12.04.13

How To Pull Yourself Out of a Slump

Sometimes the thing you love becomes the thing you hate.

It’s like, you’re crazy passionate about writing or yoga or social media marketing (or whatever your “thing” is) and then, seemingly all of the sudden, you love it less than you used to. It’s less exciting, less fun, less of something you’re dying to do and more of something you’re now just going through the motions of doing while kind of resenting. Basically, you’re in a slump, and you’re wondering how it happened and how the eff you’re going to be able to claw your way out.

Now, this is the part where I tell you that I’m finally resurfacing from a five-week running slump that was truly the worst I’ve had in the two and a half years since I first laced up my shoes and attempted to slog my way down the block.

I’ve had dips before, sure, but nothing like this. This slump was dark, you guys. There were moments (which were less momentary and more multi-day in length) where I was positive I would never enjoy running again. You name a slump symptom, and I had it. Physical and mental exhaustion? Check. Anger and frustration? Check. Boredom, blah-dom, and a general “who gives a shit” attitude that made it impossible to put one foot in front of the other? Check, check, and check.

I remember one run – a basic, easy 45-minute run – where I stopped about halfway through. I just… stopped. I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, and decided I was going to call a taxi to come and take me home because I just couldn’t fucking do it for one more second. And, if I’m being honest, the only reason I didn’t do exactly that is that I don’t run with my phone. No phone, no taxi. But otherwise? I would have sat my ass down and paid a stranger to drive me the 1.5 miles back to my apartment.

And, you know, it’s not like anything happened. I didn’t have some big dramatic incident that put me off running – it was more that, one day, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this sport anymore. My legs were absolutely exhausted, but it was more than that – my goals just seemed insanely arbitrary, and I couldn’t connect with why I was doing any of it anymore.

The hardest part was that I knew, even during the worst of it, that those weren’t my real feelings. Intellectually, I remembered my love of running, I just couldn’t bring it to the surface, couldn’t actually feel it, no matter how hard I tried. Somehow, the thing I loved had become the thing I hated, and I was terrified that the scales would never tip back in the other direction.

But thankfully (seriously so much gratitude omfgggg), the scales did tip back, and here’s what I’ve managed to pull out of this experience as a little roadmap for myself in case this ever happens again:

6 Ways To Pull Yourself Out of a Slump

1. Take a break
I mean, of course, right? If you’re completely burnt out, you need to back off. So, I talked to my coach, I hid my running shoes for five days, and tried not to think about all of the fitness I might be losing. After those five days, I felt a tiny spark of wanting to run again (yay!), but during that first run back I still felt shitty (booo). It felt like I was running through quicksand, both mentally and physically, and I realized that the break hadn’t been long enough. Or, rather, that I needed a different kind of break – one that fell in between structured training and complete rest.

2. Get back to basics
Taking a complete time-out didn’t really help (although I’ve done that in the past and it’s been the exact and only cure I needed), so I decided not to take a break from running, just a break from training. Because, as anyone who has ever trained for a race (of any distance) can tell you: they aren’t the same thing. So, away went my heart rate monitor and fancy Garmin watch. Bye bye to track workouts and tempo runs. I went back to what I loved when I first fell in love with running – just trotting along by the beach, at whatever pace felt good, listening to mind-candy audiobooks and not giving a shit about anything. As soon as I took the pressure off and gave myself permission to do only the parts of the sport I truly wanted to do, I started feeling better.

3. Do something complementary
One of my favorite things about running is that it connects me with my body and makes me feel all kinds of hippie-juju-goodness. It’s that intoxicating feeling of pushing yourself to your edge, but running isn’t the only way to get it. So, as I scaled back on the miles, I ramped up the yoga. Is yoga the same as running? Of course not. But it’s a great complement, and it’s one of my favorite ways to stay active and build strength while doing something that’s different from the original source of my burn-out.

4. Approach your thing from a new direction
When I’m training, all of my focus is on me and my running. During my slump, I realized how much of the running world had been blocked out by my go-go-go training blinders – volunteering at races, watching running-related documentaries, reading inspiring memoirs by other runners, etc. – and I started to purposefully interact with the thing I love in a new way by doing things like this. Sometimes, a fresh perspective is all you need.

