Staying happy while digging yourself out of the hole you made
January 29, 2013 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Tools for staying positive while "getting back on the wagon", so to speak.

every so often, i let a certain area of my life go to seed. sometimes I slack off for a day, other times I slack off for a week or so. in the distant past, these periods could last for years. the damage I do to myself is pretty much directly proportional to the time I spend not doings things i should.

(note: I am specifically choosing not to talk about what the problem is because I'm pretty sure the answers will focus on it ways that will not be helpful to me. insofar as it would be necessary, i have received or am receiving professional help.)

im getting better as the years go by at making these little detours to occur less often and to get back on track sooner.

still the worst parts of my life are the proverbial 'mornings after' a week long craziness where I have to face facts and begin the hard work of getting back on track.

its those times when I'm a especially prone to a certain kind despair that feels really overwhelming. usually after a week back i feel great and am good to go for a long time.

what I would like help with is the people know about tools, strategies, services, that are specially geared to help stay positive in situations like this. I have a smartphone Android so maybe there are relevant apps? websites, etc. are all helpful. thanks!!
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I let my living space go to shit occasionally. It's been known to attain epic levels of slovenliness, and I will continue to let it spiral out of control until I get my shit together and right my course. Which, naturally, is like pulling teeth if I don't go about it right. But I've figured out that the easiest way to start righting the course is to know of one thing to do first.

Having an assured 'first step' to cleaning up my mess, something that I can start with every time, helps so much. For me it's shelving media. I gather all of the CDs and DVDs and books I have strewn about and put them back in their right place. It's usually a super-simple task, it's immediately rewarding (this is important!), and it leads naturally into various other cleaning tasks.

If you can find something like that, that gives you some immediate gratification for getting yourself back on track, I think it'll make the process of righting your life a lot more tolerable. It likely won't make the work any less hard, but if you can engineer a little reliable reward for all that hard work (or even just for starting on the hard work) maybe it won't seem so despairing.
posted by carsonb at 3:00 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Friend(s) to talk to that are capable of snapping you out of loops/ruminations...

Personally I am relatively incapable of being responsible for myself in regards to CBT/EMDR/etc.. so just having someone who is willing to slap me around a bit goes a loooong way.

But honestly, it seems like you are doing better than 80-90% of people in your situation, you have awareness, motivation, and action....

Mad props.
posted by anthroprose at 3:25 PM on January 29, 2013

I hear you on going to seed. For me, I'm really trying to work on building habits -- but not beating myself up if I slip for a day or so.
In terms of tools, I'm really enjoying using the Lift app (for iPhone, but coming soon for Android). Some of the daily habits I'm trying to form: making the bed, flossing, going outside, cutting back on alcohol, etc. I find it's reward enough for me to be able to "mark off" that I've done those things in the app. The app has some other bells and whistles like the ability to give strangers "props" (or friends if you happen to have friends who use the app; I don't). You can see how many times a week you've done the habit, and if you're on a streak.
I have days where I don't get to mark anything off as done -- but those are becoming fewer and far between. I have no idea if this kind of motivation would help you, but for me, tracking in some way is really key. And keeping up with these healthy and positive habits helps my mood, tremendously.
posted by operating thetan at 3:41 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Focusing on the good things is extremely difficult. My understanding is that this is actually hard-wired in humans - we've got velcro for negatives and teflon for positives.

I've been keeping a gratitude notebook for months now. Every morning, I write down three things in it that I'm grateful for. It takes longer than it ought to some mornings, but it helps me put my day into proper perspective.

I've also found mindfulness practices to be helpful in this regard. There's a guy by the name of Rick Hanson who has a practice he calls "taking in the good." You can find a lot of references to it online, but basically, the practice is what it sounds like; pausing whenever you're feeling positive, and learning what that the sensations associated with that experience are in the body.

Finally, I've personally found helping others to be of great help to get out of my own small concerns. Volunteering, mentoring, or even just doing a favor for someone can all help you to see the positives in your own situation, as well as give you a mental and emotional boost that helps you work on your own circumstances with a better frame of mind.
posted by Gilbert at 4:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I go to seed in my life, which happens, I give myself a time frame to be seedy. Whether it is a week or 3 hours, I give myself permission to indulge whatever till the a day and time I have picked to knock it off. Like Gilbert above, I also meditate and help others but sometimes I just seem to need to lean into crap until I get sick of myself. I also have someone that smacks me around, which just happened yesterday. Today was a much better day.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:00 PM on January 29, 2013

Maybe this is too obvious to be helpful, but for me, I try to make the seediness the new baseline from which to judge improvement. That way I don't feel like "I'm NEVER going to get this room as clean as it was after spring cleaning! I suck and will fail." but instead like "oh, this room is so much cleaner than it was yesterday. What improvement! I'm a good person and am succeeding already!"

