June 11, 2009

Giving Yourself a Kick in the Pants


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Do you know the feeling when the alarm clock goes off, you slap snooze, and you thrust your head back under the covers? The day seems unfaceable, whatever is on your to-do list insurmountable, and really, why bother getting up, when you could stay right there, in the comfort of a downy blanket and a soft pillow, and be just fine? Who cares if your entire life is confined to a mattress?

I feel the need to confess that I’ve been in a funk lately, in part because I think it might have shown through on these pages a little and in part because, hell, who hasn’t been there? It’s just a bit of a blue phase, the kind that enters when there’s work to be done and no inspiration to kick-start it; a life to be lived but beloved friends too far away to join in; a day to get through, but no charm to it. You know when the things that bring a little spring to your step start falling a bit flat? When even the coffee starts to taste just okay?

This funk, too, shall pass. I’m sure, at least, of that. But given the fact that real life is filled with obligations that can’t be ignored — kids who need to be driven to school, a boss who expects you to be at your desk by 9, writing deadlines, looming late fees, a body that will stink if you do not get it into a shower, and a soul that will shrink if you do not get it out the door to accomplish something, anything — how do you make yourself hop to it? To just — oh, how do I say this — get over yourself and get on with it?

I’m a bit of a baby. If there are unsavory duties that need to be attended to, I find it quite easy to find a reason why it can wait until tomorrow. Besides, isn’t it obvious that I am too thoroughly busy persuing Beauty! Pleasure! and Meaning!? And then, when tomorrow rolls around, I can have quite an interesting emotional excavation to determine why I feel so averse to taking out the recycling. Of course, it doesn’t really matter why I don’t want to do it, and frankly, isn’t it obvious why I would rather watch episodes of 30 Rock than schlep a stinky, clamoring garbage bag out to the curb?

The point is, life goes on, whether we always feel like engaging with it or not. And being adults — adults who know how to tend to the details in our lives — how do we pull ourselves up by our boot straps, put our nose to the grind stone, and carry on?

Perhaps there are no secret weapons. Perhaps the answer is, “you just do, because you have to.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if you all had some clever — nay, thoroughly brilliant — ways of tending to the to-dos. I really want to know. And moreover, I need to know.

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  • Margo: Yesterday, I copied your cocktail recipe & herbed goat cheese things, and I was thankful that you had given me a kick in the pants by inspiring me to do some special things for my guests tonite. So here is my kick in the pants for you: I find that by incorporating rituals into my life, I can feel better, eventually, about most things. My morning ritual is to get up early before anyone else, make myself some really good coffee and something nice for breakfast, and read, quietly, as the sun comes up. Sometimes I read the paper, sometimes poetry, lately I’ve been reading novels, but I love the quiet start to the day, and often what I am reading seems to supply just the right send-off to the busy day.9 years ago

  • Starlene: I lack the motivation to exercise. Consistantly exercising is the one thing I have consistantly failed at my entire life (oh there are others but I won’t bore you with my inability to pay bills on time or my habit of cutting out patterns and never actually completing the intended project). However, there is nothing quite like a big dumb dog to give you the kick in the pants. Mine will let me sit on the couch for about 1/2 a minute in the morning drinking coffee. Then it’s so on. She’s a herding dog so magically I become an unruly sheep. Circling, circling, watching. This happens until I admit defeat, put on my walkin’ shoes and take her for her walk (and lately a run!) damn it! Once I’m outside, I want to make it last. So giving her 15 minutes turns in to an hour. We meet people, we exercise, we see the heartbeat of our neighborhood beating.9 years ago

  • Meghan: Sorry you’ve been in a funk — that’s hard. My favorite gem is from my mom, who’d say to give yourself a pity party after a big disappointment — a job rejection, bad grade, breakup, or just general life ennui. Set a time limit (I usually give it one day) and wallow. Drink gin. Eat chocolate and junk food. Watch Lifetime movies in bed. Make it an official party and invite friends, if you want. When I give myself permission to be in a funk, as well as a deadline, I’m usually eager to face tomorrow and my ubiquitous to-do lists.9 years ago

  • Julia: Hello Sarah. I know exactly where you’re coming from, and might I say how much I admire you for confessing to this, as I’m sure we ALL go through this at times. You’ll be feeling back on form and in control again before you know it! It sounds as though you are missing your old friends? I can sympathise with that.