5. Share your passion with others
In order to get into a slump in the first place, you have to do your thing long enough to get worn down. And, it’s often easy to overlook this, but all throughout that time leading up to your burn-out, you were learning stuff. Become more of a veteran at your “thing.” And that stuff you learned? It could be super helpful for other people. So, while I was wandering aimlessly through slump-town, I tried to focus on what I had learned in the past year and how I might be able to share it with other runners. For example, I worked hard on adding new content to my beginner’s half marathon training program, which re-opens in January, and I also had fun putting together this little Runner’s Gift Guide for you:

gift-guide

1. Runner’s World subscription // 2. Race Medal Holder // 3. Running Undies with Cheeky Sayings, 3-pack from Oiselle // 4. Handana (for wiping sweat and whatever else) // 5. Podium Pajamas from Oiselle (super soft & perfect for pre-race slumber!)

6. Take back your identity 
The absolute worst part of being in the running slump was that, for five weeks, I didn’t feel like myself. So much of who I am has become intertwined with running that without it, I felt lost. Now, don’t get me wrong, running is (and probably always will be) an important part of how I spend my time, how I push myself, and how I process my feelings, but this slump taught me that even though running is something I do, it isn’t who I am. I am more than my ability (or inability) to run. As much as I love running, the thing that finally pulled me out of the slump was fully accepting that even without running, I’m still me. And that, actually, I could benefit from putting a little more focus on the other things I love – regardless of my slump-status or my weekly mileage total.

And that’s my point – we are so much more than the sum of our parts. We’re more than where we work, what we eat, and how we spend our time. All of those things can change, in a second, and if this running slump taught me anything it’s that the more attached you are to something, and the tighter you wrap your little death-griping hands around it, the more you’ll live in fear of losing it. And that’s no way to live at all.

So that’s my next hurdle, I think: overcoming the fear of not being able to run. Because I’m a runner, yes, but I’m also so much more.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura December 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

Oh wow, this is well-timed. I am right in the middle of a post-marathon run slump. Compounded by the arrival of Canadian winter and I am just completely hating it. I am “work really hard, stay healthy, get really lucky” shape for a BQ next year (based on my first marathon in October) and every time I go for a run and fail to execute I just feel worse, where running has always been my way to feel better.

If I don’t run I feel like I’ve given up my dream of the BQ, and if I do run but it doesn’t go well then I feel like I was dumb to dream it to start out with.

Long story – you’re not the only one who slumps, and I’m going to try and work through some of the things you suggest here (if only I had the option of a run on the beach too!)

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Kelsey December 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

This is great advice, Nicole! I was recently in a work slump after rotating to a new position and being forced to leave one I loved. The move had me so upset that I forgot to embrace the newness for all it’s worth. Similar to you with running, I let my first position define me, and I didn’t know what to do when it was gone. Now that I’ve greeted change full-force I am able to see the new opportunity as just that — an opportunity, not a hurdle. Since then, I’ve been slumpless :)

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Sean December 4, 2013 at 8:12 am

I feel exactly like this about my job – and almost everything I do – except for being a dad…how do you take a break from it all ?

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Kelly December 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

Keep those helpful tips comin’! Your straight-forward, say-it-like-it-needs-to-be-said style is SO much appreciated!

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Ali December 4, 2013 at 8:24 am

Wow, I needed to read this today. I’ve been in a writing/blogging slump. Haven’t really written anything in at least a week, and today I basically sat on the couch all day watching Modern Family DVDs. I’m definitely burnt out and a bit overwhelmed by internet noise and wondering what the hell I’m trying to do here. Great advice here!

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tara December 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

i always seem to hit a slump right after a big race, especially in the winter! it’s usually a combination of the weather, the lack of something to train for, and just pure exhaustion. i try to give myself a decent amount of time off to make myself WANT to run again, to find that passion again.

and isn’t ditching the gadgets pretty great? for my last half, i think i ran with my garmin 3 times, and one of those was for a race. i absolutely loved just using a basic $5 stopwatch and running how i wanted. sure, my race outcome wasn’t as great as it could have been if i’d done some speedwork and stuff, but 99% of my runs for that (albiet short!) training cycle were pretty great.

i’m definitely doing some complementary stuff for the next few weeks, more yoga and some spinning classes, since i really took to the bike during my injury. i’m hoping that come january, i’ll be ready to rock again! i’ve picked a race to train for next spring (on the beach!), but true training won’t start until february at the earliest, so i’ve got some time to kill.

also? adding the handana to my wishlist right now!

