How To Break Out Of A Slump Without Working Yourself To Death
Seven mental shifts to set you on a new path
Eight of us sat in a circle, each taking a turn to read a synopsis of our work. Jane volunteered to go first. She introduced herself and boasted of an award she won for a screenplay several years earlier. She then read her synopsis and waited for the conference leader’s assessment.
Sarah, the conference leader, spoke firmly but respectfully. Jane’s plot lacked plausibility and needed more conflict.
Jane turned defensive. She repeated her credentials, emphasizing her award. Sarah maintained her position. I could see Jane’s forced restraint, hiding the tears and anger.
During a break, Jane talked about her award and admitted to falling into a slump since her career highlight. But a few others in the group offered poor advice. They told her not to listen to the harsh feedback and went on to decry the conference leader’s criticism of their stories.
All this begged the obvious question. If they were so opposed to criticism, why would they attend a writer’s conference designed to offer criticism?
Seeking out and accepting feedback is one of the seven mental shifts that enable you to pull yourself out of a slump, mediocrity, or stagnation. I’ve been guilty of all seven at some point in my life. So, if any of these resonate with you, know you’re not alone.
1) Take responsibility
If you find yourself uttering any of this self-talk, take a pause and recalibrate your reality.
“They don’t recognize my excellence.”
“If only I had [some privilege] others enjoy, my results would soar.”
“I do phenomenal work, but [some entity] is fighting against me, holding me back.”
Perhaps you’re the next Van Gogh, and your genius won’t gain recognition until after your death. That’s possible, but for every Van Gogh, a million self-proclaimed unrecognized superstars live under the false belief that the world isn’t ready for their brilliance.
If your results fall short of expectations, take responsibility. Don’t blame the world or outside forces. Taking ownership of your failure is the first step to setting yourself on a new path.
2) Admit to mistakes and learn from them
When I worked in sales, my manager had us spend thirty minutes in a hot seat after the close of business. Each of us spent five minutes sitting in front of our peers while he tore apart our calls and pointed out every mistake.
Here’s what I learned from that process.
- The most successful people showed eagerness to learn and embraced the lessons no matter how damaging to their ego.
- The unsuccessful people made excuses, fought back, and interpreted the constructive criticism as personal attacks.
I don’t know what you do, what skill you desire to excel at, but I know you make mistakes. Everyone does. Analyze your work. Pick it apart. Find a partner to help you, as it’s often challenging to discover and recognize errors in your work. Embrace your failures as learning opportunities.
Always have the humility to admit you’re still a student of whatever profession or art you wish to excel.
3) Invest in yourself
Investing in yourself almost always pays dividends, yet many folks are unable to justify the expense. They think they can do it all on their own or they reason they’re good enough.
A while back, I hired a copy editor to help me with my blogs. I also hired a developmental editor to help me with my fiction. These were investments I made in myself.
Both of these experts uncovered deficiencies I never knew existed. I gained insight that would have taken me years to learn on my own.
Yes, teachers and mentors cost money. If you’re not in a financial position to invest in yourself right now, set aside some cash to do so in your future.
4) Embrace the unknown
When you stick to what feels safe, you stagnate. Growth comes from exploration, experimentation, and escaping your comfort zone.
Your comfort zone acts as a barrier to growth. It begins when you achieve a level of success. It feels comfortable or good enough, so you take a pause. You coast.
Comfort should trigger a warning.
The minute you feel comfortable, try something you’ve never done before. Take on a challenge beyond your expertise. The longer you remain mired in comfort, the more difficult the escape.
5) Avoid success arrogance
You experience a taste of success, and then you think you’re the shit — just like that person at the writer’s conference who refused to accept criticism.
I can’t be too hard on her. I’m guilty of it too. A story of mine went viral two years ago, and so I anointed myself the king of the bloggers. I was lucky. I fell on my face quickly and regained my humility.
Success breeds arrogance. Arrogance leads to laziness and stagnation. Combat arrogance by experimenting with something new. A failure, even a small one, helps keep you humble.
6) Seek out barriers and remove them
I was a tennis junkie as a kid. I took lessons, played in tournaments, and practiced five days a week.
At the age of twelve, I found a new coach. He told me my swing was improper, and if I neglected to correct it, I would never improve. My incorrect form would act as a barrier to growth.
I refused to believe him at first. But I couldn’t ignore the truth. My peers were pulling ahead of me, and all my effort and extra practice failed to close the gap.
I took a step backward to move forward. I had to unlearn my poor form and start over.
Practice matters, but it’s not enough. You must learn the right way of doing things. I know it stings, but sometimes you need to go backward to go forward.
7) Tame the false positivity
This self-talk seems productive, but it leads to a state of delusional thinking. A former mentor of mine called it the final hurdle syndrome.
We were on a coaching call. I was struggling at the time, and my coach asked how I thought my career was progressing. I told him I was almost out of my slump. I just needed one more skill, one more hack, one more bit of knowledge to break the success barrier.
“Bullshit,” he said. “None of that will help you. You always think you’re one hurdle away from breaking out. You’re not even close. Stop fooling yourself.”
I hung up without responding. My mentor’s extreme honesty was too much for my fragile ego. But we talked the next day, and he imparted a valuable piece of advice.
Do the work
I spent ninety percent of my time learning back then. I consumed books, courses, and seminars like oxygen. On the surface, it appeared I was working hard. I was dedicated to learning and improving my craft.
In reality, I was scared. I feared selling and the rejection that accompanied it. Do the work, my coach admonished. Go out and sell. That was the work I needed to do.
Perhaps you know a writer who devours books about writing but never writes. Maybe you work with a salesperson who attends seminar after seminar but can’t seem to knock on a door.
All the learning in the world won’t matter if they never put their knowledge into practice.
“Do the work” refers to the hard part of achieving success— putting yourself and your ego on the line for the opportunity to grow.