    Anyway, enough psychobollocks…hmm, ways to give yourself a kick up the bum….

    er… I’m not very good at it myself, actually. I’m more of a stick your head in the sand sort of girl! πŸ™‚ Or even worse, let the boyfriend sort it out. Now that’s not very strong-woman, is it?

    I suppose in terms of just getting on and doing the really tedious stuff that needs facing up to, my best advice is to start with the really big, horrible thing you’ve been making excuses to avoid (for me this usually involves paperwork and 2 forms of ID – visa applications, bank stuff, taxes, that sort of thing)
    Then go for a walk, or do something pleasurable for a bit. Then tackle one of the more simple-but-mindnumbingly-dull jobs (ironing and bins- garbage to you – both fall into this category for me). Then do another more involved/scary job (paying the electric bill, anyone?)

    As for the daily routine thing (currently for me it’s, getting out of bed and going to work)… I try to incorporate something fun to get you through the day. Making the effort to get up early and have a nice breakfast, or eyeing up those beautiful shoes in a store window on the way to/from work. Or just buying the damn shoes if you can afford it! πŸ™‚

    Which leads me to my fail-safe: shoes.

    There, Sarah, I’ve solved your problem. You need some pretty new shoes πŸ˜‰9 years ago

  • Julia: Forget my rambling bore, I like Meghan’s idea. Especially the bit about the gin.

    In all seriousness, I love the idea about setting a time-limit to your wallowing. I will try this approach the next time life throws me a set-back

    I love this blog, and all the fantastic people who post comments!9 years ago

  • michele rosenthal: I had a day like that yesterday. My 3 kids and I were on our way to a healthy lunch at whole foods when I realized I lost/left my credit cards at a store near my home (about 45 minutes from whole foods) so we bagged that idea turned around and went to a local pizza place near the store I left my credit cards at!! then followed up with a trip to Enchanted Chocolates for bags of goodies, then headed home to eat them with a bag of cheese puffs. Oh well my day wasn’t filled with all organic healthy foods as it usually is, but it was filled with an awlful lot of fun and yummy chocolate. plus all that caffeine allowed me to be alert and get a lot of paris house business done. I’m usually so organized that stuff like this just throws me off, luckily I had some scallop ginger wontans in the freezer that I made for dinner so all was not lost in the healthy eating department!!9 years ago

  • Emma V: Oh goodness, I am so very much feeling this. And am very much in need of a kick in the pants – which is a nicer way of putting it than I would have used. I’ve having a really hard time finding the motivation to get work, get a job – instead spending an extraordinary amount of energy worrying about bills and the lack of funds and what if I’m just unhireable. (And I’m in advertising, which makes it feel worse, because shouldn’t I be advertising myself better?) Lots of big yuck. But am trying to remember to pull into my life more of those things that matter to me – yoga, being creative, spending time with people I love. And it’s working. I still don’t have a job, but I can get through the day with fewer brain-floggings, which is a small miracle in itself. Be compassionate with yourself, I think it’s really the only place to start.9 years ago

  • Katie: When I was little, if I got upset or worried about something, my grandmother would always say “just float and it will all be ok”…I love reminding myself of those words today. Don’t get too bogged down by life…just float! Let the worries pass you by. Last summer I got the word “float” tattoed on my ankle. It is a great reminder of my dear grandmother and all I have to do is look at the tattoo and I feel better. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having your head in the clouds once in a while!9 years ago

  • Hallie: It depends on what it is that I need to do but in general if its to run a mundane errand or work out I will get dressed (put on shoes and have ipod in hand, etc.) and give my self some time to digest/visualize what it is Im going to do and I will tell myself, ok in 5 minutes you are going to leave, and I let myself do that 3 times, so by the time the 15 minutes arrives I know I HAVE to go!