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Lacey Bean December 4, 2013 at 8:36 am

I’ve now been running since September, and I’m sure I’ll hit the slump at some point. Refreshing to see that everyone gets it, regardless of how passionate they are or how long they’ve been in it.

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doniree December 4, 2013 at 8:51 am

Are you in my brain? You pretty much summed up here, all the things I *didn’t* say in my last email. I burned out on something that I love, I decided it was time to approach it from a new direction (or, I guess, I’m realizing that now), and I gave myself a mandatory (at least 30-day) break by removing the possibility of continuing to do that thing come January 1. Is my identity tied up in my career? Yes. Am I worried I’ll never love those things again in the same way and need to start over, from scratch, with something else? Not as much, but in the worst of it, I definitely was. Anyway. All that to say, I’m relating through a totally different set of circumstances, and the pieces you’ve pulled out of a shitty slump, well, they ARE really helpful to others and I’m glad you’re getting back to a better place :)

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Iris R. December 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

This is the best timing. As I was falling asleep last night I was reflecting how deep my general life-slump is right now and feeling the first pangs of needing to make some changes today. Sometimes a slump is just giving yourself enough time to process and feel ready, and I think sometimes it’s about pushing yourself to get back in the game (with enough permission to suck for a while). Revisiting my goals today and giving myself a bit of a kick in the butt to move forward.

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Miriam Dema December 4, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thanks for this! I’m smack in the head space of wondering where the heck I am with some things. I make art and lately I’ve felt more stuck than inspired, I’ve spent some time perusing ‘hobbies’ and learning other skills to broaden out my making abilities and I’m finally seeing the light where I’ll be able to integrate some of my older skills with some of the newer things I’ve learned. Oh, I’m still slogging through things but at least I feel like I’m slogging towards something instead of just treading water.

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Jolene December 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Again, LOVE this Nicole!! If you could have climbed in my brain, this would have come out, but less well written ;-) I too have fallen into a slump, w running, with other things too, and these are some awesome universal truths to climb out and come back refreshed and renewed.

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Elizabeth December 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Sometimes I swear we are sharing a brain. Thankfully you are operating the wiser, saner half. I can’t tell you what a blessing you are in my life.

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Sarah December 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Great post – I always appreciate your “I’m not perfect, but let’s figure out how to deal with that together” stuff. I get bogged down by feeling guilty that I’m not doing 1,000 things every day towards my goals. I have learned to say in my mind “I CHOOSE to sit on the couch today and not run” as opposed to “I know I SHOULD run today… Should I go now? Or maybe in like 30 minutes? Ok, now should I go?” Sounds a lot like your #1 above. I’d say don’t only take a break, but COMMIT to doing so without guilt! :)

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Q December 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Ever since you told us to look out for this post, I’ve been looking out for this post!

I’ve been having so much trouble with drawing lately – without understanding why. Am I afraid I’ll never be good enough? Am I afraid I could never actually draw full time? Frustrated that I seem to do just about everything THAN drawing? Stressed that I have an ‘audition’ for my dream education soon and that requires me to be, well, amazing? Confused that “if this is my passion why isn’t it easier”?

Agh, probably all of those things. But just reading that other people sometimes hate what they love, too… I mean, that has just turned it around for me.

I’m so glad just were able to bounce back to running after a five week break (seriously, wow!) and that gives me so much hope. Maybe I can stop beating myself up about this whole thing now. It’s not like my dream education won’t be there next year as well, if I need more practice time. It’s not like it’s a race (running pun only somewhat intended). It’s not like I haven’t got other things I love that I can focus on for a little while.

So: Thank you! So much!

… I think I’ll get started on that drawing I’ve been thinking about.

