Recently I managed to emerge from a very strange rut. Will I slip back into it again? Almost definitely. However, let me give you a bit of background on the rut and how I managed to pull myself out of it, almost instantaneously. It eventually came down to an idea ridiculously and almost embarrassingly simple: give yourself permission to be happy.
For the best part of 2 months, I would go about my daily life which as well as the usual chores and struggles, also included some incredible things like seeing friends, keeping active and even transitioning from finishing university to begin writing full-time – something which I have been wanting to do for a long time.
However, despite all of these great things going on and being surrounded by so many great people, I still found myself at a fairly constant 7 out of 10. If something negative would arise I would maybe fall to a 6 or if something incredible happened I would maybe rise to an 8, but my feelings of contentment would rarely fluctuate at all.
This point in my life has seen much change and I definitely need to assign some of the feelings of being stuck, a bit lost and a bit overwhelmed to that. Maybe not wanting to swing too hard either way or else I might fall off the tightrope. Yet, even if I tried, I just couldn’t seem to budge out of the rut. As someone relatively new to all of this, I was mentally bombarded with all of the things ‘I have to do’ and thinking about how far I need to go and being weighed down about how difficult it is all going to be. I was, as usual, moving too fast and was drawing comparisons to other people who are where I want to be and to my friends who are all on their own paths now.
What went wrong
Essentially, these past few months I have been living in the past and definitely far into the future. Anywhere except for the present. I knew I would eventually become unstuck in the mud, just as I am likely to fall back in eventually. I just didn’t know how long it would last but I hoped that it wouldn’t be too much longer.
And then, as stupid and absurd and ‘get out of town I can’t believe that you’ve said that’ basic it might seem, I just decided to be happy. Better put, I gave myself permission to be happy. That’s it.
I had all of these goals and challenges and problems and fears. I still do. But because I knew I had them, subconsciously or even sometimes consciously, I would tell myself that I needed to be stressed, anxious or worried in order to achieve and overcome them. There’s no room for happiness when your to-do list is so long.
Then one Tuesday morning, I was sat having a coffee before I started work and was thinking about how I could get myself out of feeling like this: low-level stressed and unable to be truly happy all of the time. I did the incredibly crazy thing of just deciding to be happy. I have loads of things to do, loads of challenges to face, a long road ahead, I can either tackle them stressed and anxious or happy and willingly. The decision is that simple and mine alone to make.
This very subtle but extremely potent shift in giving myself permission to be happy was more effective than any reasoning I had managed in my head for the previous 2 months. By simply deciding that I could be happy and should be happy and may as well be happy, I was.
I realised that some things might really fucking suck; in your head, in reality, or in both, and not much can be done about that. What can be changed though is you stopping telling yourself the same story that ‘this fucking sucks’ and continuing to artificially manufacture that sucky feeling. The sucky feeling only comes once naturally, the rest of the time you are reigniting it and keeping the feeling alive.
One of my favourite parts of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson helps to reinforce this idea:
Back in grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself ‘Gee Whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s life. Back to shovelling hay.’
Instead, I was spinning stories about why I was feeling down, the excuses I had for feeling down and then wrote out a contract for myself and signed on the dotted line about how I would stay that way until I worked my way out of it, rather than just deciding to come out of it. I thought that I would run out of problems and spun a story that I should stay in this state of gloom until I had.
Also from the book:
We feel bad about feeling bad. We feel guilty about feeling guilty. We get angry about getting angry. We get anxious about feeling anxious. What is wrong with me?
Have you ever been in a mental or productive rut like this? What helped you to get out of it?