    Another trick that helps is to think of what some of my loved ones or role models would think of my lazy behavior – I worked for a very strong woman who I completely admired, she was/is the opposite of lazy and never procrastinated – I think of her often and dont want to let her down – so that helps motivate me at times as well…

    But remember that funks are ok! And EVERYONE deserves free passes – if you don’t want to work out for a week so be it – but own it and use that time to rest up for your return to what ever it is you need/want to do.9 years ago

  • I want to echo Julia’s comment — I love what all of you have said, oh so much. These are all great ideas — setting a time limit to wallowing, having a dog (I wish this were an option!), having rituals, floating with what comes, filling the day with what matters, thinking of what your heroines would do (or as a friend of mine says, what the heroine in the movie version of your life would do). Have I told you lately how grateful I am for the great comments we get here?9 years ago

  • Karen: I understand the funks. Mine usually comes in the winter, when the days are grey and cold and the blankets never felt so comfortable and my pajamas are like a second skin.
    I talk to myself, cajole myself, bribe myself, (sometimes with naps!) even threaten myself to do what needs to be done. It’s not easy, and I don’t always obey when I should, but I do my best. I always feel better AFTER the task at hand is completed, (unless it involves getting out of cozy comfy covers..in which case the nap bribes help immensely) but getting there is sometimes 3/4 the battle.
    Hang in there!9 years ago

  • Adrienne: I can completely relate to the coffee thing. Usually I say outloud every morning how delicious my coffee is. Today I only drank half of it. Funks are difficult indeed.

    I wish I had a good pants-kicking technique, but I’m in the same spot you are, so I’m going to enjoy the comments others have left and try to pinpoint what my current wallow is all about.9 years ago

  • Karen, I need to get better about sweet-talking myself into stuff, even offering rewards for doing the onerous tasks. And the truth is, you DO feel better after you’ve done whatever it is you’re supposed to do.

    Adrienne, It feels like such a betrayal when even the coffee won’t do it’s part! Hope some of the suggestions here are able to pull you out of it.9 years ago

  • Amy C: I second Karen. It is just plain human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Pajamas and blankets = pleasure, taking out stinky trash that smells like fish heads = pain. So giving yourself some fabulous rewards for doing icky things is a great motivator to get up off the couch.
    When we were training our dog, every time she went to the bathroom outside we would have a “puppy party” – dance around, give her treats, lots of pats, and lots of praise. I think we all need to have “puppy parties” for ourselves, especially for some of the small tasks that normally no one recognizes. Clean the kitchen? Organize the closet? Do the laundry? Every once in awhile, I think those all deserve some ice cream, or chocolate, or snuggle time on the couch with an old movie.9 years ago

  • MrsB: Ever wondered what the B stands for??! Mrs Bog-off-crappy-stinky-boring-ever-present-generally-grown-up-householdy-jobs-or-the-dentist!!!

    Soooooooooooooo bearing in mind that it is in my name and therefore I can’t help it, this is what I found helps! It aint pretty or creative or magic! However for a chief procrastinator and repeat funk offender, it works! ‘You can do anything for 15 minutes!’ Whatever the rubbishy thing is, exercise, writing, hoovering the stairs, managing to get out of bed…etc etc etc, repeat after me ‘I can do anything for 15 minutes’

    http://www.flylady.net I found out about this about 6 months after my first baby and it got me out of the most uunholy of all funks! You can be creative when all the funkiness is taken care of in 15 minute bouts! Brilliant!

    Have a peep, if you are anything like me, (ie perpetual procrastinator, suppressed creative, occassional perfectionist combined with slob!) it will work for you! I find so long as I manage to do the dishes the night before and bring down laundry in the morning, everything goes that little bit bettter!

