Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Articles → Getting out of a bad place

This was actually a private email to a good friend. But he loved it and forwarded it to some people, and they all suggested I should post it on my site.


A few months ago I was in a really bad place.

Really upset all the time about the whole situation.

Couldn’t think straight. Very reactionary.

Wanting to make some big drastic change, just to ease the discomfort of uncertainty — that pain of living with an unknown future.

You’re definitely in that place now. So here’s how I got out. Maybe it helps.


#1. Ask myself “What’s wrong right now?” — this very second. Am I in physical pain or danger?

No.

I’ve got mental pain, but that’s just me imagining things, or remembering things. None of it is real.

If I put aside the mental torture I’m giving myself, the only thing that’s real is this physical moment. Is it so bad?

Hm. No.

Look around.

Nice day. Nice place. Nice food. Nice people. Nice work.

Of course the mental anguish is still there, but it’s a nice reminder that it’s all in my head.


#2. Observe now. Act later.

When I’m feeling so cloudy, my decisions and actions will be cloudy too.

So I wait a few days before acting on anything.

Just watch the emotions pass by like a thunderstorm.

And the longer I wait, the smarter I get.


#3. Raise standards. Say no to anything less than great.

Every person that doesn’t rejeuvenate me and make me feel better, say no. Blacklist them. Banned. Not allowed in, not even for a minute. No explanation needed. No compromise. No favors. Done. Gone.

More fountains, less drains.

Every thing I’m doing that isn’t good for me. Every thing I’m eating or drinking that isn’t making me more healthy. Stop. Say no.

This even means saying no to half-ass conversations that are not whole-hearted and unconflicted. People that are “fine” and I “kill time” with, but don’t actually love and actively enjoy? Nope. Not good enough.

Doing this gave me a huge feeling of self-worth. Setting the bar really high for something to take my time.

It means more empty time, but that leaves room for possibility!

Empty time has the potential to be filled with nourishing and awesome new actions and people, whereas filling it with half-ass things and people kills all that potential and possibility.


#4. Focus on my goal/mission/path

The empty space created by #3 — no longer chasing distractions — helped me remember what I’m really doing with my life.

Creating, learning, improving, whatever. For me, it’s writing, parenting, and health. For you, it’s something else. It’s the 10-year-plan type stuff.

Clearing the clutter helps you see the horizon.

It’s a huge energy-filled feeling of “Oh yeah! That’s where I’m going! I had forgotten! I can see it now! Let’s go!”

It really helps make the “say no” thing stick, because once you’re heading towards a spot on the horizon, you just don’t let any crap get in your way.


#5. Do all the daily mundane stuff

This sounds silly, simple, and shallow, but it’s surprisingly effective:

When I’m upset, I don’t feel like doing anything but wallowing in it.

But despite feeling that way, I brush, floss, go to the gym, make healthy meals, take the kid out to play, do the dishes, clean the house, pick up clutter, vacuum, pay my bills, answer my emails, take my vitamins, do the laundry, play with the kid some more, brush and floss again, turn off the computer early, turn off the phone, and get to bed early.

It’s so mundane, but it really helps to feel on top of things. Things in life well-sorted so I don’t need to worry about them.

(And when I ask, “What’s wrong right now?” — it really helps me say “nothing!” when I look around and see this clean house, paid bills, happy child, and have a good night’s sleep.)

It’s really peaceful to go through the motions, even though I don’t really feel like it. It’s more time to think and process.

It’s a great reminder that I have to eat, even if I’m not feeling hungry. I have to clean the house, even if my mind is a mess. I have to sleep, no matter what!

Like #1, above, it separates the mental anguish from the physical reality. Keeps me focused on what’s real versus what I’m just imagining.


There’s more to it than that. Lots of diary time, friends, reading healthy new thoughts/philosophies, etc. But those are the big five.

I hope it helps.

John Keogh blades