Everything’s going wrong at work. Your co-workers and clients are wondering what’s wrong with you. You’ve lost your mojo, and nothing—not faking it, lucky socks, or a venti latte with an extra shot or two—is going to bring it back. Welcome to the professional slump.
Bill Thierfelder, Ph.D. deals with this dynamic on a regular basis. Author of Less Than a Minute to Go, the sports psychologist has worked with Olympians and Super Bowl winners. As the current president of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., he now works with students and business executives to help them realize they have much more control over the so-called "slump" than they think.
"In baseball, when a batter is in a slump, it means, for some reason, he is not performing as he was used to doing. He’s now maybe striking out a lot, it doesn’t seem to be ending," Thierfelder says. "In other words, I can’t identify the source of why I’m not hitting well anymore, so we’ve called it a slump."
Thierfelder says it’s up to you to regain your A-game. He offers these tips snap out of your funk and get back in the groove.
Slumps can be stressful and frustrating, especially if they’re affecting your job performance. Find a way to decompress. Get away from your desk. Talk to a friend. Then, think through what your options are. You can keep going or you can stop. Regardless of how rotten you might feel, you’re not helpless, he says. Even in the midst of the worst slump, you could choose to walk away from what you’re doing and just not deal with it anymore. Of course, you probably won’t walk away from your job, but you could, even if it would hurt you financially. So, even when you’re suffering because your performance is off, the realization that you’re choosing to stick with it puts you back in control.
Once you’ve committed to bouncing back, take a hard look at what’s really going on. Think back to when you were really performing well. What’s the difference between then and now? Thierfelder says many people who are experiencing repeated failures or lackluster performance are not as well-prepared or focused as they were when everything was going well.
He says you need to stop psyching yourself out and expecting failure, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, start preparing and focusing like you did when you were trying to prove yourself. When you begin to feel frustrated and overwhelmed, stop yourself and refocus on the goal and on how you’re performing each step to achieve it, he says.
"I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying that you’re in charge of your brain," he says.
When a basketball player isn’t hitting her shots, she consults a trainer, coach, or sports psychologist, depending on what’s causing the performance lag. When you’re not performing, you may need additional training, coaching, or mentoring, too.
"When you’re running a business, as an owner or manager or in some other leadership position, you tend to not focus on yourself almost at all. You find solutions for every other challenge that comes up—it’s really applying the same skill set that you use to find those solutions that you have to apply to yourself," he says.
With enough focus and determination, slumps turn around, Thierfelder says. However, you’ll likely have some setbacks before you’re at peak performance again. Don’t let them derail your progress. Recognize and pay attention to what’s going right to build momentum.