When you’re in the midst of a mental funk, creativity wanes, clarity dissipates, and productivity plummets.
Sometimes that funk descends in the middle of the night. You wake up at 3am with shortness of breath and a racing heart, the gravity of the world firmly pressing on your chest. Or you look in the mirror first thing in the morning to be greeted by your right eyelid that has decided to droop on the exact day of an important video call.
Other times, it may be a midday glimpse of a social media post that instantly makes you feel small, worthless, and a complete and utter failure. Or a deal that you’ve been working on for over a year, that despite your very best efforts, painfully falls through.
Life is full of opportunities to feel like crap. And when you’re an entrepreneur, those crappy moments can be more frequent and also carry more serious consequences—not just for you, but for your team and your business, too. How can you lead when you don’t know where you are and your vision is blurred?
When I’m down, my first instincts for how to soothe my wounded soul are usually wrong. For a hypothetical example, spending a full weekend in the same pair of pajamas watching “90 Day Fiancé” will not make you feel better when Monday morning comes. However, if you choose to do this for pure relaxation purposes, I’ve heard it’s a pretty brilliant way to recharge when you’re flat out.
Other things that don’t work for me: hunting a phantom update (i.e. constantly refreshing email, social, and messaging apps with the hopes that some wonderful, life-changing news will magically appear from the ether), filling your days with busy work, seeking all of the farthest reaching fruit with reckless abandon, committing yourself to a strictly mo-carb diet, and the list goes on.
Given the current state of the world, you may find that some of your favorite un-funking tools are currently out of order. Or it could be that your tried and true routines aren’t lifting the blue haze.
Luckily, I have a lot of experience with overcoming funks, including ample time when I was alone and without internet access. No, you shouldn’t feel impressed by my austere approach to world travel. I just happened to start my global journey before smartphones and readily accessible internet was a thing. And let me tell you, being stuck in a cold house in Quito when you’ve already watched your entire, recently acquired collection of pirated DVDs for the tenth time, and going to your neighborhood internet café is out of the question because even though you live in a “good area” you still shouldn't go walking around by yourself after dark gives you lots of great practice.
But what that means for us both is that I’ve also found some pretty great ways to summon my inner awesomeness.
You may be saying by now, “But Emma, there are countless articles, podcasts, and videos that detail psychologically-proven techniques to un-funk your mind. How can you possibly have anything to add?”
If you’re like me, then there are also times when even the strictest meditation routines or gratitude practices leave you feeling just as down or even worse than when you started. (Disclaimer: this is not an argument against meditation or gratitude, but rather a list of some things that work for me when I can’t remember where I left my rose colored glasses.)
So if it seems like the world is out to get you, you’re certain that Mercury’s movement through the universe is causing unavoidable chaos in your life, or you feel like a failure even though you have a million great things happening and a wonderful life to be grateful for, I hope that some of these ideas may be just the thing you need to give up the funk and get down (to business).
1. Embrace your inner villain.
Since we’re all the heroes of our own movies, this may seem like a strange notion. But at times when it feels like the world is conspiring against you, sometimes it can be fun and empowering to conspire back. This technique is particularly effective if you receive a big blow right before you need to go on stage, get on a recording, or take an important call. Just please don’t take this as an excuse to sit down with a pen and paper to write your evil revenge plot.
Playing a character is a great way to battle stage fright, but I’ve found it can also be a powerful way to summon the strengths I need to overcome unexpected hurdles. There are times in business when you feel like the cards are stacked against you, where things don’t feel fair, make sense, or operate according to your values. I have a hard time with this. Not knowing the reason behind something drives me bonkers. A decision that goes against logic and reason is one of my biggest pet peeves.
When I’m confronted with problems like this, I’ll ruminate on them, hoping to uncover the why that will never be found. So when I find myself on the precipice of a mental rabbit hole, embodying a character is a quick and easy way to put my brain in its place, regain my powers, and do what needs to be done. And adding the adversarial element injects the fun “I’ll show them” filter for an extra jolt of energy.
For me, this looks like blasting a song like “Devil Woman,” lacquering my lips in red, and imagining how good it’ll feel to prove the haters wrong.
2. Take a walk with wonder.
Sitting still with myself is a huge challenge on the best of days. And when I’m not feeling my best, it only gets harder. However, there’s great value gained from getting away from the screens and clearing your mind.
Walking helps expel some of that energy, while also giving your mind a chance to wander, relax, free associate, etc. But it’s not just the motion that makes this movement magic.
When I studied abroad in Ecuador, I’d arrive home in awe of the beautiful sky, the epic sunset, the glorious view of the nearby volcanoes. Even though I was in a large city, there was so much natural beauty to absorb. After a few months of excited exclamations over my sky sightings, my host mother told me she’d never met someone that looked up so much. I think she meant it as an insult. I couldn’t think of a better compliment.
Live in a city? Look up at the clouds. Tired of walking the same loop in the same park? When was the last time you paused to watch the swallows gather scraps for their nests or a hawk gorge on its prey? Let yourself get swept away in an ordinary sunset. Unleash your imagination on that cottony cloud formation. Inhale the scent of the changing seasons. Escape yourself into the world around you. It does the mind and body good.
2. Laugh at something stupid.
I love an inspiring podcast as much as the next millennial entrepreneur, but when you’re down, a good laugh can do a lot more than listening to another success story ever could. Find your favorite brand of humor, and treat your ears to some hilarity.
When the world was shifting in the early COVID-19 days (circa February 2020, which oddly feels like a really long time ago), I couldn’t stop listening to “My Dad Wrote a Porno” and reading cheesy memoirs of famous women’s embarrassing foibles.
There are times when I hate how I feel but I also work hard to stew in my misery. This was one of those times. I didn’t want to laugh, and I tried hard to stifle it around other people.
But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t keep from chuckling when I was listening to Rocky Flintstone’s absurd erotica and his son and friend’s witty banter. And when the episode was over, I felt a little lighter, and the glimmer of a smile just barely sneaking through.
3. Curate your reading materials to match your mood.
I start every morning with a cup of coffee and a book. The coffee is a constant, but I let my mood dictate what the book will be. Rather than plowing through whatever book I’m in the middle of regardless of my daily disposition, I tailor the reading to what my mind most needs. Sometimes my brain needs some inspiration in the form or a business book. Other times, a fascinating story from history or a glimpse into our human biology is the perfect vehicle for my curiosity to run wild. And then there are days when diving into a good story is an excellent idea.
I went through a period of my life where I refused to read anything that wasn’t nonfiction or a timeless classic. My reason being that I needed to be learning something or reading the best if I was going to sit down with a book.
However, now I’m of a different opinion. Reading, no matter what the subject matter, is one of the most valuable parts of my day. It’s not simply an escape, it’s a way to feed my brain with ideas and to hone my writing skills. I never know when a fact from Churchill’s biography will be the exact detail I need for a presentation, or when a particularly beautiful sentence will inspire a new piece of writing.
During a time when travel is limited and our access to others must happen through a screen, reading takes on an added value. When you’re down, getting lost in a book can be the very thing you need to fill yourself back up.
5. Find your anthem (and shake your booty).
I dare you to dance around your house, sing at the top of your lungs, and not feel the tiniest bit better afterwards.
Make that embarrassing playlist with all of your favorite songs! Belt your heart out to your beloved musical numbers! Dance like a maniac to your favorite love-to-hate pop songs!
What’s your favorite, non-traditional way to lift your spirits? I want to hear about it!