As I was working out last Friday, pushing myself to keep the pedals of the elliptical machine turning after going much too long without exercising regularly, I was reminded yet again of the power of music to alter my mind. The playlist I’ve compiled for my workout is a very upbeat one, but I was pretty tuckered until P!nk’s God is a DJ came around – then I suddenly had energy to burn.

And I found myself thinking, “So this is what I mean by an external force. This is what I use to change the closed system of my routines, my behavior patterns. I use my Uppers.”

Last fall I started keeping a list of what I call, for lack of a better word, my “Uppers” – simple and quick actions I can take to keep myself out of the Pit. You know, that dark and lonely place of doubt, depression, and despair we all occasionally fall into. Its walls are sheer and there is very little to grab onto, so although its depth can vary, it’s always easier to avoid it altogether than climb out of it. So, I’ve been gathering tools that help me stay out of the Pit when I feel myself slipping in.

One thing they all have in common get me out of my head and into my body and heart. They also require me to STOP. I can’t avoid the pit if I don’t stop whatever it is I’m doing that’s leading me to it. These are small interruptions that change my speed and direction – and I’ve found, if I act soon enough, that’s usually all it takes.

Here’s my list so far:

1. Talk to someone.
Ask for help if you need it, but don’t talk about the Pit if you don’t want to. Just get out of your head and interrupt the negative dialog you are having in your own mind by having a positive conversation instead. Laugh if at all possible. The someone can often be anyone, but sometime it’s most helpful if you can talk to a good friend – someone who knows what tends to trip you up and can remind you how to pass through whatever space you are in without falling in.

2. Walk the dog.
This is a triple-bonus. I get exercise, fresh air, and caring for a being other than myself (see Upper #1). If you don’t have a dog, then at least…

  • Get some exercise. Yoga indoors or a bike ride outdoors – it doesn’t matter. Move your body.
  • Get some nature. Fresh air. Sunlight. Dirt. Even this time of year, I can find some way of touching nature, even if it’s just doing a bit of weeding or planting some pansies.

3. Breathe.
Seriously. Slowly, consciously fill your lungs a few times. Maybe meditate a bit – try to still your mind for a moment. Maybe pray a bit, too. Like talking with a friend or walking your dog, invite your higher power to remind you of something larger than yourself and your problems, and allow yourself to be taken care of.

  • Light a really good aromatherapy candle and breathe some more. Like a great song, I’m continually amazed how well this works… I have an Orange & Lemongrass candle I’m particularly fond of.

4. Listen to your theme song.
I have to admit to occasionally watching the TV show Ally McBeal in the late 90s. About the only thing I can remember about it is the episode in which the brilliant and incomparable Tracy Ullman played Ally’s therapist and insisted that Ally choose a theme song, something she could play in her mind that would make her feel better (Ullman demonstrated unforgettably by singing and dancing to her own theme song, Tracy by the Cuff Links).

It made so much sense to me that I immediately decided on a theme song of my own and found myself the next day asking coworkers what theirs would be. If I am feeling discouraged as an entrepreneur, Jamiroquai’s Use the Force dispels my gloom. Steely Dan’s Time Out of Mind always makes me happy. I don’t pretend to understand it. It’s the power of art at work – and it does work to put on my favorite music and shake my groove thang for a few minutes.

So, I’m curious – how do you change your speed and direction when you are headed for the Pit?


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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



© 2008 Cairene MacDonald, Third Hand Works. All Rights Reserved.

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