    Chin up, lovey! i think you are super cute, cool and creative! and you know… you can’t wear pretty, retro, vintage inspired dresses in bed! xxxxx9 years ago

  • Stephanie: I second (third? fourth?) the idea of giving in and wallowing a bit. Sometimes you need to shut off a bit and not push yourself to do things you feel like you SHOULD be doing or should WANT to be doing. You’ll get sick of wallowing pretty quickly and snap out of the funk on your own, craving something more stimulating. I can waste hours on computer mah-jong, for example, and then take myself to task for not using the time to do something more interesting or useful. But it seems to serve almost the same purpose as meditating — just engaging enough to keep my attention, while letting my brain stop working so damn hard for a while.9 years ago

  • ChristyG: Usually I will allow myself to stay in bed but I’ll grab some design magazines or my laptop and try to be inspired by someone else’s creativity! I’ll sip my coffee and read great blogs like yours and in no time (or 5 or 6 hours) I am usually ready to try one of the projects. This usually means I have to take the stinky trash out or do the dishes so I have a nice clean place to work which isn’t so bad because I am doing it for a good reason. I’ll light some sweetly scented candles and have a tiny piece of dark chocolate. Then I crank up the music and dance while I am creating! I try to make the chore worth it so I can get to the fun stuff.
    I really love all the inspiration you share with me and I can see you have loads of loyal followers who think you are great as well! Take care Sweetie and as my mama says “This too shall pass”! Or in the words or Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day!”9 years ago

  • Emily: Wow, I’ve been feeling pretty much the exact same way lately. Good for you for talking about it!

    Honestly, what really helped me was the vacation I took last week. It wasn’t even that big of a deal or anything. We just took a 3-day trip to a big city and saw a concert and went to a few museums. But then after we came home I took the rest of the week off from work and lounged around and did some baking and TV watching and whatever else I felt like.

    Usually I dread Mondays but I felt much better this week, even after I looked at my work inbox and saw a billion emails. Normally it would have take me a full week just to reply to everyone, but I got every single email answered that day and the rest of the week has been a ton more productive than usual.

    Anyway, I know it’s not feasible to take a vacation whenever you feel like it, but maybe you could take a long weekend every once in a while and pick something fun to do that’s different from your normal everyday schedule or just sit around and wallow like another commenter suggested. If I can take some time for myself (and not feel guilty about it, that’s the really important part), even if it’s just a little bit, it makes me feel more refreshed and ready to face the next day.

    I’ve also been getting up at the exact same time every day (by moving my alarm across the room so I have to get up to turn it off) whereas before my sleep schedule was all over the place, so I definitely think the whole ritual thing that other people have mentioned helps a lot, at least with the getting through the day part of it.9 years ago

  • leni: i just discovered your blog. love it!9 years ago

  • Diane Carol: Sometimes a good old fashioned tongue wag with a dear girlfriend…venting – and letting tears flow, works wonders. oh! oh! oh! don’t forget to crack open a great bottle of chilled wine – and somehow…I don’t know…it is sort of like cleaning out the cobwebs! Once I get some stuff off my chest with a trusted friend, I tend to feel better – and can usually face just about anything!9 years ago

  • These comments are just so spot on — the wine & girlfriends, the Scarlett O’Hara, the permission to wallow, and as Amy C said, just admitting that it is human to seek out pleasure rather than pain. Realizing that you’re not defective for feeling the way you do. How did you all get so smart?9 years ago

  • christine: I agree with Emily, sounds like you need a vacation! After a horrible review where I broke down crying in front of my boss & the owner (the kind of crying where you can’t really get words out, face is blotchy and red for an hour afterward, uncontrollable outpouring of crappy emotion – so embarrassing!), my planned vaca to Negril last week was as much of a necessity as it was an indulgence. Even though it’s still hard to get out of bed and go to work, a few drops of Pickapepper on my omelette in the morning and a Ting or Red Stripe here and there transport me back to the chill vibe of the cliffs. For me the sea is my go-to rejuvenator of mind & spirit.9 years ago

  • Rebecca: I agree with a lot of the previous comments, including the “let yourself wallow for a bit.” However, I find that if I’m alone for too long when I’m in a funk, it only gets worse. So I usually try to talk to a good friend or my sister, or watch a funny movie, or read a good book: something to get me out of my own little horrible world. Even making food that’s awful for me (e.g.: cookies or graham cracker crust with real butter – yes, this means I sometimes weep with a spoon and a bowl of unpressed graham cracker crust) at least gets me moving and *making* something. Doesn’t help the pile of dishes in the sink though. πŸ™‚

    A few years ago I made a list of 100 things that make me happy for the sole purpose of having it around for when I was blue. It still always makes me smile.

