YOUR BEST FRIEND EMILY ADVICE COLUMN
YOUR BEST FRIEND EMILY ADVICE COLUMN
YOUR BEST FRIEND EMILY
A PROVOCATIVE ADVICE COLUMN FOR THOUGHTFUL & CURIOUS HUMANS
Getting Motivated While In A Funk
I have been down for 4 months, but no big event happened to make me feel this way. I don’t have much motivation for anything. Just taking a shower feels exhausting. I want to get out of this funk but I don’t know how. Do you have any tips?
Henry, 28, Köln, Germany
I understand how hard it can be to do ANYTHING when you are feeling down. Feeling down is often characterized by experiencing low levels of energy and little to no motivation. That low level of energy inside would make most anybody’s motivation feel diminished or non-existent. Low levels of motivation can be fueled by not feeling your natural and vital energy inside. And, when down, it is incredibly challenging to take actions that would be helpful in lifting yourself out of the funk you’re in because motivation is low. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario: to feel motivated, you need energy. And so, the cycle of no energy leading to little or no motivation can often continue, taking you into an even deeper funk...unless, you interrupt it.
While I don’t know exactly what is underneath the absence of vitality you feel, there are still ways I can recommend for you to intentionally make yourself come alive and feel motivated, inspired and creative. One way that can work unbelievably well and is supported by scientific research is to use music. Music is an easy way to add energy, elicit positive emotions (which creates more of your natural, vital energy) and stimulate physical movement. Using the gift of music to help you will require hardly any effort on your part. This makes it an effective tool that both honors how you feel in this current moment while also producing a successful upturn in your mood. So here are the 3 super easy steps you can implement that will give you energy, which will lead to increasing your motivation and thus, your mood:
1. Identify the feeling you want to experience: inspiration, vitality, self-love or kindness? Or some other emotion?
2. Select a song that makes you feel the emotion you identified
3. Play the song and allow yourself to surrender to its vibration and its life force
You can play the song on repeat. Let go…have fun, allow yourself to dance, sing along and really FEEL the music! This simple, intentional act will allow you to begin to heal and will build the positive emotions that you are desiring, so you can go out there and tackle the world again!
Stop Being a Dumpster For Others: Learn How to Be a Mirror
I am in a current situation with my very difficult boss at work. She speaks in a cold way, makes hurtful comments about my age (26) and generation, and criticizes aspects of my work in a way that I don't find helpful. In the past, I would have identified with a recurring pessimistic thought, "My boss is just who she is, and our relationship is just what it is. I am going to start looking for a job elsewhere." This pessimistic outlook would have really worked out for my old self. This would have felt better, because it would have been a lot easier for my non-confrontational, introverted nature! Plus, I would have gotten to play the victim and make my boss out to be the perpetrator. But I chose, however, these optimistic thoughts instead: "Through conversations and love, I can create a positive working relationship with my boss. I'll start by sharing with her how it felt when she called me an "infant" at the board meeting." That conversation with my boss was so scary for me. My stomach did flip flops, and I even got a couple of hives. It went against my non-confrontational nature and it really didn't feel good on any level. The outcome also wasn't particularly successful. She still delivers unproductive criticism and makes disparaging remarks. How can I learn to not be somebody who makes herself small and accepts aggressive and unkind statements? How can I stick up for myself while still being a professional, kind, and graceful person?
- Done Being A Dumpster
Dear Done Being A Dumpster,
What you’re experiencing with and from your boss seems really tough. Some of the behaviors you describe sound downright disgusting! I understand how hard this can be to experience and, especially because you are in a professional environment, where you might feel more limited in how to appropriately respond. What's more, your goal to be kind and maintain grace while sticking up for yourself is a way of being that is commendable. And, it models good behavior for others. I believe that a technique called mirroring would be helpful in this situation. So, I’ll share some thoughts about your situation, why mirroring would work well here and lay out the steps for how to put it into practice.
First off…my suggestion for you is to begin to see everything others do as information. Information that carries no positive or negative valence. Because, in fact, information is neutral. This can be hard to integrate because humans have a tendency to label things as "positive" or "negative"; when, in reality, an event or anything that happens is neutral until humans apply a meaning or label to it. When you observe something done or said by another, look at the behavior or words as information--information that is revealing who they are or what they are experiencing in that moment. Practicing this will also help you to not feel victimized by another, and it can serve to enhance compassion and de-personalize the situation.
Also, try to remember (hang tough with me here for a moment because this next part may sound cynical) that people usually care most about themselves. Even if somebody says otherwise. Why? Human beings are animals who are motivated first and foremost by the biological need to survive. A human's ability to survive is based on three motivations: 1) the drive for a desirable outcome; 2) the drive to avoid an undesirable outcome; and 3) the need to release tension and find a state of balance within themselves. Our bodies function outside of our awareness to help us find homeostasis and one way this can be seen is when our immune system fights off illness; this is a form of the human biological motivation to survive and get the body back to a functioning state of balance or homeostasis. Or when somebody feels rage inside, they usually want to release it, and so may exercise or scream and yell; these acts can serve to bring the body back to a state of balance.