The trick is moving quickly through the nadir without wasting time berating myself. So: "oh shoot, look at this mess," (try not to think "i suck"), "well, rooms get messy, it is what it is. Guess someone's gotta clean it up, so here goes!"
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have been following the advice from NikkiPhillipi's video which reccomends:

1) Splitting your goals into categories e.g. spiritual, work, financial, health and fitness, relationships. Decide these based on what personally matters the most to you and what you most want to achieve this year.

2) Writing out goals for each category and setting a deadline. I think 2014 is a good one because these steps will take time. For example, if one of your categories was 'organization' you might set one of the goals to 'throwing out all the things I don't need' or 'Having a tidy house all the time'

3) And then you decide on a daily baby step which is incredulously easy. So for the 'throwing out all the things I don't need' goal you might decide to set your daily baby step as 'finding one item and putting it aside to donate to charity', or if you wanted to be a better singer you might make it your goal to sing for 2 minutes every day. Make your goal so easy that it would take a LOT of laziness to avoid it, and make the goals fun if you can. Extra points for linking two steps, or for linking a step to something you already do every day e.g. singing while doing the dishes for 2 minutes (if doing dishes is one of your goals) or listening to a foreign language podcast while on the way to work.

Make a big list and cross off everything but the ten baby steps which you think will make the biggest difference, and maybe use a checklist or an app like Way of Life to keep track of them! And review every one or two weeks to make sure you are on the right track. I have been doing this since the video came out and while I don't think my life has been transformed overnight, I do feel like I am making progress, and having that momentum keeps me positive and keeps me going (even though there are days when I don't check everything off). I think I am a bit closer to my goals two weeks down the line and I actually find it fun and so mild that I don't burn out and lose interest in pursuing my goals. If this sounds like a good idea to you you should give it a go! Good luck :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 1:03 AM on January 30, 2013

I do this ... well, pretty much all the time. And sometimes it takes years to get out of. In fact, I just spent half a decade getting out of a really decently sized screw up.

Now, this isn't a solution I'd recommend to everyone ... but in the past two years, my girlfriend has been instrumental in keeping me out of and helping fix these screwups. I've given over control of my finances because that's the area I screw up the most. She has the patience to deal with it and the awareness of what day of the month it is and when everything's due; I can barely remember what day of the week it is, much less when I need to pay something unless it's the first of the month.

What you can take from that is that it's important to have a check and balance for those things. That check and balance can be a close friend, it can be a parent, it can be a significant other. You can spread the load amongst many people you trust. They get authorization to poke at you when you fall behind on a certain thing.
posted by SpecialK at 8:16 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the gratitude journal. Sometimes I also just write down "a few of my favorite things" or "things I love / things that make me happy", and pause a bit to mentally imagine enjoying them. Really get into it, like I'll write down "the smell of new books", or "warm socks when it's cold". Imagine it vividly, then go "aaaaaahhhh" or "mmmmm". Like what Gilbert said above, really let it sink in and absorb it. It's easier to do this for sensual, physical things, rather than abstract things like "my family loves me", which may be true, but sometimes I'm not up to making the effort to internalize it. So start with the senses.

Seconding helping other people. It shifts the focus away from you and how crappy you're feeling. In my case I tutored kids. It's like, even if I can't help myself (which can be pretty tough), at least I am able to do something, however small, for other people. That makes me feel great! I feel a little less sad and useless, and proud that I can still be a functioning human in some way.

Also, something I picked up from a self-confident 3-year-old (aren't they all?): When I accomplish something, I sometimes say "Good job, me!" (mentally pats self on back) or go "YISS", like the Success Baby. Give yourself a mental high five, with gusto, or fling up your arms and go "Victory!" Whatever works. Elsewhere I've read about people saying "Achievement Unlocked". It's silly but it does something for me. You can be your own cheerleader.

A few other threads I found from a quick search: Help me get rid of my bad mood. How do I get happy. How do you turn a bad day around. Quick pick me up. Happy tricks. Please fill my head up with good things.
posted by pimli at 11:58 PM on January 30, 2013

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