The times I’ve felt really lost have been in-between times. In-between relationships, in-between projects, even in-between emergencies. In-between identities. What do I want? A chemistry equation would be easier to solve.
In week 1, we talked about how failing to choose enjoyment can lead to resentment. Last week, we talked about dealing with option overload. What about times we’re blank? No options come to mind. Nothing seems to matter.
When I was in college and working 32 hours a week, I was continuously inspired. Ideas came in a rush, as though all the people I ever wanted to meet were attending one dinner. I longed for time to connect with each idea, develop each story, explore each topic, learn every language, and hang out with all the other students having fun.
When we’re busy running down a dream (RIP Tom Petty), inspiration abounds.
When my first husband left, I left college. I couldn’t focus. There were days nothing inspired me. Thankfully, I had bills, so I got out of bed each morning and went to work. For months, I lay on the couch every night, reading Piers Anthony. My friend from college called it a “Literary candy binge,” but Piers was more interesting than the blank pages in my head, and he made me smile. With all the time in the world, I couldn’t remember the things I’d wanted to do.
Blankness comes when we’re depressed, lonely, or when busy-ness has come to a screeching halt. When we’re feeling uninspired, here are a few ways we can recover our power:
Journaling – not a pity-party on paper, although that’s bound to happen sometimes. No, a get-to-know-yourself journal. I made lists of things I’d done with my husband and thought about whether I truly enjoyed them or wanted to try different things. I made lists of talents I wanted to nurture and skills I’d like to have. I found intellectual books and copied quotes from them. Maybe I could only concentrate on a page or two at a time, but I fed my brain. I pasted magazine pictures or quotes onto the corners of my journal pages, a trick I learned from my friend Katherine. I played poetry tag with my friend Suzy. We’d give each other a word or phrase and write a few lines. I’ve used many of those lines in my music.
I began to like me. The idea of me, anyway. Finally, unwilling to live only in my mind, I began doing the activities I’d listed. Some of them were not nearly as fun as they sounded. Some of them seemed scary until I tried them. Pretty soon, I’d found new things to enjoy.
Negative Reinforcement. This is a strange topic for me–I prefer smiles and hugs and attagirls, but I must admit in times of low motivation, negative reinforcement does the job. I may not know who I want to be, and I might have difficulty believing I could be anything spectacular, but I can list a few things I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be crippled from a heart attack, bound up from inflexible ligaments, owned by an addiction. I don’t want to meet amazing people and have nothing to say about myself. I don’t want to be 90 years old and have failed to use my gifts. I don’t want to be telling one single success story — or sob story — for the rest of my life. These things keep me doing cardio and stretching, if not every day. They help me experience life without chemical enhancement or dulling. They help me pursue projects to the end.
Be careful with negative reinforcement. Every useful tactic has a way of being abused. Just ask any woman who’s punished herself on the treadmill for being too fat, too unlovable. Sometimes we abuse ourselves to the point of lasting damage. Other times, negative reinforcement becomes an excuse for not trying at all. Just ask any man who’s awakened to an empty house and a hangover. Deciding all is lost, he grabs another drink.
This is where self-awareness and practicality come in handy. Honestly examine the facts. Am I rolling in the mud of laziness, self-pity, fear or addiction? I can recognize that without movement, these things will take away my power. Even if I’m not feeling powerful, I don’t want to lose more than I’ve already lost. I can choose one useful activity today and follow through. As I do, I begin to believe in myself again.
In his book, Resilience–Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli says “hardiness” is a combination of three things:
1) The belief that one can find meaningful purpose in life
2) The belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and
3) The belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.
These are fundamental lessons the Bible has taught me. The people in its pages endured real struggles, asked real questions and influenced the world for millennia. The Bible tells me my life has purpose, and if I’m walking in line with God, I have power to positively impact my own life and the world around me.
If you’ve reached a point where you can’t imagine anything good coming out of your life, I’d love to pray with you. God isn’t stumped, wondering what to do with your mess. He adores you and wants to guide you forward. My book, Wisdom — Better than Wishing, can help you make good decisions one day at a time. You might connect with God today using my free PDF, Spirit Break!