast gives you some insight into what’s going on and helps you make a plan for cultivating them back into your life. I hope that this was helpful to you and be brave, take the plunge into rest. Let me know how it goes for you. I will be back in touch with another episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. All right. Take care.

[Outro Song: I Live In The Spring Time by The Lemon Drops]


Episode Highlights

  • Losing Energy and Motivation
    • If you are a strong, naturally driven, forward-focused person who is always pushing forward, there are going to be times when your energy flags and your focus would not be as good anymore.
    • Everybody goes through periods where their energy dips.
  • Tendencies When You Lose Your Drive and Focus
    • On the occasion where you lose your drive and focus, the natural instinct is to hit it harder. 
    • Many start criticizing or even berating themselves for not being able to get things done. This can lead to psychological problems.
  • Difference between a Fallow Period and Depression
    • Depression is accompanied by sad or hopeless feelings. It’s not just that you’re not into it anymore. 
    • When you’re going through a depressive episode, there’s a lot of black and white thinking, overgeneralization, and personalization.
    • A fallow period is a natural downtime where you don’t feel as much energy, you don’t care as much as you usually do, and you don’t have that same passion to get things done.
  • How to Get Out of a Fallow Period
    • The strategy is to go ahead and embrace this fallow period. 
    • Continuing to grind away and do the same things that you always have done isn’t the solution. 
    • A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.
  • Difficulty in Taking a Break and How to Deal with It
    • Taking a break is difficult because sometimes, particularly among very successful people, working yourself to the brink of exhaustion is needed. 
    • We tend to glorify and prioritize the activity phases of our progress and minimize how crucial and necessary seasons of dormancy are.
    • Do not work in the evenings. 
    • Take a Sabbath, not in the religious sense, but in the sense where you don’t do anything.
    • The creative process, any kind of growth process, requires dormancy.
  • How to Take a Break
    • Emotionally and mentally prepare to give yourself a couple of weeks doing the bare minimum that you need to do to keep your life going.
    • Spend all the time you can in nonproductive activities such as playing.
  • Effects of Taking a Break
    • Disengaging for a few weeks wipes your slate clean. 
    • Authentic, new energy, inspiration, and motivation will start nuzzling their way into your soul.
    • You’ll start to feel excited again. You’ll be thinking about things that make you happy. You’ll feel fresh, rested, restless to get back to work.

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