    Good luck! I hope you feel better soon. πŸ™‚9 years ago

  • Avril: Today must be my lucky day πŸ™‚ I’ve been feeling so out of sorts lately and honestly I dont have a think to feel awful about…but still I do. Some days are really tedious. I get my mind off of stuff by de-cluttering. Even if I have tons of work, I still find myself in front of the fridge or cupboard or bookshelf…I think its almost instinct now. I love everyone’s ideas esp creating rituals. Wasnt it you Sarah who once so beautifully wrote in your first ever post about purposefully crafting the life we want to live πŸ™‚ On many days I am reminded of your words. Perhaps that lies in my new little polka-dotted teapot. Or sipping on lemon-grass infused chai. Or playing with my 3 yr old nephew whose smile makes all the “stuff” seem inconsequential. Perhaps it is in looking at old childhood photos of me where i have a smile that seemed to have come from within. On many days I lean emotionally on my husband who is by far my best-est friend and who has the ability to calm me even with his silence. And on some days, inspiration just comes from a super martini πŸ™‚
    xxooxx9 years ago

  • MrsB: oh yes I second that one!! I have it too! its so good for your soul! first the writing of it and then just reading through it. mine is a couple of years old and so much of it holds true, I drag it out somewhere prominent at Christmas time and birthdays to give poor MrB a clue!! xxx9 years ago

  • Sara Rose: I dunno, but I finally just sort of gave in last week, and gave myself permission to take a break from more than a few things. Which has bizarrely led to my being increasingly productive about other things. I was planning a week of r&r but have been busy from sun up to sun down this last week.

    I come up with lists, usually, to help me break out of funks. Usually an overwhelming to-do list doesn’t help anyone, but I start by ticking off the things that I’ve been avoiding that I know will take me less than 10 minutes to accomplish. Or, I use the 15 minute rule they apply to working out “I’ll do this for 15 minutes and then I give myself permission to stop.”

    I also understand that sometimes you call a spade for what it is, make yourself a big sweet tea with bourbon and head outside with a good book or a blanket. Or back to bed. Sometimes, the funk needs indulging to pass. I second whoever wrote you just need pretty new shoes, doesn’t THAT always work?

    Hugs.9 years ago

  • Wendy Bussell: Just got over a funk of my own. It lasted about 3 weks and all I really did was read.Sometimes I just have to shut down/shut out everything else in order to “see the light”. So now the funk ender-a week with out kids, an intestinal clense, and a day shopping with a goodfriend. It doesn’t always happen this way. Reading a new book on a different perspective towards food has helped me to change some of my personel views. Some times all you new is a fresh look at something that you always deal with. With 3 special diets to deal with in our family, food has been an ISSUE for me, the cook, and one of the eaters. Now that I have some fresh thoughts on the same old things, I can see things differently.And the funk has left. Now for housecleaning-I would rather hitch my garters than put my boots on. Sounds more girly! The other thing you need to remember is that funks happen. As a couple of someones said, sometimes you just have to go with the flow, but put a limit on it. Change something you haven’t changed in a while. The art on the wall, no matter how wonderful it is, just changeing it out once in a while gives you something else to look at. Sorry, I am a rambbler!9 years ago

  • Karen: So many good ideas here! When I am in a funk…. a vacation or change of “scenery” will sometimes snap me out of it. Surrounding myself with supportive loving friends helps too. I think a lot of people have been in a funk lately. The news about the economy and world issues has not been exactly uplifting. Taking a break from watching the news is a relief sometimes. Walking my dog always makes me feel better. There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog. That is comfort! A little yoga and deep breathing also help me to renew. Hang in there…. the tides always change.9 years ago

  • Erin: Wow, thanks everyone! I just read all of the comments and they are all such good ideas. I’m going to bookmark this for that day-o-funk that will inevitably descend on me.9 years ago

  • Ellen: I do the same as some of the previous readers have written & allot myself a bit of time to cool down / nerve up / wallow (depending on the situation).

