If you’re anything like me, you go through inexplicable rough periods now and then, those times when you’re just not feeling it. Not quite depression … just a funk.
You know what I mean: Things don’t excite you the way they usually do. You wake up at night wondering if you’re doing what you should be with your life. And those demons you thought you had licked start to inch their miserable way back into your life.
And during these times — whether as a consequence or the cause — you tend to do fewer of your good habits, and more of your bad ones.
So how do you break out of the funk?
The hard part about these episodes of down-ness is that what you feel like doing is exactly what you don’t need to be doing — eating more (and more junk), drinking more alcohol and caffeine, watching mindless TV (I’ve been on a ridiculous Parks and Recreation on Netflix bender), and generally choosing comfort now over happiness later.
I’m not very good at avoiding the bad habits when I get down, and I don’t think many people are. But I’ve played this game enough times to know that it’s okay — as long as I’m doing the good habits too.
Which good habits?
Depending on my emotional season, three of them split time as my “anchor habit” — the habit that I do every day, without fail. Your anchor habit (or keystone habit, Charles Duhigg and James Clear call it) is the one that makes everything else easier, the one that constantly nudges you towards being your best self. It might be yoga, running, meditation … something that brings you joy and just makes the rest of the day — and you — better.
So, you know how some people take mega-doses of vitamin C when they start to get sick? I’ve started taking mega-doses of anchor habits when I’m not feeling like, mentally and emotionally, like myself.
And I’ve found that it works — at least, better than anything else I know.
Here are my three. They won’t necessarily be the ones that work for you, but I hope reading about mine will inspire you to think about which ones are yours, and that you’ll use them to take care of yourself the next time you’re in a funk.
3 Habits for Your Head
1. Running & listening.
I should think of a better name for this pairing, considering how much I love it. Thirty or forty-five minutes of exercising your body is a known funk-buster by itself — but combine it with distraction-free immersion in an inspiring podcast or audiobook, and you’ve got an activity worth building your schedule around. And this is before you even consider whatever synergistic effects come from doing the two simultaneously: they say “emotion is created by motion,” and I’ve found that to be true.
And one feature that makes this one a great weapon against the funk? The two habits reinforce each other: for example, a lot of times when I don’t feel like running, I do it anyway, simply because it’s my chance to listen to something I’m really interested in without any distractions.
Right now, I’m rotating through several audio options: Seth Godin’s Leap First (a live recording from the week I spent in his office last summer), Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, the New Rainmaker podcast, the Tim Ferriss show, and the James Altucher podcast.
Reading has always been something I spend a lot of time on, but this year I made a change to how I do it. Instead of reading new books — which are easy, immediately gratifying, and in this way addictive — I’m sticking mostly to the books I’ve had on my to-read list for what seems like ever. I wrote a list on my chalkboard wall of what I’m going to read this year, and made the rule for myself that I can’t add anything to it. The result is that it’s a little harder to sit down and read (there’s a reason I haven’t gotten to these books before) but I feel more accomplished and fulfilled than I used to by every minute I spend reading. I just finished up Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, a 500-pager that’s been on my shelf for years — and I feel so much better having read that than three new business books that I’ll forget about as soon as I shut.
3. Morning pages.
Probably my quirkiest habit, but one whose legion of devotees is growing. Every day this year (and many days last year, too), I’ve done three pages of long-hand, stream-of-consciousness writing as soon as possible after I wake up. The point isn’t to produce anything good, but instead to purge your mind of all the thoughts that would otherwise bounce around in circles all day. For me, it’s meditation and medication, and I love it that way some people love yoga or tea. (The morning pages habit is just one part of The Artist’s Way, a program that I’m working through now. But I think it stands just as well on its own.)
“I’m Running, Wanna Come?”
Seth Godin shared a mindset with us last summer that’s summed up this way.
What it means is I’ve made up my mind, here’s what I’m doing, here’s what I’m going to do until it’s done.
This, to me, is how good habits pull you out of a funk.
Have you ever been finishing up your run, when just a few minutes from being home, you make an unexpected turn and decide to keep going? It’s almost reflexive, as if your body makes the decision, and your brain is just along for the ride. And inevitably, this impulsive, split-second decision turns out to be a great one — for your brain. Even when it’s raining.
This captures the effect I’m talking about. When you’re feeling down, uninspired, unsure, and you make the decision “I’m doing this habit, even though I don’t really feel like doing anything” you’re telling the rest of yourself, “I’m running, want to come?”
Put differently: I’m going to spend my time on these activities that I know are good for me. I don’t know where that will lead, or how it’s going to help with the situation that’s causing me stress, but here’s the standard I’m going to hold myself to. So, other part of my brain, are you in?
And what always happens is that it works. When you’re true to yourself and you spend the time in activities that you know connect you with the part of you that you’ve neglected, inevitably something happens for you. Something inspires you, or excites you, or so commands your attention that the funk you were in dissolves without your even realizing it, while you get furiously to work on whatever is going to become your life’s next chapter.
Two Related Heads-Ups
1. Last time I checked, March had 31 days in it … which means it’s time for another round of #writeandrun31! There’s nothing like a month-long daily habit commitment to bust a funk, and we’d love to have you join us (it’s free, too). “Write” and “run” can be symbolic if you want — pick a creative habit and a physical one, and do each for 31 days, with a community of friends cheering you on. Good times.