The past couple of weeks have been tough, for no specific reason. I’ve been generally unfocused and lacking confidence. I haven’t been as productive as usual, and I don’t have an exact explanation for it.

For me, this sort of thing is cyclical. I’ve been through it enough to recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes I’m riding high and cranking stuff out, and other times I’m very much not. I know that both situations are fleeting, and both will pass.

Everyone has highs and lows, of course. But it’s harder to work through the lows when your job requires continual creative output, substantial amounts of compassion & empathy for others, or the self-confidence to make decisions and take risks. It’s like trying to win a prize fight on an empty stomach, you just don’t have the right energy.

It can be tempting to think of this phase as a sort of burnout mode, and take time away to recharge. Oddly, I’ve found that’s usually even worse for my mental and emotional state. If I hit one of these low points and just bail for a while, I’ll continue to dwell on it the whole time I’m supposedly “resting.” Like I ran away from my problems rather than sorting them out. It just prolongs the feeling of being stuck, and then adds a dose of guilt and ongoing self-doubt.

My trick for getting through a lull is this: pick any uncontroversial, stupidly easy things to do, and just focus on those for a while. Notch any successes, regardless of how small or mundane. Fix one bug. Mop the floor. Organize the sock drawer. Make a list. Whatever you can do mindlessly, without having to question your decisions on some existential level.

Eventually, enough of those small successes add up to the feeling that you did something, and you don’t feel so doubtful anymore.

Build yourself a little step stool out of the mud, until it’s tall enough to climb all the way out.