Turn my sad into awesome.
February 7, 2008 7:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop spending energy on being sad and be productive instead?

I recently moved back to Baltimore for school where I don't really know anyone and in between visits back to NYC, find myself getting mopey when I'm not in class. There are plenty of projects I could be working on instead of sitting here f5ing Scrabulous. How do I redirect this morose energy into something useful?
posted by youcancallmeal to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
When I lived alone for the first time, I found that just getting out of the house (for something other than class) can be helpful. It doesn't have to be big and expensive... Take a walk or go to a coffee shop/cafe where you can read or people watch. I also had to learn that it really is ok to go out for dinner or to a movie alone. Take some time to explore the area in which you live.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:48 PM on February 7, 2008

When I first went to graduate school in a strange place and I didn't have any friends, I would think (ridiculously) of PRISON! I would think this is like when Malcolm X was in prison, and he studied and became a new person! Messing around and killing time made me depressed, but I made an effort to read difficult books and research every topic I was ever curious about.... and by thinking "I am making the most of this incredible amount of free time that I am so lucky to have!" I was able to stop thinking "oh no, I'm such a loser and I hate it here." I don't know what useful projects you should embark on (since I don't know you), but just pick *something* to get into and you'll be better able to readjust your thinking into a non-mopey place.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:50 PM on February 7, 2008 [9 favorites]

Plus, when you're out of the house you've got a much better chance of meeting people to hang around with. :)
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:57 PM on February 7, 2008

Response by poster: I appreciate the posts so far, but my question isn't "How can I feel better?" I know me. I'll be sad. The thing is that I've got an ever-growing list of things I'd like to work on and instead find myself sitting here not doing anything. I was wondering if anyone had tips for getting out of this trap.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:00 PM on February 7, 2008

You will probably consider this a lame suggestion, but I'm completely serious. If you want to stop being sad and be productive instead, then be productive. Pick one thing that you'd like to be productive on and begin to do it. Don't worry about doing it perfectly. Just start doing whatever the first step is. Get moving. Inertia is important here. It sounds as if you're focusing your energy on being unproductive. Even posting this question is unproductive. Go do something, and see if that doesn't help. (As I said, I know this may sound lame, but it's advice that has worked for me.)
posted by jdroth at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I find it can be helpful to create a rough hour-by-hour plan of what you're going to do for the rest of the day. Just take 5 minutes and write down a few words for each hour. Don't make it all chores and errands, but include a lot of fun, simple things, e.g. play guitar, watch movie, go for coffee, etc. It helps to feel like you've got a bunch of specific activities planned rather than that you're just staring into a big chunk of unstructured time. You don't have to feel obligated to stick to the schedule perfectly, but it will least get you to think, hmm, is random web-surfing, etc. really going to be better than what I was planning to do?
posted by dixie flatline at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2008

Going on jdroth's suggestion... whatever you choose to do... just START doing it. Set a timer for 15 minutes and give yourself permission to quit after that if you don't feel like doing it anymore. You probably won't want to quit.

What I'm saying is, don't get caught up with thinking about a whole big project. Just start.
posted by clh at 8:19 PM on February 7, 2008

Motivation follows action.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:43 PM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Your profile says you're a girl, and I've found that it helps to dress up nice and put on makeup when I've got free time. If I look like a mess, I feel like a mess, and I don't really want to leave my apartment. But if I look nice, well, that's one less barrier towards going outside, right? Not that looks = confidence or any of that, but it helps for me. Plus there's that whole, "Well, I got up and got dressed... better do something with it."

I'm actually facing that same problem right now, the new-city-no-friends thing. Food's my primary motivation for going out and scouting, since I love finding new cool places that have yummy food for cheap. Instead of researching something, go to a library/bookstore. Find a nice place in town, park your car, and walk.

But yes, it does take some talking yourself into it. The thing is, you have to put aside your own projections: It will be lonely, it will be no fun, it will be x, where x is the reason you don't want to go. Accept that your projections are probably wrong and are most likely self-fulfilling prophesies, and even if they're right, then you need that opportunity to find out if they're right. Explore for the sake of exploration, because your other option is stagnation, and stagnation is the number one regret of people when they're older.
posted by reebear at 9:01 PM on February 7, 2008

Sad to Awesome is a tall order, especially if you're resigned to "I'll be sad", but if you simply want to be productive you could check out David Allen's Getting Things Done.

I read it and it actually kind of freaked me out as too maniacal and all encompassing, but one idea in the book that I found interesting, that undone stuff sticks in your head and wastes energy, has been somewhat helpful to me and while it's the only book of it's kind I've ever read, after getting over the off-putting "make-your-life-this-system" stuff, I think his ideas are practicable, even if they didn't seem exactly right for me. It's pretty cheap and a quick read, I think I read it in two days.

A long time ago I read quote that was something to the effect of "When a reasonable man is faced with a task, he begins it." I've thought a few times about askme-ing about the quote to see if it's a real quote, if so who said it, etc. but even in its made up, most likely mutilated form, it's become a useful mantra for me when faced with starting tasks I don't want to do.
posted by JulianDay at 9:25 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Collect a list of small easy to do things. Things that will take 5 min or less to do.

Next time you feel a bit like this - do one.

You'll quickly feel empowered...and like you can handle something bigger. Worked for me tonight.
posted by filmgeek at 9:34 PM on February 7, 2008

Get laid.


I've been in two different grad programs at the same Uni. The first (MSc) sucked. Bad. Hard. I really got stuck in a rut there. I eventually came out of it but I regret the time I wasted there.

