Life can be funny at times. Cruel, yes, but funny. At the very least ironic. A major league pitcher with a joker mask on, and an arsenal of pitches that would make Tim Wakefield jealous. You get used to the fastball only to have your knees buckled by a nasty 12–6 curveball.
For those not feeling the baseball references, I mean that it’s unpredictable. You get into a rhythm, things seem to be going well, and you’re hit with an unexpected obstacle.
The times I’ve found myself in a rut usually hit right after a long period of extremely high highs. The universe’s way of knocking me off my high horse a bit.
This past November was no different. The two years before were a constant upward trajectory — weight loss, career milestones, and a promotion that seemed to be guaranteed.
So, when that opportunity came crashing down, it caught me completely off guard. The result was a month-long bender of weight gain, lack of drive, and a descent into the unknown.
Between social media posts and conversations with friends and family, it’s evident these last few months have left many in a similar boat.
I thought back to my previous roadblocks, the feeling of choppy water with no paddle in sight. I thought about the changes I made to traverse that terrain and broke them down into a few simple steps.
1. Break the Cycle and Set a Plan
For me, falling into a rut usually comes with an abundance of anxiety. Mostly anxiety about letting myself unravel completely, continuing the decent I spoke of earlier.
It tends to be a double-edged sword. The rut causes anxiety, and the anxiety digs you further into the rut, each one fuels the other. Finally, a decision needs to be made to break the cycle. Rebelling against your inner chatter and making that decision is half the battle.
When it pertains to weight loss, many nutrition and fitness experts will tell you to “stop planning to start and just start.” This philosophy has plenty of merit, but different strokes for different folks. I like setting a starting date for myself when I am trying to adopt any new habit.
Having a plan in place helps ease most of the anxiety. It allows me to stop feeling overwhelmed with my current situation and trust I’m taking steps to correct it.
In this case, I took a day or two to get the rest of that mopey stuff out of my system.
“Setting your intention” is a big part of my philosophy. I pick a start date, write it down, and detail what I want to accomplish. I put it up in a spot that ensures I’m going to see it every day, holding me accountable. I use a whiteboard, but a simple post-it note works just as well.
Whatever “getting back to normal” is for you, that’s what your plan should be centered around. For me, it was getting my diet and training dialed in.
Regardless of your “normal.” Set a date, write it down, and hold yourself accountable.
2. Get Back to the Basics
With your plan in place, a large part of regaining a sense of normalcy is doing the small things right. That first week back is crucial in setting yourself up for success. I try to focus on myself during that period as much as possible.
I use the first week to ensure I have my morning and nightly routines nailed down to a “T.” These routines are the building blocks for success — both in life and getting yourself back on track.
In the morning, my feet do not touch the ground without meditating and journaling first. At night my head doesn’t hit that pillow until I stretch, read, and journal again. Regardless of what works for you, stay consistent.
Your environment also plays a factor in your mentality. How you keep your surroundings has a direct correlation with your current headspace. If you think about a time you have been depressed, it is highly unlikely your room/house/apartment was also spick and span.
I end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed when my surroundings are messy and chaotic. A neat and clean environment frees up my mind and lets me focus clearly, leading to way more productivity.
If nothing else, it almost tricks your brain into returning to that productive place.
Recovery programs define triggers as people, places, or activities that stir up previous behaviors. The result for them is something completely different, but the concept is the same. Instead, we are trying to trigger positivity.
The last on this list of basics is the most basic of them all, yet by far the most important. The food you eat is the gas for the car that is your body.
On top of the obvious physical aspect, what you eat directly affects your mental health. There are overwhelming amounts of research linking sugar and overly processed foods to things like depression and mental fatigue.
Incorporate real, whole foods when you can. Avoid sugar, seed/vegetable oils (canola, corn, and soybean oil, to name a few), and paragraph-long ingredient lists. You’ll notice an improvement in your mental state relatively quickly.
3. Set New Goals, Channel Your Inner Tyson Fury
The first week is in the books. A sense of normalcy returns, and you’re firing on all cylinders again. Now it’s time to build on that momentum.
If you overthink everything like me, chances are you spend more time thinking about the past than you would like. We tend to lose ourselves over time wasted and potential progress lost.
The real focus should be on where you are right now. It’s essential to look at the present and the future instead of the past. Forward progress, never back.
Setting goals and aspirations is an essential part of shifting your mindset. Whether it be new goals or re-igniting the passion for old ones, this step builds momentum towards recovery and mental well-being.
In his interview with Joe Rogan, heavyweight champion Tyson Fury explains his relationship with goal setting and mental health, detailing his struggles with depression post-retirement.
He describes a feeling of emptiness, leading to extreme weight gain, substance abuse, and low quality of life. It wasn’t until he decided to return to boxing that he turned his life back around.
He speaks of building momentum through setting small, achievable goals and reaching them.
Since that interview, he has not lost a single fight. He regained championship status and propelled himself to an even higher level of popularity.
I apply this philosophy to my own life. Regardless if I’m in a rut or on top of the world. I set a big picture goal, break it into smaller achievable goals, and make sure I’m working towards them every day.
With each small achievement comes a sense of accomplishment and a little more strength. These achievements start to compound, growing on top of each other.
Even the most farfetched of aspirations can be chipped away at little by little. Eventually, those pipe dreams seem well within your grasp.
At this point, you’re off to the races. You have set your sights on something positive, and the place you were in two weeks ago seems like a distant past.
Allowing yourself to get swept up in the process ensures you are looking forward, not back. The worst is already behind you. All that’s left now is consistency.
4. Live and Learn, Accept and Forgive Yourself
Low points in life usually come with a ton of insight. When the sky clears, its easy to see things weren’t nearly as bad as they seemed, every stumble is an opportunity to learn and grow.
We gain more knowledge and understanding from failure and struggle than anything the thrill of victory can teach us.
Take the time to analyze the situation. Causes, triggers, how things were going before the problem came about. How you dealt with it, and what could have been done differently.
I use this information to my advantage; it prepares me for the next inevitable obstacle. Like anything in life, things like this take practice. Over time it gets easier, and these situations become few and far between.
Remember that the lows are never as low as they appear to be, and the highs are never as high. There is always a redemption story, no matter how deep a hole you find yourself in.
The Future Is Bright, Set Yourself up for Success
These have undoubtedly been some of the most volatile, unpredictable months most of us have ever experienced. If you find yourself in a slump, exhausted by 2020 in general, know you’re not alone.
You have the unique opportunity to swing a negative predicament into a positive one. Returning to normal gives you a massive advantage at a time where the rest of the world remains stagnant.
Implement these steps and envision where you want to be 6–12 months down the road. When society starts to awaken from its slumber, you will be there. Wide awake and ready to seize the day.
Use the rest of 2020 to ensure 2021 is your best year yet.