Got the blahs? Three fast ways to get motivated and back into action

Updated to Productivity on December 18, 2022.

The other day a friend shared this joke…

Man goes to doctor.

Says he’s depressed.

Says life seems harsh and cruel.

Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain.

Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.”

Man bursts into tears and says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”

I have days like that. What about you?

It seems like I know what I need to do, but my sack of sorrow and confusion weighs me down. Ouch.

It’s human nature to fixate on what’s wrong. Like the missing base board in your living room or sticky note reminding you to call your bank – they’re hard to ignore.

We can’t be dancing-on-roses all the time and we do need to do hard work some of the time. Apparently that’s life.

The question is how to navigate between the blahs and dancing-on-roses?

Here are three strategies I always have on my dance card.


Whatever I fixate on occupies my attention – to the point of distraction.

If I worry about my health, getting older or mortgage payments, that’s all I can think about.

The jury is out, but it’s estimated we have about 60,000 thoughts a day. Too bad that 48,000 are the same as yesterday:

“I should really exercise more”

“I wish they could see it my way”

“These pants make me look fat”

“I deserve a new car (like my neighbours)”

“These pants make me look fat”

“I should really exercise more”

“These pants make me look fat”

Your mental machinations get you nowhere, except back where you started.

Your mental machinations get you nowhere, except back where you started. The trick is to change the game.

Learned optimismIn his book Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman (often referred to as the ‘father’ of positive psychology) described the state of helplessness as being permanent (not going away), pervasive (everywhere), and personal (your fault). In other words…you’re screwed.

Until you change the game.

Changing the game means recognizing you’re in a rut (“Yup, I’m stuck”) and determining a new activity. Go for a walk, journal (see grateful journal, below), call up a friend, take a book to a local cafe, plan a vacation…but do something.

Your worries might not completely vaporize, but the view is clearer.

What are you doing to change the game?


I think fuel economy gauges in cars are brilliant feedback devices. Too bad we don’t have one that measures control.

When you’re run off your feet, working on 12 projects (and not making headway on any), pulled in different directions with no time for yourself – you’re out of control.

A client once told me that by the time Thursday rolls around every week she is feeling out of control. She confided that on those days she needs to block time to declutter, empty, plan, and take a few steps forward on any one of her stalled projects so she can breathe again.

That’s control.

When I’m on the road for a speaking engagement I follow a routine. I plan when I go to bed, my morning workouts, preparation time, and office work (read about my routine). As regimented as it seems, my routines allow me to stay on top of my work, be ready for my client and feel in control. That’s worth planning for.

What do you need to do (maybe every week) to feel more in control?


In long-distance running you inevitably have to fight the urge to quit. After a couple of hours pounding away on the pavement or trails everything hurts, and all you want is to end the suffering.

The trick is to be grateful.

West-Coast Trail on Vancouver Island

West-Coast Trail on Vancouver Island

A few years back a friend and I ran the grueling West-Coast Trail on Vancouver Island from Port Renfrew to Bamfield, a distance of 46 miles (75kms). Actually it’s more like an endurance course including running the length of fallen logs, climbing 70 (two and three story) ladders, crossing 130 wooden bridges and four cable cars. Recommended days to hike the trail: five.

It was a long day.

I’d predicted that by mid-morning my adrenalin and the stunning scenery would be replaced by mental and physical melt down. So, I decided to practice being grateful.

Grateful for being there, for friendship, for the jaw dropping scenery, for our health, for my wife’s support – even for people we met who cheered us on.

“Hey, where’s your pack?”

“Uh, we’re running it”


It’s was good medicine – once I yanked my woe-is-me thoughts out of the misery gutter I felt lighter and happier. I could feel energy coming back into my legs as if I’d pulled up to the local gas pump.

There was a lot to be grateful for.

Tell me in the comments what you do to kick out the blahs – I want to know!

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