I'm approaching my 2nd year in a PhD program at the same Uni but in a different department at a different facility.

Good god. What a difference. Having people around me who are in the same situation and around the same age and having the same ups and downs and having similar social desires. Wow.

- maybe be more pro-active with your academic peers? See if any of your study buddies or classmates are into, say, poker - and organize a poker night and work on there our?
posted by porpoise at 10:22 PM on February 7, 2008

Nthing getting out of the house. Prepare for whatever it is you should be doing and go out somewhere and do it. It's its own distraction in a way because you're leaving, but it's more productive because, in the end, even the walk over is part of getting the task done.

I often find myself in the same position, asking myself why I'm reading AskMeFi instead of working. I've found that getting out really helps. Otherwise you can get caught up in a million other distractions. Chopping big tasks up into little ones, and giving yourself mini-deadlines (measured in minutes rather than days or hours) for the little tasks, can really help.

I would like to point out that you defensiveness about not wanting to be happy but to simply be productive is completely understandable. Unfortunately, it might also be covering the fact that you have "issues" that you are not dealing with. I'm not saying this is necessarily true. I'm just saying that some people, myself included, are the type that give themselves small, manageable problems that they can worry about instead of their large, (seemingly) intractable problems. So, "Why doesn't my father love me?" becomes "Why am I wasting so much time with these games!" This can go part and parcel with the adrenaline rush that comes from painting yourself in a corner with procrastination and then having to find a way out. You have a big project due, you play too much scrabulous and then you curse yourself for being so weak and start to panic. The panic is just a buildup of energy and it functions as your "high." Now, you've not only not done your work, butyou haven't thought about the real reason why you haven't done it and, to top it all off, your getting a hit of something that makes you feel alive. It's not a good cycle.

Again, I am not diagnosing you. Maybe I'm just projecting here. However, maybe understanding why you behave that way will help you redirect the energy into more useful endeavors.

This is not the same as JulianDay's quote, but it's apropos.
"What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
- which i thought was Goethe, but it turns out it ain't. Oddly, the director of the last place I worked used this quote within the same quote from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition in our annual report and I never checked his sources. It just seemed right.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 11:19 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

One thing I've noticed is that the Internet is very conducing to stalling. Following links on your feed reader or Wikipedia or looking for the next Scrabble move to play can keep you tied up forever. You can find yourself thinking "OK, well, I'll start on my project right after I read this next link" for hours.

So, as a first step, I suggest stepping away from the computer and not coming back to it until you've either done something or have something specific and productive in mind to do on it.

Do you have specific projects in mind? One thing you can do to keep momentum going is to think of the next step for the project before you quit your work on it for the night. That way, the next day, you know exactly what you're supposed to be doing, and you can jump into it more easily because you don't have to reassess what you need to do. This has helped me a lot on personal and work projects. (I still stall way too long between projects, though.)

Also, set your emotional expectations. Anticipate hardship. Starting on a project with the expectation that it will miraculously fill you with smiles and rainbows is a formula for disappointment and failure. Seems like you're set up well to do this by already knowing that you're going to be sad for a while, though.

To get started, it helps to come up with motivation other than joy. When I was depressed, I thought to myself, "I'm feeling terrible, and I'm not expected to get anything done during this time. However, I will. I will CHEAT LIFE by wringing something out of my depression, even if everything I do feels lifting boulders underwater! REVENGE!" Then, I'd pick up the guitar or grab my camera and drive out to the underpass or what have you.

You don't need to be that crazy about it, though. Moxiedoll's imagining she was like Malcolm X in prison tactic is an excellent one.
posted by ignignokt at 11:44 PM on February 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

i get up early and go to a local diner for breakfast. not for the food so much, but to clear my head and think ahead about the day.
posted by lemuel at 12:54 AM on February 8, 2008

Have you thought about starting a journal about why you are so sad? Sometimes when I am feeling crappy, I just pull up a blank email, spew out all my thoughts, and save it as a draft (in case it might be good fodder for a story later). You’ve just gone through a big change, and even good changes can be shocking to people’s nervous systems. Are you having doubts about the move? Sad about that, or are you normally a social person and just feeling lonely?

Also, I don’t know about you but this time of year always bums me out. I’m looking for spring and I get snow and dull grey skies instead. That would probably be magnified if I didn’t know anyone.

Another thing I do is reframe it: I’m not sitting around doing nothing, I’m gestating my next idea. Sometimes I need downtime to process things that have happened, and eventually I’ll go to the library and get some good books, go shopping, call people, return emails, etc.

Projects: I put on music. Even if it’s light jazz, it distracts my brain enough to focus on the project and not how gawdawful the thought of doing it looms in my mind. I’ve also done things like set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes and by the time it goes off, I’m into it. This also works in reverse, tell yourself you will allow a full 15 minutes of sitting there doing absolutely nothing but worrying and feeling sad and after that, you must do something productive for 15 minutes.

If the sad goes on too long and you find yourself worried about your level of functioning, get evaluated by a counselor (through school, maybe, if you can’t afford it). It might be helpful to talk to someone neutral about your feelings.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:30 AM on February 8, 2008

I think it might be helpful to explore the sadness. If you are missing your friends and family, call one of them and say hi. Realize that they really are just a phone call away.

It's ok to feel sad when you are embarking on something new. I feel sad and nostalgic when I start something new because I feel like I've "broken up with my old life". I feel slightly guilty because I feel like my decision to make the change was a decision to abandon what I was doing before. It takes me a while to reintegrate what I'm doing now with my self identity.

Take care!
posted by gjc at 7:35 AM on February 8, 2008

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