    What I have found motivates me is cheating on to-do lists. If I don’t feel productive, then I make a list of things I need to do (broken down into SMALL parts) & I always include a couple of things that I have already (completely or partially) accomplished. That way, my list is not “to do,” but instead “partially done.” It’s a small mind trick (a la my clock being 5 minutes fast), but it seems to work for me.

    When I am completely feeling blah, I give myself a whole day. Very occasionally, I’ll take a day off work (in February, my best friend & I took a day in San Francisco & went out to lunch & to a museum & the Conservatory of Flowers & just meandered around with no completely set plan), but often I’ll just earmark a Saturday or something for myself (bike ride to the farmers’ market, new book with a picnic lunch, bubble bath & decadent dinner out with the husband).

    And, of course, remember: This too shall pass! πŸ™‚9 years ago

  • Shandell's: I am a day late reading this, but I admire you candid telling of your funk. I fully understand, I have been there and will be again. I try to focus on getting just one thing accomplished instead of 1000.
    Be kind to your self is the first thing and remember as Ellen said “this too shall pass”
    The sun is out, sit in it for a while, it helps me.
    Susan9 years ago

  • Arwen: My first chance to sit and really read of all of this….It makes me feel so at peace to read all of your comments. Now that it is warm and kinda sunny(well, not today) I am much better but this winter- forget about it! I tend to be very hared on myself about “wasting time”. Seeing that there are so many seemingly intelligent, articulate and creative women out there all finding themselves in the funk from time to time helps me to accept it and let it pass. I think everyone seems to have to the cure- a time limit ( for me one day), a good drink ( for me wine) , a sweet treat (my biggest weakness!) and a pet always helps too (my dog is my BFF). Oh and just staying in bead reading is wonderful! Which brings me to a question- i know there must be a blog somewhere that a girl could find some good book recommendations. Anyone know of any? Or maybe even know a good book? Thanks for the blog. I love it!9 years ago

  • Christine S.: Lately, the coffee hasn’t worked for me either. So, as annoyingly cliche as this may sound, I changed my morning beverage to tea. And, believe it or not, it has made all the difference! Just the little switch in routine has been refreshing!

    I agree with the post about doing anything for 15 minutes. My daughter and I just took on a huge task – complete house cleaning of the downstairs…it was hideous and very daunting to look at from my eyes only. Where to begin? UGH! Well, instead, we decided to take 15 min. chunks of time to accomplish little tasks and had the whole area spic-n-span in a few hours. In between times, we listened to my son’s iPod filled with Beatles’ songs!

    Every 15 min. task complete is a check off the dreaded “to do” list. And, trust me, every little check counts to feeling accomplished.

    And, switch things up a bit – sometimes a change in routine can make things seem so different!9 years ago

  • shauna: Hi there, hope you don’t mind a v late addition to all these brilliant comments… i like jumping on a bus i’ve never been on before and sitting up on the top deck right up the front window then just riding round, looking out at a different part of town. Somehow rattling past new-to-me shop fronts and buildings feel really calming and makes my troubles seem a little smaller. I know you don’t have double decker buses in New York but I guess it’s the whole ‘walk up a street you’ve never been up before’ kind of trick.

    Hope you are feeling better and enjoying all those fabrics…9 years ago

  • Kristina in Detroit: So I know you’re already out of your funk (by the way, have you been reading my diary??) and you’ve had plenty of comforting advice in getting you through it, but one day it may strike again and I found this article from “Chronicles of Higher Education” to be very interesting (though I can’t say I’d throw my credit card info up on a website just for a bit of motivation) http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i29/29a00104.htm. If anything it made me think about what drives me to say “enough of this self-loathing, time to get down to business!”

    ALSO, I’ve already admitted to being a huge fan in the past (I find you very inspiring and have told many a friend about your quirky wit!…and I won a copy of “The Laws of Harmony” from you, so I’ve got mad like for ya, shorty!) but when I learned that you used to be in academic publishing way back when, I couldn’t help but feel even more excited to open to your page every day from my university press. I too share an interest in learning how people live their everyday and I think learning of others past jobs is another part of this voyeurism. So thanks for being you!9 years ago

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