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Six Ways To Pull Yourself Out Of A Work Slump

Even people who love their their jobs can find themselves in a rut. Here’s how to get out of it without quitting.

Six Ways To Pull Yourself Out Of A Work Slump
[Photo: Corey Agopian via Unsplash]

Sometimes it’s more than just a case of the Mondays. When you don’t want to go to work on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday–or any day–you could be in a slump. Luckily, it’s not uncommon,  and it is something you can fix, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

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Fifty-five percent  of workers feel they have a job, not a career,” she says. “What’s important to remember is that while a single bad day is one thing, a lingering work rut can be detrimental to your happiness and overall career success.”

Even people who like their jobs can get into a work slump due to a naturally occurring phenomenon called “hedonic adaptation,” says Tim Bono, lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “We get used to things–even wonderful things–that at one time were sources of immense pleasure and joy,” he says. “Someone who loves chocolate will grow tired of eating it after a while if chocolate is the only thing they have to eat every single day, day after day.”

The good news is that a work slump is your problem to solve, says Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of the career improvement tech startup Pilot. “It is easy to blame something else, such as your manager, your resources, the culture, the industry,” he says. “Taking responsibility for your slump puts you in the driver’s seat and gives you an opening for action rather than merely suffering through the slump.”

To pull yourself out of a work slump, it’s helpful to do these six things:

1. Figure out why you’re struggling

“Is it because you’re bored with a specific project?” asks Haefner. “Are there issues with your boss or other team members? Would you rather be working in another field? It’s hard to know how to get out of the slump without knowing what caused it.”

2. Identify the kind of work that matters most to you

“What values do you place above all else and where do they show up in work for you?” asks career coach Kelly Poulson. “Are you regularly doing work that supports them or are you constantly being asked to compromise on what’s most important to you?”

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Brooks likes to ask, “If you had just 90 days left in your career, what would you get busy doing?” “This is meant to create urgency and to get out of the ‘maybe, someday, not now’ mentality that is easy to fall into, in particular when you’re in a slump,” he says.  

3. Don’t jump ship on your job quite yet

Before you automatically assume a career change will equal a life change, notice how you’re showing up in the other realms of your life, says Poulson. “Maybe you need to be prioritizing taking care of yourself,” she says. “Often when we’re beat and not taking care of ourselves, we can be tired and cranky and not see opportunities right in front of us.”

4. Focus on what is going well

Taking a few minutes each week to reflect on what you’re grateful for can help you feel better about your life overall and even improve your health, says Bono.

“Due to adaptation, our focus becomes overshadowed by the more burdensome qualities,” he says. “Gratitude has been shown to be the most robust antidote to adaptation. Instead of ruminating over what went wrong today, or becoming anxious about what tomorrow may bring, call to mind those aspects of your job that you enjoy.”

5. Stop comparing yourself to others

It’s natural to tune into who just got the latest promotion or whose working is getting the highest praise from the boss, but redirecting our attention to our own internal standards for success can go a long way for our psychological health, productivity, and motivation, says Bono.

“Social comparison is one of the biggest barriers to our overall happiness and motivation,” he says. “And limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Sites like Facebook often exaggerate how much better off others are in comparison to how we are feeling at a given time, often leaving us feeling worse about ourselves.”

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6. Then take action

This might be the hardest step of all, says David Patterson, president of The Kineta Group, an executive search firm. “Most people find that the very reason they are in a slump is because they feel unmotivated, and because of that they find it difficult to tackle the tasks that are needed in order to break out of their slump,” he says. “Without that motivation, they don’t take action, and their slump gets worse, which makes it harder to find the motivation to take action, and so on goes the cycle.”

Take the smallest viable action you can take, says Patterson. “You’ll find you will feel slightly more motivated,” he says. “Take the next action, then the next, and so on and so on. Before you know it you will find that you are more motivated than ever. Remember: Motion creates emotion.”