Being Up Against the Wall

Does being in a bad place motivate you?

Sometimes, being extra-super stressed out can be a great motivator.  If you know you have to meet a deadline or you will lose a client, most of us get pretty motivated to meet the deadline.

But what about bigger, stress-ier situations?  Like your car is broken down, you have no money to fix it and without a car you have no way to get to work and without a job you don’t get to eat? Is that kind of situation a motivator or does it make you shut down?

The answer probably depends on a set of complex factors–your personality, your situation and how long it’s been sucking, your environment and the people surrounding you. If you are like me, your reaction to adversity is different just about every time.

Usually, I just want to go to sleep. When things are just too hard to think about, it’s time for a nap. It’s not a good impulse to follow though, so instead, I usually try to do something, anything, to make things better. Even if I just write a Textbroker article for $4.

Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing in the world to do to improve the situation, or worse, that it won’t do any good to even try. Those are dark days indeed. Why bother? It has always sucked, still sucks and will continue to suck as far ahead as you care to look. Danger. Danger.

During the last year, I’ve done a couple of things to try and avoid those scariest of days. Maybe they would work for other people, maybe not.

One of the most important steps has been to cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude. Most days, I make a list of 5 good things–from simple, silly things like oatmeal cookies to important, serious things like good (wonderful, even!) children and a happy marriage. Then, I email the list to a random email contact. If it’s a particularly blah day, the list helps me refocus. In fact, that is probably the power of those lists: they help change the focus to the good stuff.

Another useful experiment was my personal 30 day challenge to exercise every day for 30 consecutive days. So, I only made it for 28 days, but the experiment taught me that exercise really can change your outlook, energy level and attitude. If you have the discipline to take a walk everyday or join a group fitness class your dark days might just lighten up.  Soon, I will try a 90 day personal challenge.

Finally, I made an effort to be more social during the last year, with mixed results. For years, my little family went to parties, had tons of company, went camping, visited friends and family and were generally out and about. The last 3-5 years, however, we have stayed home much more and our friends have come to visit less often. Maybe we are getting old. Maybe we have less money. Certainly, we have less energy.

Seeing people and enjoying social situations can be a mood lifter, but sometimes it’s not so good.  The results are still out on this one.

One goal I have for 2010 is to keep looking for ways to make the rough patches smoother, and would welcome suggestions. Are there specific things you do that help when times get hard? What works for you?

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