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Robyn December 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

#Relevant. Thank you.

I too need to overcome my fear of not being able to run. In a practical sense because, um, hello, every runner gets hurt/burnt out/busy/sick/etc and won’t always be able to follow their ideal x miles per day plan. As someone currently on the bench, I go back and forth between accepting that running will still be there when I get better, and feeling like I’ve completely lost control over making myself happy. But you’re right. No matter what “things” we may be attached to, we’re still our own selves even when we’re completely stripped of those things.

Basically I just reiterated everything you said :) Good stuff lady.

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Jo-Anne December 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Yeah I have been there in that slump and your advice to pull one out of it are bloody great, something I will have to try and keep in mind for my next slump

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becca b December 4, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I completely agree with you! Nicole, I’m at my third week without running after a major injury to both knees. Before it, I was running 15 miles a week but in the weeks before my injury I just “wasn’t feeling it”. I had definitely hit my slump.

Now ALL I WANT TO DO IS RUN and I can’t. I have had to redefine what fit is, what beautiful is, what relaxes me…its so difficult! Hopefully I’ll never hit a slump like that again because I’ll remember what its like to not be able to run.

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Darlene December 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

Laura,
Thank you bunches for a refreshing way to approach issues that we all deal with, especially as you ‘mature’ (talking about age here)….
I find that hearing ‘new news’ regarding ‘old news’ is what many of us need for a reviving jump start.
Thanks again and hope to see you and friends on http://www.texasmama.com, a fun view of ‘over 55++ ideas of life as it unfolds as Life of a Real Texas Mama!

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Toni December 7, 2013 at 7:18 am

OMG I have wanted a handana for so long and literally could not figure out what they were called, leading to some bizarre and totally fruitless google searches. So just for that alone, huge thanks!

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Scott December 7, 2013 at 11:35 am

Love the message of this post! The bold paragraph at the end is brilliant, thanks for sharing that message in such a clear, meaningful way.

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Simone December 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Oh man, I feel like this about writing sometimes. I love your suggestions too! For me, taking a break really helps & also doing some input. Exhausted from writing? I pick up a book or, I just go out and experience/re-connect the world. Open my eyes. Go for walks. Connect with friends. I love to write and the urge always returns, but in order to keep a good balance and stay inspired I need to make sure I do these other things too.

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Jena December 9, 2013 at 3:17 am

Oh man, another one of your posts that speaks to my soul. I hadn’t finished reading the post last week (and I thought I did) but it really says things I needed to hear. I’ve been in a writing slump for YEARS and it’s just been awful – to the point where I’m AFRAID to even try, but I have been writing here and there, just nothing that I want anyone of substance to even see. I’m still not sure how to get myself out of it.

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Doug December 11, 2013 at 7:53 am

I love the “Get back to the basics” approach. If I’m willing to leave the set mileage, GPS, and planned routes behind for a few days and just run to feel, I usually find myself re-energized and focus by the end of the week!

Great tips!

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Heather December 27, 2013 at 1:26 am

Nicole, you know exactly how to reach into every person’s core and tell them to get their asses off the floor and sort their shit out! I am in a slump with my gymnastics. I feel like I’ve reached the end of my abilities, that I will never get any better, so I might as well give up. But that never helped anyone, huh? Thanks for telling me off. Third nationals in a row, here I come!!!!

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Tess H January 15, 2014 at 6:42 pm

This is an amazing post, I really like it. However, my slump is different. I’ve fallen into a slump where I really just don’t want to do ANYTHING! I used to love to go to school and learn. I was so dedicated to pursue my dream of becoming a hot shot doctor and impress my parents. I wanted NOT to be like my mother who lays in bed and sleeps her days away. Now, I am turning into exactly what I didn’t want. This slump has been persistent! Its been almost two years since Ive actually really enjoyed doing anything that I used to love doing.

My question is, how do I pull myself out of this thing?

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Jillian March 27, 2014 at 11:06 pm

This is a really great article. My slump isn’t even running related at all, it’s in another area of my life, but I could still connect to your troubles and take your advice to heart. And if I can figure out how to use this in my life, I’m sure it’ll help. Thanks!

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