We’ve all been there. You SHOULD be motivated to work, to practice, to paint, to do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. But you just can’t get yourself to do it. Your body aches as if you have the flu, but you know you don’t. You just can’t muster the energy, drive and focus to get anything done. For me, it happens about once every 7 months. I’ll be churning along and suddenly, I’ve lost my mojo. I just can’t be bothered to write another email, come up with a worthwhile blog post, and I have to force myself to practice. It feels horrible, I start to doubt myself, my resolve, my abilities, and it starts to feel like it’s all going to fall apart.
What I have come to realize though, after having gone through these rough patches quite a few times over the last 20 years or so, is that on the other side of them (EVERY. SINGLE. TIME, people) was a breakthrough of some sort. And now I know the secret. My body knows when it’s time to shift up before my brain does. It’s like it can feel the frustration of being ready to take things up a level, but my conscious brain hasn’t quite caught on yet. So my brain is saying “do the things you’ve been doing! Why can’t you just get up and do them? What is wrong with you?” And my body is saying “ummm….No!, Because it doesn’t feel like it’s the right thing anymore, and I’m just going to curl up over here in the fetal position and be utterly useless until you figure out what comes next”.
Here are some examples. Years ago, when I first moved to Boston but was traveling for months at a time throughout the year, I went through a doozy of a patch. I didn’t understand it. I was living the dream! I had constant work, got to travel all over the place and was always with friends. On the other side of that, was the realization that while I had what everyone kept telling me was “the best life”. what I really craved was a routine. A home, a teaching studio. I hadn’t realized until that moment how much I missed working with students. So I eased up on the travel, took on some students and bought a condo. One funk I was going through resulted in my planning, funding and recording my first cd, The French Cello. Another one resulted in my moving to Bermuda to have a simpler life and to focus on my performing and my teaching (and start a blog). In every instance, I was living what I thought was the best possible life, and then, post funk was able to tweak things and pivot in ways that offered an improved situation. Looking back, I can see that while it seemed at the time that I kept zig-zagging, actually, it was a direct, upwards line to where I always dreamt I would be. And I’m still heading there, folks, so I expect a few more funks to come my way.
A similar thing happens on the micro-level as well. You’re perfectly happy with your playing. Things are going well. You’re working hard, and (though things can ALWAYS be better) you are happy with your performances, other people are happy with your performances, and life is grand. Then, suddenly, you realize that your vibrato could be better, or more varied, or something. And suddenly, you can’t think of anything else. How could you have felt okay about any of your previous performances when your vibrato was so horrible? Who did you think you were? You become focused on it, on watching and studying other people’s vibrato, taking note of whose you like, and whose you don’t care for as much, you start working on it, and suddenly, not only do you have a vibrato that you’re happy with, but you have learned so much about vibrato that you write a book on the pedagogy of vibrato and it becomes a best seller and voila! Life is grand.
So, how do deal with these low points? What to do? How to turn them into your next Breakthrough? Here are 5 steps to getting through them:
When you realize that you are “In A Funk”. Tell yourself that this is a moment of pre-growth for you. That you need to loosen the reigns on how you were doing things before and pay attention to what you need. Be easy on yourself. It’s okay to do a little less and say no to non-essential obligations that week. Eat your favorite foods, and maybe take a bubble bath or two.
Meditation is obviously going to work wonders here, and I highly recommend you try it. There are a lot of great new apps like calm and headspace that can help get you started. If you are just NOT into it, try taking some long solo walks instead, or spend some time puttering around your house or garden (car, boat, whatever. It’s all about tinkering).
Journaling has always been my thing. I’ve done it daily since I was a lonely latch-key kid with no one to talk to. By journaling, I became my own company and was essentially talking to myself. What is interesting about journaling, is that it’s true–parts of your sub-conscious self will start coming through and talking to your conscious self. I’ll never forget the day I was writing away about future concerts and logistics and teaching hours and all of a sudden from nowhere I wrote: “I just wish I could be a writer”. Ummmmm what? Who was that? But it kept creeping back in until my conscious mind caught on and said. Oh! Maybe I can start a blog!
This has become so much easier since Instagram became a thing, but the gist of it is this: scroll through social media and pay attention to what gives you a tinge of jealousy. My friend did this and was amazed. He had been practicing and working for years trying to get an orchestra job and kept coming close–always making it past the first round, and often into the finals. He wanted it so badly he could taste it, but he found that when he was scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, it never fazed him when someone posted about winning a job. He didn’t really care. But when people posted about their life as an insta–traveler, a digital nomad, he would turn green with envy. He realized that he had been trained to get an orchestra job, that was the highest pinnacle of achievement for him, but the thought of going to the same job in the same hall with the same people day after day, week after week, year after year, actually filled him with dread. He longed to travel, to see the world, to do pick up gigs all over the globe. And now that is exactly what he does.
For any creative type out there, actually, for ANYONE out there, I highly recommend this book. Julia Cameron wrote it decades ago and I first found it when I was 23, and a fellow at the New World Symphony. It is broken down into 12-weeks of questions and “assignments”, and, well, I just can’t say enough wonderful things about it. When I find myself stuck deep into a funk, or if I am in the midst of a substantial pivot in my life, I take it out and start at the beginning again. Here: I’ll make it easy on you.
Now, whenever I wake up with those familiar aches and that dreaded lack of motivation, I actually get a little excited. I know something amazing and fresh and new is about to hatch; and with a little self-care, understanding, space, and patience, those funks don’t seem to last as long anymore.
I’d love to hear what breakthroughs you have experienced after a funk. It’s obviously not limited to musicians, I think this is something we ALL go through. Share your story in the comments!