Now, in light of the above, please allow me to be frank: whatever people say or do usually has nothing to do with you. And this is most likely true regarding the case with your boss. Her statements toward you may appear to be aimed at you. However, I am confident that they are reflections of her inner struggle. The likely reason she has directed statements at you could be because you may have become a symbol to her--a symbol that triggers your boss's internal personal struggle. If you weren't working for her, she likely would have found somebody else to take aim at. Remember: her struggle isn’t actually about you. Her actions and choices are about herself. And your presence probably reminds her of some of the fears she is trying to avoid. So, she may dump on you to avoid feeling awful inside. I would bet that her behavior (the fact she is doing this and being hurtful to you) is, to some degree, out of her awareness. There is a common saying in psychology: 'People who hurt, hurt.'
Those moments you describe sound tough--when you feel she is firing off unkind comments and dumping on your performance without offering constructive ways to improve. That would be hard for most anybody. And, it can be difficult to remain kind and graceful when you want to stick up for yourself--especially in a professional situation. My suggestion for you in those tough moments is to be a mirror. Let me explain what I mean by 'be a mirror'. Mirroring is a skill wherein one person reflects another's behavior back to them--instead of taking on another's behavior and its potential emotional impacts. Mirroring is a skill that you can learn, and with practice, it can strengthen. With awareness, astute observation and practice, you will find yourself mirroring people back to themselves, and not taking on their garbage. Because, you are not their dumpster!
Now, the steps for how to put mirroring into action. Firstly, keep in mind that this skill usually takes practice for most people. Secondly, the mirroring skill is usually engaged spontaneously, when an unexpected comment is being shot your way. So, it is important to remember to observe the information that is being fired your way, see it as neutral, and do not be emotionally reactive or defensive.
Step 1: Hear the words that may feel like an attack or defamation, etc. and see those words as information. Neutral information.
Step 2: Look at that information and identify to yourself what the emotion seems to be that the other person is actually feeling or expressing.
Step 3: State the emotion you sense the other person is showing or feeling in the following way: "It sounds like you’re angry” or "You seem upset." Or, to mirror the statement when your boss called you an "infant", you could say to her: “What does that mean?” or "I'm not sure I understand what you said. Can you please clarify your statement?" Sometimes in a professional situation these last two examples can be less confrontational.
Important for Step 3: Enact all words without emotion; just deliver back information as if you are a mirror. This forces the person to receive back (kindly, too!) the emotion, feeling or sensation they were trying to dump onto you so to avoid feeling it themselves.
When your perception is re-framed so that you see your boss's words as nothing more than neutral information about her current state and, you act as a mirror who reflects information, then this immediately serves to de-personalize her comment. You no longer feel it is about you. When you practice this, your actions serve to model that you won't take on her emotions--despite the fact that she once identified you as her target who would. For the record, it is usually empathic and compassionate individuals (like yourself) who find themselves in these situations. I suppose this is the downside of embodying a big heart. When you lovingly *reflect* her message back to herself (yes, like a mirror), she will likely have to deal with it. And, she will learn that you are no longer the person to whom she can successfully dump her inner trash. Individuals who are hurting, like your boss is, can develop a coping mechanism to deal with the pain; this way of coping can drive them to subconsciously avoid growing and becoming a loving being, themselves. It's hard to deal with tough stuff, right?! For your boss, for yourself, for all of us. From my perspective, your boss sounds like she is currently experiencing some pains in her mind, and perhaps these are related to coping with her fear of aging, lost youth, and the progression towards death. Thus, her reference to you as an "infant". This can be a tough space for many people to dwell. One way to cope is to try disparaging youth or those who symbolize youth to them; this allows one to avoid feeling the fear and truth that we all will die and must, at some point, face doing the tough work that is required to process what is a very human fear, and thereafter, go on to embrace living! If this is the case, and you are a symbol that triggers her, then ironically, you have the potential to serve as enlightening information for her--to choose to grow and transform or not.
A few final thoughts and tips on mirroring. Mirroring, as I see it, is an art. Its mastery takes practice for most people. If you decide to enact mirroring, look for what works and what doesn’t. Set your goals to refine your muscle of seeing everything that comes your way as neutral information, and commit to practicing the art of mirroring. When you act as a mirror, you no longer become a victim of another person's inability to take responsibility for their feelings and to maintain proper boundaries. And, you send the information back to the person to whom it belongs, non-aggressively, and this serves to remove yourself from the situation. As a result of effective mirroring, you may immediately notice that the dumper will state something uncomfortable about themselves, go into a rage, or are unable to respond. It can take practice, but keep at it. It is a profoundly helpful tool that honors your own and others' boundaries, strengthens self-respect, and fosters compassion. Shine on!